The toughest job of parents is keeping their young ones safe around the home and at play. Children of a certain age require 100-percent awareness on the part of an adult to keep them from getting hurt while they rumble around the house or in the playground in their headlong quest to understand the world.
Responsible parents take pains to baby proof their homes by keeping cabinets locked, securing book cases to walls and keeping household chemicals, sharp utensils and breakable objects out of reach. Another thing many parents do is create a safe place somewhere in the home that is designed especially for a mischievous toddler.
But anyone who has experienced a child bouncing into a wall or slipping from a sofa knows there is only so much you can do to prevent curiosity from getting the best of all our efforts to protect our children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, accidental death is the leading cause of childhood fatalities in the United States. About 1,800 children die and 220,000 are injured in auto accidents every year; another 1,000 die from drowning and 900 choke to death; 600 to 800 are struck by vehicles and die and between 500 and 600 die as a result of fires; about 150 die on bicycles and 100 are poisoned; 100 die as a result of falls and 60 die from guns; 500 to 600 die on playgrounds, or while playing sports or with toys.
And then there are the consequences of an unhealthy diet or a stressful living situation. Seventeen percent of children ages 2 to 19 are considered obese, a rate that's tripled since 1980. That equates to 12.5 million children, and we know that childhood obesity can lead to a lifetime of problems. Chronic stress, a result of living in uncertainty or in homes with violence or domestic strife, has been linked to many health conditions that can reduce quality and length of life.
But often the most obvious dangers go overlooked.
Case in point: Every 45 minutes a child ends up in the hospital for treatment of injuries received from a television falling over onto them; in 2011 alone, some 17,000 children ended up in emergency rooms around the country. Because more than half of the homes in the United States have three or more TVs, visits to the hospital have increased by 95 percent since 1990. Between 1990 and 2011, six children died after TVs toppled over on them.
According to a study in the journal Pediatrics, 64 percent of those injuries were to children under the age of 5, most of them boys. The study noted that the majority of the injuries were to the head or neck, sometimes resulting in concussions.
"These are occurring primarily to younger children," said Dr. Gary Smith, the study's senior author and president of the Child Injury Prevention Alliance. "When (the TVs) start coming toward them, they don't realize the danger."
Two-year-olds were in the age group most likely to be injured.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents take steps to secure televisions so they can't be tipped over. It also recommends parents don't leave remote controls on the tops of televisions, tempting the little ones to figure out a way to reach them, resulting in a toppled TV.
As any parent knows, helping our children grow up safe and healthy is a full-time job. But it's our job to make sure they eat right, they don't experience too much stress, their homes and play areas are safe and they don't get into situations where they can be seriously injured, or worse.
Childhood can be a wonderful time, and not just for the children themselves but also for the parents. Watching as they learn about the world can reignite our own awe and wonder. But it is also a time when many of us are constantly worried about the safety of our children. Fortunately, there are things we can do to protect them until they are ready to take care of themselves.
If we are bringing a child into the world, it's our responsibility to keep them safe, a responsibility that needs to take the utmost priority.