Teaching Children CPR

While your school may teach your kids CPR, at what age are they most likely to be able to do it successfully? About 20 states require CPR training for high school graduation, and the American Red Cross sells a CPR in Schools Training Kit targeted for grades 6 to 12. But a couple of studies have called into question whether middle-school kids can do CPR effectively.

Young girl performing cpr
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Studies of CPR Training for School-Age Children

A study by physicians in the UK suggests that while kids are capable of learning proper CPR steps in very early years, they don't have the strength to properly compress the chest until they reach their teens. In the study, only 19 percent of those aged 11 or 12 were able to adequately compress the chest of a mannequin. About 45 percent of the age 13 and over the crowd were able to perform proper chest compression, which is comparable to adult studies.

A similar study in Hungary of kids aged 7 to 14 found that 43.9 percent did effective chest compressions.

These studies might suggest that CPR training is more appropriate for high school rather than middle school as teens can both learn the skill and do it well. Considering that CPR training is rarely used in real life and there is a big drop in retention six months after the class is taught, it makes sense to spend money where it will most likely get the best return on investment.

However, should these dissuade parents from letting kids do CPR training earlier? A review of studies in 2013 found that training at a younger age was valuable. While high school students might pass the tests better, the younger students still absorbed the knowledge and ability to do basic CPR tasks. These included using AEDs. Kids and adults need repeated training to keep knowledge fresh. By introducing the topic early, kids will grow in their understanding and effective application of the skills. The review emphasized that hands-on practice was needed so children can learn the physical tasks.

Kids Can Save Lives in Cases of Cardiac Arrest

The hard fact is that a person in cardiac arrest is dead — period. Without intervention, there is zero chance of survival. While many middle-schoolers might not muster enough chest compression in a classroom simulation, that doesn't reflect a real-life emergency. An adrenalin-boosted middle-schooler might be able to pump hard enough to save a dying adult.

The studies didn't examine child and infant CPR, which presumably don't require kids to be as strong to do the procedures correctly. More study is needed to answer that question. But it is entirely possible that a child could perform CPR or use an AED to save a life. Early introduction of the skills may be valuable.

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  • Bánfai BCA, Pandur A, Pék E, Csonka H, Betlehem J. Hány éves kortól képesek a gyermekek újraéleszteni? – A hatékonyság felmérése általános iskolás gyermekek körében. Orvosi Hetilap. 2017;158(4):147-152. doi:10.1556/650.2017.30631.
  • Jones, I., et al. At what age can schoolchildren provide effective chest compressions? An observational study from the Heartstart UK schools training programme. BMJ. Vol. 334, no. 7605, Sept. 2007, pp. 1201–1201., doi:10.1136/bmj.39167.459028.de.
  • Plant N, Taylor K. How best to teach CPR to schoolchildren: A systematic review. Resuscitation. 2013;84(4):415-421. doi:10.1016/j.resuscitation.2012.12.008.

By Rod Brouhard, EMT-P
Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.