Understanding potential injuries and pitfalls is only part of the equation. You need to ask questions and understand the activity that your children are going to go on. Make sure they have the proper clothing, footwear, safety gear, and equipment before they go on their trip. Our editors recommend doing the following to be sure your children are safe.
Check the weather forecast. Know what the weather is going to be like where your children are going and prepare them accordingly. Don't just be prepared for the temperature, also be ready for precipitation and wind. Remember that rain where you are may be a blinding snowstorm where your children are going. When in doubt, keep them at home.
Check out the leaders' credentials. Your children's guides don't have to be National Outdoor Leadership School Masters and paramedics, but they should have some level of expertise. Find out if they are first aid certified and if they have taken any outdoor courses. You should also find out about their experience with children, motivation and discipline style. If you children are going on a program through a reputable group like Outward Bound, you should expect an even higher level of expertise from their guides. As a rule of thumb the longer your children are outdoors, the more experienced their guides should be.
Find out if all the proper applications, permits, and plans are in place. Among the twelve essentials of the outdoors, a plan is number one. Part of a good plan includes having all of the needed paperwork done and permits in place, unless local regulations don't allow for that.
Know the details of the plan. Are the plans reasonable and safe? Taking a thirteen-mile round trip hike in a day may not sound that far, but it is. Children under fourteen years old are not going to be able to hike more than three to six miles in a day. If you feel the goals are not attainable talk with the organizers about your concerns.
Find out the correct gear your child should have. Don't rely on your event planners for this, they may not know themselves, especially if you are going on a program through a church. If you have a good outdoors store around talk to them about your child's trek, they will gladly share information with you on what they will need to be comfortable and safe. Improper clothing and gear is the number one cause of frostbite, hypothermia, and heat related injuries. If the group provides gear make sure it is adequate, fits well, and is in good condition.
Make sure your children are capable of making the trip. A child that is obese, has severe asthma, or emotional problems may desperately want to go on a trip with their friends, but it may not be in their best interest. If you have your doubts talk to your child's pediatrician about their plans, some trips and groups may even require your child to take a physical. You shouldn't be overly protective, a child can learn a lot about themselves when they are pushed to the limits of their abilities, but be sure they can handle both the physical and emotional strain of their outdoor adventure.
The safety of your children is a team effort between you, the event organizers, and the leaders. If after checking all of the information you are uncomfortable with the activity, the plans, or the ability of the leaders, consider keeping your children at home. Most youth groups have well planned activities that are fun, educational and safe, but the final decision is up to you.