I have raised my two boys, with the help of my sweet husband, at the beach in South Carolina, Florida and Alabama. The years we lived inland, we made trips to the coast for vacations. There are several things that struck me as skills my boys learned at an early age and still hold onto. At just 4 years old, our oldest recruited friends to pick up trash left behind by other people. I really supervised this activity since I didn’t want them touching something unsavory. They later used gloves and even later gave some volunteer hours to Coastal Clean-up. They’ve learned to respect the waves, the warning flags and roped areas that protect wildlife. My boys helped me one day “bird sitting” near a protected nest to keep the public educated about the area. The guys control their spending on knick-knacks and keep their sunscreen on and water bottles in hand.
With this in mind I’ve come up with a list of 5 skills that kids and teens who live or visit the beach on a regular basis should have to be a steward of the environment, their lives and the community:
1. Self Discipline: There are many areas of self discipline that kids and teens should exercise while on vacation at the beach. a) Young kids are prone to throw handfuls of sand at one another and it only takes one grain of sand to scratch a cornea. b) Older children and teens need to learn to stay away from dangerous currents, know what the flags mean and heed the warnings. c) Vacation towns are full of great shopping and kids will be interested in buying things they can’t get back home. Self-discipline regarding money and budgeting will allow them to spread out their spending for the duration of the vacation and make the right spending choices. They’ll enjoy even more what they purchase when they spend wisely. d) Driving teens may feel that since they’re on vacation they can act with abandon and not follow any rules. This isn’t so. Responsible driving skill are still necessary while on vacation.
2. Respect: Sharing the beach with others requires respect for others. Keep your music within your own space or wear ear buds. Play catch or paddle ball away from sunbathers so you don’t kick sand on them. Watch out for little children near or in the water. Keep away from roped areas of the beach. Federally protected shorebirds and sea turtles nest on the beach and their space is important to protect. Most are endangered or on a watch list. Tampering with the roped areas, entering or vandalizing will land you in jail and or with a large fine to pay. Attend a class while on vacation to learn about the species in the area that are protected and what you can do to help. And when you leave the beach, clean up. Leave it the way you found it so it can be enjoyed again the next day. Throw away trash in cans placed near parking lots. Bottle caps, cigarette butts, plastic bags, broken sand toys, food wrappers etc shouldn’t stay on the beach overnight.
3. Problem Solving: A person in the ocean or Gulf looks like they are too far from the coast. What do you do? Kids and teens shouldn’t hesitate to let a grown up know if they think someone looks in distress. Make sure they don’t go in after the person. Only trained lifeguards should brave the waves and rip currents to save a life. Find the nearest life guard stand and let them know what you think. You could save a life just by reporting something you saw.
4. Physical skills: Kids who hang near the water line need basic swimming skills. No one should be afraid of the water although it can be easy to find yourself with a fear of the waves and the vastness of the sea, not to mention the creatures that live inside. But in any event, children need to learn to swim. A wave could crash while they’re searching to shells, or filling up their bucket with water. Older children are drawn into the water daring it to mess with them. One crashing wave or rip tide could cause panic and result in drowning. Kids and teens should learn how to not panic and how to get out of a rip tide. What if you vacation at the beach and your child hasn’t had lessons? Make sure that child is wearing a life jacket. They aren’t quite the fashion statement and will provide some extra tan lines but safety should trump fashion and comfort. Even teens without swim lessons need to be aware of the dangers of being in too-deep water.
5. Healthy decision making: The sun is necessary for life on planet Earth but over exposure can damage your skin. A sunburn can cause sensitive skin, chills, fever, blistering. Teens no longer have their parents applying sunscreen so they need to make sure they do it themselves. Deciding to wear sunscreen is an important decision. Be aware that some medications cause sun sensitivity. Choose whether to limit your exposure by time, higher SPF, cover-up clothing or use of an umbrella. The sun and heat can also cause dehydration. Floating in the ocean or Gulf will not add hydration to your body; it has to come from within so be sure to keep a bottle of water to drink while you’re on the beach to avoid hydration. Bring snacks that add hydration like apples. Making healthy decisions on the beach is a great life skill for kids and teens.
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