New York Summer can be tough on tweens.
Younger kids are more likely to be closely watched by parents, and older teenagers have some decision-making skills and experience, says Dr. Marianne Neifert, a Denver-area pediatrician. But children in their pre- and early teen years, so-called "tweens," are particularly at risk for heat exhaustion, sunburn and too much TV, says Neifert, who worked with the National PTA to interpret the results of a survey of parents' concerns about summer safety.
Of the 542 parents with children ages 10-13, 25 percent say they are extremely or very concerned about their tween's health during the summer months, with 35 percent citing possible heat exhaustion as a top concern.
Other issues on parents' minds are tweens' sedentary lifestyles, water safety, sunburn and exposure to infectious diseases. The poll, "Summer Break - What's at Stake" was funded by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.
"Heat? It's sort of surprising that's at the top of so many lists, but there are so many stories about kids suffering problems at football camps," says Neifert, who also is a clinical professor at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. "The answer is to carry a water bottle at all times. If you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated, so drink before a demanding activity.
"It's also OK to stop for a Popsicle."
Children in this age range often don't know if they're pushing their bodies too hard, Neifert says, especially if they're engaged in a competition of some sort. Younger kids usually will take the break they need.
The issues parents raised in the survey often can be tackled by prevention, notes Anna Weselak, National PTA president. But just like children, parents often relax their own rules and routines over the summer.
Yet, she says, parents are the model for so many behaviors. "It's easier to wake up late and say, 'I'll skip breakfast and wait for lunch.' Then so will your kids. Parents also may let up over the summer on illness. They think you don't have to be worried about colds and flus, but they're around all year. And travel is a breeding ground for illness."
But summer also can be a season of positive change. "Get up and moving," Neifert says. "Do it as a family, go for a hike or go swimming. Establish new behaviors that can be carried forward in the fall.
"I can't overemphasize the theme of the parents' model. The three most important things to know about how kids learn things are: 'by example, by example, by example."'
Children also pick up on parents' cues when it comes to applying sunscreen and wearing protective gear from sports.
"The recommendation to stay out of the sun between 10 (a.m.) and 3 (p.m.) isn't really practical or even possible in the summer," Neifert says. "But please don't let the tween girls bake themselves!"
Parents should make it a habit of regularly reapplying sunscreen so their kids will follow suit, she suggests. Those same parents should wear helmets when they go bike riding and wear lifejackets on boats, she adds.
The buddy system is the only way tweens should go swimming, Neifert says, and they're old enough to learn CPR so they could help a friend in an emergency.