Honest Advice for Parents from an Experienced Lifeguard
One of the best ways to pass the time during the warm (or hot) months is to find the nearest pool and tell the kiddos to jump in. While this may become a mindless routine for your family over the summer, it’s so incredibly important not to become complacent about water safety.
Lifeguards are not babysitters.
Unfortunately, Gravette sees a certain scenario more than he would like. “We had a mom here at our family pool just the other day with several children under the age of 8.
She was sitting on the side of the pool looking at her iPad for two hours,” he said.
While lifeguards may give you peace of mind as a parent, that doesn’t mean you get to take a break while your kids swim. “Lifeguards are watching every single person in the pool. They are not watching one specific child,” said Gravette.
Consider this—60 percent of drownings occur under adult supervision. The more eyes on your child, the better…and neither are life jackets.
“A lot of parents think, ‘I put a life jacket on my kid, so they’re good,’” said Gravette.
Just as with lifeguards, don’t let a life jacket give you a false sense of security. You should still be watching your child very closely. Also, Gravette says he sees a lot of parents who don’t know how to properly secure life jackets, adding: “We’ve seen kids slip out of them.”
As a part of the YMCA’s swim classes, children learn how to properly put on a life jacket so that it’s tight and secure enough to keep them afloat.
Your child might swim well one day—but struggle the next.
Anyone who visits the family pool at the Jamerson YMCA knows their child (under the age of 11) must take a swim test every visit. They either get a green band (more advanced), red band (less advanced) or don’t pass and must stay within arm’s reach of an adult.
Obviously, the test helps the YMCA create a safer environment by helping lifeguards see each child’s swim level. But there’s another reason for the swim test you might not realize as a parent.
“We don’t know how much sleep they’ve had, whether they had baseball practice that morning, whether they’ve had anything to eat that day. You’ll see, quite often, kids will pass it perfectly one day and two days later they won’t pass it. And we attribute that to how they are feeling,” said Gravette.
If you aren’t in a setting with a lifeguard, keep this advice in mind. Has your child been playing hard in the waves all day? Have they had lunch? Too much sun? All of these factors can affect their swimming performance.
Drownings don’t happen like they do in the movies.
“A lot of times you think of someone drowning as someone flapping their arms, yelling out. But sometimes, it’s a good swimmer who silently slipped under water,” said Gravette.
He says contributing to these “silent” tragedies are the breath-holding games that have become a lot more popular in the past five years or so. He says one in three drownings are attributed to these games among kids. You know the old, “Let’s see who can stay under the longest!” challenge.
“Those games are one thing on land, but if you pass out under water, you won’t be able to breathe,” said Gravette.
He also says because of concerns about breath holding, even swim teams have moved away from training that involves swimming back and forth underwater for a long time.
Swim lessons are less about strokes and more about survival.
If you don’t know a lot about swimming, the concept of “swim lessons” may have you thinking about the Summer Olympics and your kid being the next Michael Phelps. But unless your child takes advanced lessons down the road, swim lessons are really focused on getting them comfortable and confident in the water.
“I strongly encourage parents to enroll their kids. We start at six months old,” said Gravette.
The main focus of the YMCA’s new Safety Around Water program is floating.
“One tough statistic is that 10 percent of drownings occur within 10 feet of safety,” said Gravette. “We are really working on getting these children to learn how to float first.”