7 Biggest Safety Risks for Older Kids

How to protect big kids from top injury risks for their age

older child in booster car seat
School-age kids still need booster car seats to keep them safe. Ronnie Kaufman/Larry Hirshowitz/Getty Images

Your school-age child may not need safety gates and toilet latches anymore, but there are still important safety precautions that should be on your radar. From safety in and around cars to how to protect kids from falls and burns, here are the tips parents must know to prevent the top causes of injury in older kids.

Studies have shown that proper seat belt use decreases as kids get older.

"Safe Kids Worldwide surveyed parents of 1,000 kids ages 4 to 10 and found that 7 out of 10 parents didn't know that kids need to be 57 inches (or 4' 9") tall and weight 80 to 100 pounds in order to ride without a booster seat," says Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide. The survey also found that 9 out of 10 parents move kids out of the booster seat before their child is big enough to ride with just a seat belt.

There's a reason why safety experts have a height and weight requirement for kids who can use a seat belt without a booster seat, says Carr, and it has to do with where the seat belt sits on the child's body. "[If the child is too young and small] the energy from a crash can tear a child's neck and abdomen," says Carr. Your school-age child may protest that he's not a baby and doesn't need a car seat, but think about how a crash may harm a kid who's not big enough.

Buckle him into a booster seat at all times, even if you're only going a few blocks.

Playing in or near cars can be very dangerous for young children. Every year, nearly 2,000 people are killed in non-traffic incidents involving motor vehicles, and more than 800,000 are injured, according to Kids and Cars, a nonprofit child safety organization that's working to prevent child deaths and injuries in or around motor vehicles.

While the majority of children injured or killed in frontover and backover accidents that occur because a driver could not see a child who was near a vehicle are toddlers, children of all ages need to be told about the dangers of playing in or near motor vehicles. Older children can easily get trapped while playing in a car's trunk, and it can be difficult to spot even an older child who's playing near a vehicle, especially if the child is short or the vehicle is high, such as a SUV. It's important for parents to make sure that kids understand that they should never play in a car, especially in a trunk. And never leave car keys where kids can access them and always lock the car, recommends Kids and Cars.

The risk: Cellphones have made walking more dangers since both pedestrians and drivers may be more distracted while texting or talking. Drivers may also be unpredictable, and inexperienced kids may not be able to deal with unexpected dangers from unsafe or speeding drivers.

"We think they're capable of more than they actually are," says Sarah Denny, MD, a member of the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) council on Injury, Violence, & Poison Prevention. "Kids under age ten shouldn't be crossing streets by themselves."And while parents may be vigilant about teaching kids the basics of pedestrian safety, such as not texting or talking on a cellphone, walking on the sidewalk, crossing at the crosswalks, and looking both ways before crossing the street, it's just as important for parents to set an example and follow these rules when they're with their kids.

Each year, an average of 564,000 children are taken to the emergency room for brain injuries, according to Boston Children's Hospital. Kids should always wear helmets that fit properly (make sure the straps form a "v" under the ears when buckled, open your mouth as wide as you can to make sure helmet pulls down a bit and is snug on your head, and when you look up the bottom of the rim should be visible), says Carr. And be sure to always have your child wear a helmet that's specifically recommended for a particular activity, such as sledding, skiing, snowboarding, scootering, and more.

Falls are the number one cause of emergency room visits that are non-fatal, says Carr. "Kids slip and fall in lots of different places," says Carr. "They tend to be curious and want to explore." For school-age kids, playground safety is big a concern. Make sure that playground surfaces are made from shock-absorbent material like rubber or synthetic turf. And use non-slip rugs on floors at home and non-slip decals in bathtubs and showers. For more tips from Safe Kids Worldwide, read, "Fall Prevention Tips." 

In addition to dangers from things like fire pits or barbecue grills ("Even when the fire is out, ashes and cinders can be hot for hours," notes Dr. Denny), big kids often get burned while taking things out of the microwave. And when the microwave is up high, a child may not realize how hot the food got and can easily have a bowl of hot soup or noodles pour right on top of them.

Teach kids to never heat things at full power, and to only heat for a minute and then carefully check the temperature before taking something out of the microwave. If the microwave is up high, have them ask an adult for help. Remind them to never go near a bonfire or fire pit or grill, even if the fire has been out for hours, and instruct them to never, ever play with matches or a lighter.

One of the most important questions parents can ask before their child goes to someone's house for a play date is whether or not there is an unlocked gun in the house. Here are some sobering statistics from the AAP:

  • In the U.S., one out of three homes with children has a gun
  • Nearly 1.7 million children live in a home with a loaded, unlocked gun.
  • As a result, thousands of kids are killed and injured by a firearm every year.

Research shows that simply telling kids not to touch guns is not effective. The AAP says that the most effective way to prevent firearm injury and death in kids is to not have guns in the home. If the guns cannot be removed, they must be locked away securely where children and teens cannot get to them.

As children grow bigger and stronger during the school-age years, it's easy to forget that they are still very much vulnerable to dangers--just different ones from when they were curious toddlers. Teach kids to think before acting and to remind themselves to take precautions to prevent injury and harm. Learning how to be safe while navigating the world is another important developmental milestone for children this age, who are rapidly becoming more independent and mature.

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