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Hypothermia and Children

Okay, first off, this isn't a Tim Ingram-inspired sponson rant.

I was at my church's summer camp this weekend for a work weekend. I took 6 of my youth group (ages 12-17) for a short canoe trip along the shore of Flathead Lake. We obviously weren't dressed for immersion, so we stayed close to shore, and only paddled 1/2 mile out and 1/2 mile back.

One of the kids suggested we paddle out to Shelter Island. I have made the Shelter Island crossing 4 or 5 times, but always in a kayak, and with immersion protection, and never with kids. I told him flat-out "no", but started thinking...

How do you reason with children, and help educate them about the dangers of hypothermia? You can always take the safe route, like I did, and simply make the decision for them, and tell them it's not in their cards, but has anyone been faced with a similar situation. Realistically, I would like these kids to retain some sort of awareness that they can carry for their entire life that hypothermia is sometimes a greater risk than simply drowning.

I started by asking, "What if we tip?"

They said the obvious: "We swim to shore"

I said, "What about Hypothermia? You tip over, we start swimming, then your body starts to rapidly cool down, then you're swimming ever slower, and slower, and you lose muscle control and can't swim the rest of the way to shore. What then?"

This answer was good enough for most of them, but one young man wanted to push it farther. Here's where I got stumped. Barred by the intricacies of language that we can't use with children, I was at a loss for words. I could reason farther with an adult in this situation, but couldn't explain any more to Kenny. I had to resort to the simple "No".

There were hot showers at the camp. Perhaps I should have taken him swimming, and once in the frigid (less than 45*F) water, asked him if he thought he could swim across the bay (1/4 mile). I'm sure the answer would have been "no".

Any suggestions?

I just really didn't want to get back to shore and have someone say,

"Oh my god, he killed Kenny!!"

Shawn

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