“Digging In Wet Sand is Dangerous”

My piece in today’s Wall Street Journal, “If You’re a Kid, the Experts Want You to Have a Fun-Free Summer,” was inspired by the warnings some of you sent me from a blog where the pediatrician advised parents about the multitudinous dangers of letting their kids play in the sand:
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“Remember when digging in the sand at the beach was a fun activity for young children,” says the website KidsTravelDoc. “Sorry. No more. Based on recent findings, only with lots of do’s and don’ts is frolicking in the sand a healthy activity, says the U.S. Environmental Protective [sic] Agency.”
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I was unable to find the EPA’s granular list of caveats. But the blog’s author, Karl Neumann of the American Academy of Pediatrics, lays out his own don’ts: “Studies show that children playing in the sand are more likely to become ill than children merely walking on it. And the risk of illness increases with digging in the sand, being ‘buried’ in it, and digging in wet sand.”
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Got it. Keep your kids on dry sand. No, wait: “Dry sand presents problems, too.” So, Dr. Neumann warns: “Discourage children from lying directly on the sand.”
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While you’re at it: “Walking barefooted is another ‘don’t.’ Have children wear lightweight, ventilated, hard-soled footwear that covers the toes. This helps prevent stubbed toes, lacerations, puncture wounds, and burns from hot sand. Ideally, footwear should be worn for wading in the water.”
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Why take them to the beach at all? Keep them at home on a hard, nonporous surface, free of dirt and obstacles, checking frequently for venomous spiders, disease-bearing insects, and sewage. Children should be in steel-toed work boots at all times, as well as oven mitts and chain mail.
Here’s a link to the rest of the article, but it’s behind a paywall. So let me share just the ending, where I quote Parents magazine on how to keep kids safe at the playground:
“[W]alk away if you see cement, asphalt, dirt, or grass: These surfaces are linked to head injuries.”
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So are walls, if you bang your head against them. My summer advice to parents is therefore short and sweet. Tell your kids they can’t swim alone, get into a stranger’s car, or let their parents buy them a high-tech water bottle.
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And then stop reading other safety tips.

PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

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56 Responses to “Digging In Wet Sand is Dangerous”

  1. BL June 21, 2017 at 12:03 pm #

    Planet Earth is dangerous. Go live somewhere else.

  2. Sarah June 21, 2017 at 12:06 pm #

    We are going down some dark side.. and we wonder why kids are so anxiety – ridden today.

  3. Christopher Byrne June 21, 2017 at 12:17 pm #

    How did my brothers and I survive?
    Oh, right, we were just lucky that the infinitesimal chance of something happening didn’t.

  4. M June 21, 2017 at 12:22 pm #

    *eyeroll*

    So all sand is dangerous, sandals are dangerous, sidewalks are dangerous, grass is dangerous, playgrounds are dangerous, sun exposure is dangerous, water is dangerous, and public places full of strangers are dangerous. So forget any vacation, anywhere, ever, until your kids are adults. Heck, don’t even let them out of the house until they are adults.

    Maybe a fully padded, security safe room would be considered acceptable.

    Especially since I read an article yesterday admonishing parents not to leave windows open (never mind there is a heatwave in much of the US) and never let your child sleep next to even a locked window, because someone might look in, see your kid, and try to steal ’em.

    Yep, fully padded, security safe room is the only way your child will make it to adulthood unharmed.

  5. C. S. P. Schofield June 21, 2017 at 12:26 pm #

    Why do I instinctively feel that the studies showing playing in the sand (wet or dry) to be dangerous to children’ health are either panicking over numbers mall enough to be swallowed by the margin of error, or simply so badly constructed that their results are necessarily nonsense?

  6. Sarah June 21, 2017 at 12:32 pm #

    My kids will happily spend the entire day digging in the sand while ignoring the water right behind them, other than to fill up buckets to fill moats and rivers with. The only rule I have about sand is not digging holes so big that they could actually get buried in them. (This doesn’t include burying their brother in sand up to their neck, totally different activity) I guess I’m a horrible mother.

  7. Backroads June 21, 2017 at 12:34 pm #

    [W]alk away if you see cement, asphalt, dirt, or grass: These surfaces are linked to head injuries.”

    What the hell are my kids supposed to walk on?

  8. Backroads June 21, 2017 at 12:36 pm #

    “”Especially since I read an article yesterday admonishing parents not to leave windows open (never mind there is a heatwave in much of the US) and never let your child sleep next to even a locked window, because someone might look in, see your kid, and try to steal ’em.””

    And here I”ve been subscribing to the old wives’ advice about fresh air from an open window being so healthy.

  9. JTW June 21, 2017 at 12:37 pm #

    “What the hell are my kids supposed to walk on?”

    You’re supposed to keep them in a stroller until they’re adults…

  10. Nicole June 21, 2017 at 12:38 pm #

    Sarah my kids are the same way. We live in Northern California and the water is COLD! Usually so is the beach. We leave our hot city at 90 degrees drive over the hill (takes about 45 mins) to the beach we’re it will be in the 60’s So when we go it is to look at the water and it is all about sand play! Funny in three years I think my kids have been sick maybe twice! They each only missed one day of school.

  11. Nicole R. June 21, 2017 at 12:41 pm #

    But what about the things you GET from the beach – the sense of peace and calm, the self-esteem boost of building a castle, the memories you make? In our continuing quest to eliminate every tiny physical danger, we’re ultimately taking away things that support emotional well-being. We’re trading mental health for physical safety, and it’s not anywhere close to even.

  12. Another Katie June 21, 2017 at 1:09 pm #

    There can be risks to kids digging deep holes or tunnels in sand, due to sand collapses. But just playing in sand is now somehow dangerous?! Insanity.

  13. lollipoplover June 21, 2017 at 1:15 pm #

    “Discourage children from lying directly on the sand.”

    Do they have hovercrafts for towels at the beach??

    We have not made it to the beach yet, we are going there this weekend. The only issue I have with sand is how much of it winds up in my car and inside the bathing suit linings of my girl’s suits and how hard it is to get out of the suits. My kids have always loved the sand and the beach and kick off their flip flops as soon as they can walk on it.

    Sand between your toes should not= Anxiety.

    The positive ions from the fresh sea air counteract any of this safety nonsense from *experts* who wish to sell you sand shoes or other safety gear to make a profit off of what is such an enjoyable experience!

    Buy your kid a boogie board or surf board instead. We bought a SUP for the kids a few years ago and it is the most used piece of sporting equipment we own. Sunscreen and hats, we also love rash guards for protection and always asking lifeguards if there are any dangerous currents to know of. Walking on sand is not hot lava.

    I’m getting a head injury from reading such nonsense.

  14. Theresa Hall June 21, 2017 at 1:27 pm #

    What no sand castles? Even though I wish people wouldn’t leave cigarettes butts everywhere on the beach that only problem I have.

  15. that mum June 21, 2017 at 1:27 pm #

    Give me a break, yeah and kids who never get to play outdoors and are not exposed to dirt and germs have no freaking immune system if a germ manages to break through the sanitized environment and get at them.

    Go out an get dirty, fall down and scrape your knees that’s what summer is all about! We live in a seaside community so I think most parents around here would laugh in that pediatricians face.

  16. Dean Whinery June 21, 2017 at 1:41 pm #

    Caution! Breathing may be hazardous to your health. 🙂

  17. Peter June 21, 2017 at 1:48 pm #

    And here I”ve been subscribing to the old wives’ advice about fresh air from an open window being so healthy.

    It’s fine, as long as you don’t have an electric fan running.

    (Somewhat off-topic, but years ago when I stayed with some of my roommate’s friends in Vietnam, they had the same concern about running the fan overnight…)

  18. Free range kid, free range mom June 21, 2017 at 2:10 pm #

    As usual the comments here are enlightening and funny. Especially this one:

    “How did my brothers and I survive?
    Oh, right, we were just lucky that the infinitesimal chance of something happening didn’t.”

  19. Kirsten June 21, 2017 at 2:22 pm #

    Unbelievable. When I first saw the headline I thought it might be about not digging so deep a hole that it collapses on you (a danger I was completely unaware of until the last maybe 5 years when I started reading stories about this.) That one sounds legitimate. Everything else here is nuts. Yes your kids may want to put on flipflops to cross the part of the sand that is burning hot (I remember a few beaches like that where you had to run across some really hot sand to get to the good part, but that should be up to them anyway!

    The only circumstance in which I’d wear shoes in the water is if I went to Australia because some Australian friends of mine in college spent several hours terrorizing me with every detail about the horrible and dangerous creatures in Oz that I’m not even sure I could enjoy being there! Among others is the stonefish that looks exactly like a rock which if you step on it with bare feet will inject you with excruciating venom that can sometimes be fatal.

  20. shdd June 21, 2017 at 2:29 pm #

    The only beach that I could have burned my feet was Ocean City. Virginia Beach, Rehoboth, and Cape May I have not had trouble with the heat.

    In Cape May a couple of years ago I thought I was in the middle of Cape May earthquake. My office and our headquarters in Philadelphia also evacuated because of the shaking of the ground. I think that happened in either 2012 or 2013.

  21. AmyO June 21, 2017 at 2:59 pm #

    I had to click on the article out of curiosity, and the accompanying picture is a beach that is covered in waste and debris. So yes, if you bring your children to a beach immediately following a natural disaster that is now riddled with trash and hazardous materials, be cautious. Otherwise none of the tips even make sense.

  22. SKL June 21, 2017 at 3:25 pm #

    I’m not gonna read the warnings, but this is nothing new. I am certain that the dangers of being dumb with sand were public knowledge when I was a kid.

    So it makes me wonder why we need a PSA. Is it because we are so out of practice with being outside with kids, that we need to go back and check the manual?

  23. Barbara June 21, 2017 at 3:38 pm #

    My favorite dangers du jour that was reported on the news this afternoon. Bounce houses, backyard trampolines, and fidget spinners (choking hazard). Seriously people?? I like my kids’ response..”what do you think they invented bandaids for??”

  24. Kenny Felder June 21, 2017 at 3:40 pm #

    Lenore, I am so so glad you’re out there.

  25. Beth June 21, 2017 at 3:44 pm #

    “Walk away if you see cement, asphalt, dirt, or grass”

    Walk away….on what? It’s very likely that cement, asphalt, dirt, or grass, or a combination of all, had to be walked on to even *get* to the park.

    Do these people even read their own words?

  26. paula June 21, 2017 at 4:01 pm #

    In 1953 this movie about a 5 year old running away to the beach was considered charming… oh the horror! he drinks Pepsi and goes on amusement park rides on his own! imagine?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjvO-hv4VbQ

  27. tom June 21, 2017 at 4:10 pm #

    to the liz vaccariello and parents magazine. cbs anchor woman cindy hsu recently got involved in dirty coraption business with crazy cbs anchor otis livingston to steal money from parents magazine employees bank accounts. never trust cindy hsu and otis livingston they making too meny problems.

  28. Melanie June 21, 2017 at 4:12 pm #

    “[W]alk away if you see cement, asphalt, dirt, or grass: These surfaces are linked to head injuries.”

    Oh, come on! This is insane.

  29. Jennifer C June 21, 2017 at 4:17 pm #

    @tom–I’m not sure what ‘coraption’ is supposed to be. In fact, I can’t even understand what you’re going on about. But I do know it’s off-topic.

  30. Elin Hagberg June 21, 2017 at 5:13 pm #

    I let my 5 year old swim in a lake that I know has bird parasites that may cause vomiting if the child drinks too much water and may for some cause itching. Neither I nor she tend to get the itch and she knows not to drink the water. If she falls over and accidentally swallows water I know vomiting might happen that night but also it might not. She gets to play in the sand both at the park and on the beach. Her baby brother is only 10 months old so she is not yet allowed to bury him in the sand but in a year or two if he likes to try it, sure. He is allowed to play on the beach as well but I do try to avoid him tasting and eating various disgusting things.

  31. Jennifer C June 21, 2017 at 5:24 pm #

    When we were kids we used to go to a campsite in Tappahannock called Hunter’s Mill and they had this lake that we swam in. The only downside was that it had this stuff from the lily pads that would leave this red stuff on your skin but it didn’t stain–you could just wash it off with the hose after. It also had an awesome rope and you could swing out into the water. The lake was great for boating too.

  32. WendyW June 21, 2017 at 5:25 pm #

    @Lollipoplover: “The only issue I have with sand is how much of it winds up in my car and inside the bathing suit linings of my girl’s suits and how hard it is to get out of the suits.”

    Take along a bottle of baby powder. Before they get in the car, sprinkle liberally over all sandy body parts. The sand will then brush off easily.

  33. James June 21, 2017 at 5:29 pm #

    My oldest boy has a mostly-finished hauberk. I can tell you, it’s not fully safe. It weighs a good 15 lbs., and if not properly distributed that weight can, over time, cause muscular and skeletal problems. Plus, it increases the chance of heat stress–so make sure your environment is air-conditioned! That’s without mentioning that his brother has a (foam) sword, and if you’re wearing armor you are, by house rules, a fair target!

    This drive to limit even the most mild discomfort is insane. A stubbed toe hurts–and then you learn to not do that anymore. Burning your feet on hot sand hurts–and you learn your lesson! Trust me on this one; second-degree burns are Mother Nature’s way of saying “Stop being so stupid!” The inclusion of lacerations is particularly annoying. Unless it’s deep enough to see bone/muscle, it’s called a cut. It’s a minor annoyance as long as you wash it (and for a beach I’d include salve and a bandage, because I know what’s in that water). Blurring the difference shows just how little sense of scale we have for injuries these days. What are these kids going to do when they get into a job that requires them to do actual work, where they may get a papercut or a scrape?

  34. Donald June 21, 2017 at 6:14 pm #

    You don’t know how to add 269 + 3,782 at birth. This is something that must be learned. In order for this to happen, you are given math problems. You start with small ones such as 2+3 and work your way up. If you want to avoid these small math problems, that’s your prerogative. The outcome will be that you will not know how to deal with them.

    The ability to deal with life’s problems is the same. You start with smaller problems first. Some of these problems are things like hot sand burning your feet or stubbed toes. If you want your child to avoid these small problems, that’s your prerogative. The outcome will be that they will not know how to deal with life’s adversities.

    “We are going down some dark side.. and we wonder why kids are so anxiety – ridden today.”

  35. SKL June 21, 2017 at 6:52 pm #

    We don’t live super close to a beach, but my kids have played on a variety of beaches around the world. I don’t give instructions on how to play in the sand. I watch as appropriate from a distance. So far I can’t think of anything I’ve seen them do or encounter that would be concerning – at least not that I remember. One friend of mine got stung by something in Costa Rica, but that was more of an annoyance than anything else.

    We do have a lake beach a bit north of us, bordering a big city. It is littered with a lot of stuff you would not want in your feet. I do recommend wearing shoes there – but mostly we don’t bother going there, kuz it’s gross.

  36. Garfield Pennington June 21, 2017 at 7:14 pm #

    Good on you for this one. When will we stop over-protecting kids that is so much to their detriment?

    Gary Pennington, EdD, Associate Professor Emeritus, University of BC

  37. lollipoplover June 21, 2017 at 8:45 pm #

    @WendyW- Thank you for that tip!
    I’ve heard it before but never tried it. Sand in bathing suits (especially when it gets caught in the crotch of the suit and looks like a turd) is no fun. Sand usually IS fun!

    Honestly, I am a totally laid back parent, but at the beach, I turn into David Hasselhoff from Baywatch and have a healthy respect for ocean dangers.
    Not sand.
    Not cement.
    But drowning. I used to be a lifeguard. It doesn’t look like you think it should, usually more subtle.
    Keep an eye on your kids in the water. Enjoy the sand, it’s a natural exfoiliant but be a hawk around water.

  38. JTW June 21, 2017 at 11:47 pm #

    “I’ve heard it before but never tried it. Sand in bathing suits (especially when it gets caught in the crotch of the suit and looks like a turd) is no fun. Sand usually IS fun!”

    Another reason to use the nude beach. No sand stuck in your swimwear. No wet swimwear causing rashes either, and no wet swimwear ending up ruining the paperback novels you took along to read…

    Plus the people tend to be much friendlier.

  39. sexhysteria June 22, 2017 at 2:00 am #

    I wonder if the AAP also recommends professional counseling for victims of exposure to sand.

  40. Puzzled June 22, 2017 at 9:46 am #

    I spent 9 summers working on a beach (granted, for 5 of them I was in an office, but it was on the beach, and I was able to sneak out pretty often). I saw lots of craziness – countless parents yelling at kids for getting sandy, for instance – but never this particular craziness. Sigh.

  41. Helen Armstrong June 22, 2017 at 10:58 am #

    This article could totally be printed in The Onion – absolutely absurd!

  42. German mom June 22, 2017 at 12:24 pm #

    Sand pollution?
    Don’t you have sewage treatment plants?

  43. Paul Shannon June 22, 2017 at 1:04 pm #

    I’m speechless! how did i ever survive all the dangerous things i did as a kid, like going to the beach and walking home from school by myself 1,440 times!

  44. Chris beck June 22, 2017 at 1:52 pm #

    I spent my grade shcool years in the interior of Venezuela ( back in the ’60’s). Once a month a truck would come through the neighborhoos spraying DDT; when we knew the truck was coming my friends and i would run outside and run through the DDT pretending it wa fog. I’m quite sure that the if the EPA was aware of my experience, they would probably have me tested for God knows what ( as only the EPA can do). Maybe even banish me from the US……

  45. Rachel W Nelli June 22, 2017 at 5:04 pm #

    Don’t forget to watch out for the R.O.U.S.s

  46. Chris Sarver June 22, 2017 at 8:06 pm #

    Great article! I heard you on Dennis Prager’s show today and loved your interview! You are a kindred spirit when it comes to raising children.

  47. Jesse June 22, 2017 at 8:13 pm #

    Heard you on Prager today. Excellent! This “safety culture” is destroying our ability to love life. I blame insurance companies, risk assessors, frivolous lawsuits and nanny state busybodies.

    I simply tell my six kids that my job as a parent is not to protect them from life; but to teach them how to survive it on their own and there’s a lotta things they’ll learn the hard way.

  48. Backroads June 22, 2017 at 10:10 pm #

    I showed the article to Husband. He thinks it’s farce.

  49. bmj2k June 22, 2017 at 10:46 pm #

    More silliness masquerading as science.

    “Studies show that children playing in the sand are more likely to become ill than children merely walking on it. And the risk of illness increases with digging in the sand, being ‘buried’ in it, and digging in wet sand.”

    What’s the link? What’s the cause and effect? Was this conducted one beach or many? What was the age range of the kids? Are boys more prone to sand sickness than girls? Under what conditions was this investigated? Does the risk increase the deeper you dig?

    Following the link, the article gives the completely common sense advice to avoid polluted beaches. How can you tell a polluted beach? The article is illustrated with a picture of a beach literally covered one foot deep with empty bottles and rusty metal. Who among us needs to be told not to let your child play with broken glass and rusty nails?

    The link also gives this not-at-all over the top and scary advice for walking on tropical beaches:
    “Sand, on the beach and in the water, may conceal poisonous sea life that may have tentacles, fangs, barbs or spines, for example. Some are able to inject venom into children’s’ (and adult’s) skin or burrow under their skin.”

    Yup. Tropical beaches may hid squid, Sarlacc pits, or the kraken. Watch out everyone.

  50. James Pollock June 23, 2017 at 12:05 am #

    “More silliness masquerading as science. […] What’s the link? What’s the cause and effect?”

    The intertidal zone is one of death and decay. Dying organisms wash onto the shore and rot there. This is a very active breeding zone for bacteria, including some that are opportunistic enough to be harmful to human beings. Some river beaches are downstream from sewers, which means fecal bacteria, and there are periodic algae blooms which are toxic (and the toxins can be concentrated in shellfish which live, and die, in the intertidal.

    There’s also correlation (but not causation) between kids who spend a lot of time near water and kids who get bitten by mosquitoes, which can vector pathogens. This means that kids who spent time playing in the wet sand are more likely to become sick (although, as noted, not from the sand, but by the proximity to biting insects.)

    Now… many of the most hazardous things I’ve listed are temporary, localized, or both, making it possible to avoid them, while still going to the beach. But avoiding the beach would be effective, too… although there are dangers associated with anywhere you happen to be.

  51. lightbright June 23, 2017 at 1:29 am #

    For a lot of reasons, going to the beach just isn’t what it used to be. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDB7haiUPcE

  52. John B. June 23, 2017 at 9:58 am #

    Now kids going outside barefoot is another no-no? Gosh, we’re turning our youth into a bunch of wimps! Although I rarely went barefoot when I was a kid, at least the other kids I hung out with would go barefoot all the time, boys and girls alike.

  53. Jim Susky June 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm #

    Beside my first house as a child we had a sandbox – fun to play in. My mother was troubled about it, however, since the neighborhood cat like to “play” in it as well.

  54. EB June 23, 2017 at 3:48 pm #

    Ha Ha! I can actually agree with the one about not letting kids bury each other in sand. Not because it will make them sick, but because that is an AWFUL way to find out that you have claustrophobia if your siblings or friends bury you and then wander away. I speak from terrified experience . . .

  55. Eric June 23, 2017 at 6:49 pm #

    Congratulations! This blog post was cited by Albert Mohler in his podcast today (June 23). Hadn’t been back to your blog in quite some time, glad to find so many fresh, good articles.

    Cheer!

  56. Maddy June 23, 2017 at 9:57 pm #

    Here’s the study: https://cdr.lib.unc.edu/indexablecontent/uuid:419478fc-f063-43ac-b89a-4d6285258660

    So the correlation was made by taking 144 samples of wet sand from a beach in Alabama and a beach in Warwick. Both locations were near waste-water outfalls. The scientists asked 5,000 beach visitors if they dug in the sand and swam in the water. The samples were then tested and the researchers found the presence of harmful viruses and pathogens. They followed up with the beach-goers two weeks later to see if they got sick and what symptoms they had. The symptoms observed were typically mild and the senior author of the study said it shouldn’t deter people from enjoying the beach. Just maybe consider washing your hands or using hand sanitizer after playing in the sand or water. Really interesting to see evidence that not only does polluted water has the capacity to make you sick, but polluted sand actually carries a greater risk.

    They’re not claiming you’re going to die, just that you may want to wash your hands in case the sand is polluted or carries harmful pathogens. Unfortunately, news reporting of scientific studies often exaggerate the actual findings.