Yes, my 12-year-old son can swim. But swim well? No.
And that worries me. If, God forbid, Connor fell into a lake without a life jacket, could he swim to safety? I doubt it.
Tell me if I’m wrong. But I don’t think today’s parents stress swimming nearly enough. I’m pointing the finger at myself too.
When Connor was 5 or 6, I enrolled him in swim lessons that a woman taught at her house. The lessons were laid back and didn’t challenge him or the other kids much.
Basically, if they could keep their heads above water and swim a couple of lengths of the backyard pool, they passed.
By contrast, when I was a kid in the 1960s, almost everyone I knew took rigorous swimming lessons every summer. We did ours at the YMCA. We had to earn badges by swimming length after length of a pool marked with lanes.
None of this splashing around in a backyard pool.
I remember dreading the swimming badge tests as a 9- or 10-year-old. The intimidating swim coach stood by the pool with whistle in his mouth, ready to call us out for weaving and getting out of our lane. Our parents sat in the bleachers, hoping we’d complete the required laps in the allotted time.
It was my first taste of athletic pressure. Parents didn’t care if we became competitive swimmers. They just wanted to make sure we’d be safe in the water.
Swim lessons aren’t always a priority
Are today’s parents less concerned about teaching their kids to swim adequately?
My concern was raised when I saw an ad for a Dallas-area lawyer who specializes in drowning litigation. Wow.
“One-quarter to one-third of drowning victims have actually had swimming lessons,” the advertisement read.
Inadequate lessons, obviously.
“Fatal drowning can occur in approximately five minutes, and a small child can drown to death in less than two inches of water,” the ad continued. “Submersions that do not result in death often leave the victim with permanent brain damage and disability.”
Both figures are outrageously high.
“USA Swimming is teaming with an array of partners — local governments, corporations, youth and ethnic organizations — to expand learn-to-swim programs across the United States, many of them targeted at inner-city minorities,” according to an Associated Press story on the study.
The USA Swimming website provides links to almost 20 organizations, including the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, that are devoted to water safety.
“We believe in swimming instruction that includes water safety education,” the alliance website says. “We believe swim lesson programs for children should also teach parents realistic expectations of their children’s swimming ability.”
Bingo – I don’t think many parents have a realistic assessment of their child’s swimming ability. Yes, a kid may have had swimming lessons. But that doesn’t mean he or she is a competent swimmer.
A report by the American Academy of Pediatrics says drowning is the second-leading cause of death for youth ages 1 to 19.
Two years ago, the academy changed its guidelines and began recommending that children from 1 to 4 years of age receive swim instruction. New research shows that early instruction may decrease drowning, according to the academy.
How does a parent find quality swim lessons? The American Red Cross offers three age levels of instruction: 6 months to 3 years, 4 and 5 years old, and 6 years old to adult.
Its website can help you locate Red Cross lessons in your area.
“Red Cross swim courses are designed to help people of all ages and varying abilities develop their water safety, survival and swim skills,” it says. “Swimmers work through age-appropriate levels as they master basic through advanced skills.”
Other national organizations, such as the YMCA, offer swim lessons. In addition, some city park departments provide youth instruction. Finally, many communities have private swim schools or certified individuals who give lessons.
Do some research and find lessons suitable for your children. As a parent, you have a duty to maximize their safety.
Making sure they can swim well is an obligation you shouldn’t overlook.
Summer is rapidly approaching. Besides planning a family vacation or choosing the right summer camp, plan to enroll your children in swim lessons. Have them take lessons for several summers. Learning to swim competently could save their life and the lives of others.