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After 12-year-old's death in snow pile, should parents ban their kids from building forts?

A 12-year-old Canadian girl died in Regina, Saskatchewan, on Tuesday, after she was found in a pile of snow in her backyard. While officials are still investigating her cause of death, some have assumed that she succumbed to an accident that has taken the lives of other children: suffocation in a collapsed snow fort or tunnel.

The same way skiers and snowboarders face this danger in an avalanche on a mountain, anyone playing in a smaller amount of snow can also become trapped inside, invisible to others and unable to access air.

“Every year there are cases of children dying in snow forts, either suffocating or being the victim of a snowplow accident,” Dr. Lynne Warda of the Canadian Pediatric Society told the Globe and Mail after the snow-tunnel death of a 7-year-old girl in Quebec in 2007.

Last year, a 10-year-old boy in Buffalo died in a snowbank on his grandparents’ farm after going missing for just 15 minutes. Later that year, a father, his 13-year-old son, and his son’s friend had better luck, when their golden retriever, Zoose, was able to dig the father out of a collapsed fort. In 2016, Joshua Demarest, 13, and Tyler Day, 12, were playing on a dead-end street in Greenwich, N.Y., when they were buried in a snowbank, either because their fort collapsed or because a snowplow dumped more snow on them. They were missing for hours until police found their sled and had to remove seven tons of snow to free them. Demarest did not survive the ordeal.

“Children should not be left alone while they’re playing outside,” Lara McKenzie, principal investigator for the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told Parents.com. “Even if they’re not being supervised by a parent, a child who is playing with a friend who can call for help could be the difference between life and death.”

Parents should make sure their kids aren’t playing in the path of snowplows, or where the plows might dump snow. They can also build forts that don’t have roofs.

Still, as scary as these highly publicized incidents may sound, they’re not exactly common. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ winter health and safety tip list includes warnings about hypothermia, frostbite, and injuries that could be incurred while sledding, skating, skiing, snowboarding, or snowmobiling — with nothing at all on forts and tunnels.

And despite all the risks, experts still recommend that children play outdoors in the winter, as long as the weather isn’t too extreme. It’s still the best way for them to exercise, be exposed to vitamin-D-producing sunlight, and get away from the screens and recirculating germs that await them indoors.

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