Facebook Fear-Mongering About Risks to Kids Ruins Summer

Has your Facebook feed been filled with scary articles warning about “dry drowning” this summer?

Mine too.

“Dry drowning” and “secondary drowning” happens when a kid dies later on from complications related to getting water into his or her lungs. It’s also not a real thing. According to a newswire sent out this summer by the American College of Emergency Physicians: “There are no medically accepted conditions known as ‘near drowning,’ ‘dry drowning,’ and ‘secondary drowning.’ The World Health Organization, the International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation, the Wilderness Medical Society, the International Lifesaving Federation, the International Conference on Drowning, the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) all discourage the use of these terms.”

And yet if you read the Facebook feeds of parents of young children, you will find endless posts by helicopter parents warning everyone else of the dangers of “dry drowning.” “Just posting this as an FYI.” “Fellow parents: Be on the lookout for signs this summer.” “Never hurts to repost this every summer for fellow parents of little kids.” 

Actually, it does hurt, because you are freaking parents out unnecessarily. According to the American College of Emergency Physicians’ president, “Parents are being unduly alarmed by media reports suggesting that children can die from drowning a week after swimming.”

The articles about “dry drowning” are only one among many topics that urge parents to read about freak infant and child deaths this summer—articles that serve no purpose other than to terrify parents. Take, for example, the article that recently went viral about a baby that supposedly died from one kiss: “6-day-old baby contracts life-threatening illness from a kiss,” read one New York Post headline. “Don’t let people kiss your baby, and make sure they ask before they pick up your baby,” read the grab quote on the Facebook thumbnail. The baby eventually died.

And then there are these stories: People magazine ran a story with the headline: “Grieving Mom Whose 3-Month-Old Baby Died in His Sleep Shares What Could Have Prevented His Death: ‘I Carry Guilt.’” Slate published this story: “A Mom’s Viral Photo of Her Kid’s Body Cast has Parents Panicking About Trampolines.” People had another scary story: “10-Year-Old Miami Boy Believed to Have Died After Exposure to Fentanyl, Heroin.” The story noted: “The fifth grader began vomiting and became unconscious when he returned home from a trip to the local swimming pool.”

The death of any child is a tragic occurrence. But these stories are suggesting that rare and tragic accidents are commonplace. This leaves parents feeling like now it’s not enough to worry about how to pay for daycare and college. We’ve got to be concerned that everyday activities might lead to death for our children: a trip to the pool will lead to some kind of horrific death, or a trampoline will put our kid in a body cast, or a kiss from a well-meaning stranger can put our child in the grave.

Even Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), something parents are warned about constantly by the media and pediatrician offices, is exceedingly rare. The last year there was any data on SIDS deaths, approximately .0005 percent of babies died of SIDS. That is about the same likelihood as being struck by lightning in a lifetime. In other words, a baby is as likely to die of SIDS as he or she is to be struck by lightning. When I pressed my own pediatrician on SIDS, she admitted that in her entire career, her practice had never seen one American child die of SIDS.

This is not to diminish the tragedy of SIDS, or of any of the above incidents of injury and death to children. But this is one hormonal and postpartum mother’s plea to please stop sharing stories about freak child deaths or of conditions like “dry drowning” that aren’t medically valid as if you are doing a favor to parents and helping keep kids safe.

There are a few weeks left of summer. Let’s let parents and kids enjoy them without fear-mongering.

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