Defy the cold water challenge

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | May 21, 2014

Teen fad of jumping in lake too risky

My mother used to ask, “If someone told you to jump off a bridge, would you?”

Apparently, the answer could be “Yes.”

A fad that has taken hold with teens in the upper Midwest in the last month seems to beg the question. Except the bridge might be pier, dock or sea wall.

The “cold water challenge” is running through social media. It started to raise money for charity — a Facebook challenge tells recipients to jump into cold water within 24 hours or donate money to a charity. They must record themselves with a cell phone photo or video and then challenge someone else.

Here’s some advice: Pay the charity.

It turns out, in case no one knew, that jumping into cold water can be dangerous.

On May 9, Davis Colley, age 16, jumped into Eagle Lake near the city of Young America, Minn. His friends said he was participating in the challenge. He drowned.

On May 4, 16-year-old Kayla Jacob of Lamartine jumped into Lake Winnebago at Lakeside Park in Fond du Lac as part of the challenge. Her 13-year-old brother, Dylan, filmed the jump. Her laughter and giggles quickly turned to shrieks on the video: “My knee! Oh my God, Dylan, call 911! Call 911!”

Kayla landed on razor-sharp zebra mussel shells, splitting her knee and tearing muscles and ligaments. It will take months of healing and therapy before she returns to high school softball.

Her father, Trevor, didn’t even know about the challenge until his daughter was in surgery, he told The Fond du Lac Reporter. “I looked online where kids have posted videos of themselves jumping into backyard pools, the mill pond in Rosendale, lakes, creeks and even ditches filled with water,” Jacob said. “These kids are impulsive and think they’re invincible. They’re thinking about fun, not the danger.”

Down in Winnetka, Ill., high school students are jumping into Lake Michigan, prompting New Trier High School to send a letter to parents. School spokesperson Nicole Dizon told Chicago’s ABC7 that students have suffered broken ankles, sprains and stitches. “The main thing is, if you’re jumping into the lake, the lake is murky. You’re not sure how deep it is,” she said. “There can be rocks and other things in the lake and, at this time of year, the lifeguards aren’t on duty.”

Winnetka’s Police Chief Patrick Kreis told The Chicago Tribune that students “should know it can be potentially dangerous, even when you’re just wading in shallow waters. But we need to draw the line between what is and isn’t reckless conduct, even if it certainly might be foolishness.”

We need to teach our teens some common sense. Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean it’s harmless fun. Waterways are beautiful, but have hidden dangers — like murky water, tangled weeds and sharp rocks.

Perhaps people think jumping into Lake Michigan in May is safer than on Jan. 1, when many take part in Polar Plunges, which also fund charities. (And have emergency personnel on hand.) However, the temperature in Lake Michigan on Jan. 1 in Milwaukee was 36 degrees and on May 16, at Two Rivers, it was … 36 degrees.

We also need to teach our teens that risking their bodies on a prank might also be against church teaching. The Catechism for the Catholic Church (n. 2288) reminds us that “life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, …” It also warns against every kind of excess: “the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine” — or cold water. (OK, water isn’t mentioned, but you get the idea.) The catechism does say that people incur grave guilt whenever they engage in an excess that could “endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air.”

So, the next time someone tells our teens to “Go jump in a lake,” let’s hope they just donate the money instead — even if they can only afford a couple of dollars. It would be healthier for everyone.

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