Put down distracting gadgets to prevent drownings, parents warned

Staff at the Red Cross and IWK Health Centre are asking people to put away electronics if you have children at a beach or a pool.

65 children have drowned in 20 years in Maritimes, says Red Cross

Alannah Pezzarello and her daughter Jaiden notice parents staring at their phones while their children are swimming. (CBC)

Parents are being warned to put away electronics when watching children at beaches and pools ahead of the summer.

Over the past two decades, 65 children in the Maritimes have died from drownings, according to the Red Cross. The organization reports that number is dropping.

Chantal Walsh, a health promotion specialist at the IWK Health Centre's Child Safety Link, said parents need to put down their cellphones and electronic devices when their children are around water.

Getting kids to wear lifejackets, learning CPR, and properly fencing-in backyard pools are still some of the best safety tips. (CBC)

"It can take a split second and drowning can happen very quickly and silently," she said.

Alannah Pezzarello, who goes to the beach often with her daughter, said she sees parents staring at their phones from shore while their kids are out swimming.

"People just have cellphones right in their face and the kids are just going around," she said.

Walsh said over the last decade, drowning has gone down for children in the Maritimes by 49 per cent — a number they hope to bring to zero.

According to the Red Cross, drowning is the second most common cause of injury death for children under the age of 14. ​The most common age groups to be hospitalized from drowning in swimming pools are children aged 10 to 14 and children under the age of four.

The Red Cross says it's not just about keeping a close eye on children when they're in or near the water — it's also important to make sure they learn how to swim.

"Over the last 20 years we've seen a decline in drownings because of swimming lessons but it's still not enough," said Ismael Aquino, the provincial director of the Red Cross Nova Scotia. 

Kids can take Red Cross swimming lessons for free this summer at 24 beaches around the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Other safety tips include getting kids to wear life jackets, learning CPR and putting fences around backyard pools.