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I would like to start this commentary by assuring you that I really am a fun parent. I’m not a germaphobe despite the fact that I majored in cellular molecular biology, I don’t wrap my children in bubble wrap or tell them not to run for fear that they’ll get hurt and their bedroom walls are not padded despite my ongoing commitment to injury prevention.

Okay, so now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I’ll also tell you that my husband is convinced that all of you who read my column are going to start thinking of me as Debbie Downer if I keep writing about all of the dangers of childhood – a concern I fully understand. The problem is that I just can’t help it. Not when I know that unintentional injuries have long been and continue to be the leading cause of death for children under the age of fourteen, and that there’s a lot that we, as parents, can do to prevent these injuries from happening.

While I could take my pick of summertime safety topics to write about (and probably will over the upcoming weeks, since there’s no shortage of them), right now I think it’s well worth the time to focus on the fact that there’s going to be a whole lot of fireworks on the horizon in the not too distant future. In fact, in my west Omaha neighborhood, they’re already a nightly event.

Each year, without fail, I cringe at the thought of the potential dangers of fireworks. And just saying that makes me sound like my mother. As a kid, I admit I had a very hard time listening to my pediatrician mother explain the dangers of fireworks. And not just the “dangerous” kind, but essentially all of the fireworks that every other neighborhood child got to light and enjoy in peace without hearing about how many people lose eyes and limbs to fireworks. Back then, my siblings and I weren’t allowed to light anything but sparklers.

Knowing what I know now, even sparklers concern me. Of course, saying that alone makes me a bit of a social outcast, given that most families I know are out buying hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars worth of fireworks that they fully intend to fire off together in the front driveway. Now that non-profits are allowed to sell them right here in Nebraska, I can only imagine how many more amateur fireworks we stand to witness in the next few days and weeks. I only hope this increased availability doesn’t translate into an increase in fireworks related injuries.

For my part, I figured it might help if I shared a couple of commonly used expressions that I think are particularly relevant to the Fourth of July weekend celebrations. It is my sincere hope that they will give you pause, and then set you up to enjoy a fun-filled and safer family holiday weekend.

It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye…and people actually do. According to my mother, it was the experience of being on call on the Fourth of July in the pediatric emergency room in Boston and seeing a child brought in who had been blinded by an exploding firework that shaped her future opinions of them. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, somewhere on the order of seven to nine thousand people a year are treated in hospital emergency rooms for fireworks-related injuries.

You’re playing with fire….literally. While you’d like to think that this would be obvious – akin to letting children stick their hands in the oven, for example – this particular burn risk seems to be lost on some otherwise safety-minded parents as soon as their children start begging to go out and join the fun of lighting explosives. And if you think I’m just talking about the more obviously dangerous explosive kinds of fireworks, consider the fact that even good old, presumably benign sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2000 degrees and are responsible for an estimated one third of fireworks-related injuries to children under age 5.

You’re throwing caution to the wind – definitely in a figurative sense, but also in a very literal sense. It makes absolutely no sense to me that one of the most well-accepted rituals involved in celebrating our country’s independence is the liberation of lit explosives into the wind in the hopes that they entertain rather than fall on a neighbors roof, tree, or other highly flammable objects.

And finally, knowing full well that there will still be lots of families lighting lots of fireworks in the upcoming days, I’ll leave you with some important fireworks safety tips from the Consumer Product Safety Commission:

  • Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks.
  • Avoid buying fireworks that are packaged in brown paper because this is often a sign that the fireworks were made for professional displays and that they could pose a danger to consumers.
  • Always have an adult supervise fireworks activities. Parents don’t realize that young children suffer injuries from from sparklers, [which are] hot enough to melt some metals.
  • Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse. Back up to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks.
  • Never try to re-light or pick up fireworks that have not ignited fully.
  • Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
  • Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap.
  • Light fireworks one at a time, then move back quickly.
  • Never carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers.
  • After fireworks complete their burning, douse the spent device with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding it to prevent a trash fire.

Originally posted on Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska