Do Your Child’s Swim Lessons Actually Reduce the Risk of Drowning?

Baby swimming lesson

A media report explores whether swim lessons actually reduce the risk of injury. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says children should not start lessons until age 1. Previously, the AAP’s recommendation was not before age 4.

Swimming lessons have certainly changed over the years. Parents are signing children up earlier, as young as 6 months old, to get them used to the water. A recent WBUR report explored whether this is all for fun or if children in today’s swim lessons are actually learning enough to reduce their risk of drowning.

As a parent, ask your child’s swim instructor about their goals. Experts interviewed by WBUR said the goal should be water survival and broader pool safety skills.

“Aquatic safety is about multiple layers of redundancy, swim lessons just being one of those layers,” said a director from the YMCA in Greater Boston.

According to the report, another essential layer is strong supervision from parents, guardians and lifeguards. As personal injury lawyers in Boston, we want to add that a third layer is property owners. They must remain aware of their responsibility to properly maintain and secure pools, from pool fences to drains to diving boards.

A few insights from the report:

  • Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury death among children in Massachusetts.
  • There are very few studies which quantify the effectiveness of swim lessons.
  • But one 2009 study has found children under 4 who take swim lessons have a significant advantage. The study, from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, found children who participated in swim lessons had an 88 percent reduced risk of drowning. The study examined 300 cases of unintentional drownings among children age 1 to 19 years old. Researchers only evaluated whether children participated in classes; they did not evaluate what skills children actually learned, so this is a future step.
  • The American Academy for Pediatrics (AAP) had advised against swimming lessons for children under 4. After this study, the academy changed its recommendation in 2010, saying children ages 1 to 4 can develop water competence through swimming lessons. As for children under age 1, the AAP noted that “water-survival skills programs for infants may make compelling videos for the Internet, but no scientific study has yet demonstrated these classes are effective.”

In June, Olympian Bode Miller announced his family had lost his 19-month-old daughter in a swimming pool drowning in California. This tragedy has raised awareness about the risk of drownings, and the deep pain and devastation to families.

Drownings claim too many lives each year. Here in Massachusetts, a 2-year-old tragically drowned in his family’s swimming pool in Lynn earlier this month.

Nationwide, 463 children age 4 or younger drowned in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This was an increase over both 2015 and 2016. This week, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) spoke about the rise in swimming pool drownings among young children and called for the federal government to investigate further.

What Parents Can Take From This Report

Asking Permission. Swim instructors should teach children to ask for permission before they get into the pool. They should always ask for permission, from parents, lifeguards or swimming instructors. Reinforce this lesson.

Proper Supervision. Parents should commit to watching children closely in the pool, even if the child is participating in a swim lesson. Carry your cell phone but set it aside. It is a scary thought, but in the time you take to send a text, your child could drown, even if they are a strong swimmer for their age. A child can drown quickly and silently under water.

When visiting family members and friends, consider leaving young children at home (with a trusted adult) or skipping the visit altogether.

Online Research. Research the swimming pool before you sign your child up for lessons. Look at the website to see the credentials of the pool owner and staff. Read online reviews. Also ask your friends and neighbors for feedback on the staff and what children are learning.

Another resource is the local town or city hall. Ask the health department about inspections and complaints which have been investigated. You will learn how well the pool is maintained and if the swimming pool owner responds promptly.

In-Person Research. Swimming classes can be busy, with a new round of children and parents starting classes every half hour. Still, take time to ask the swim instructor about their background and as we said, to explain their goals for the class.

About Breakstone, White & Gluck
The Boston personal injury lawyers of Breakstone, White & Gluck represent children and families who have suffered pool drownings in Massachusetts. If you are parent, we urge you to carefully plan and supervise your child at the pool. If you are a pool owner, you have a responsibility to properly secure your pool with a fence and make sure your children and others are protected from potential injury.

Breakstone, White & Gluck represents individuals in all types of personal injury cases in Massachusetts, including car accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian injuries, medical malpractice and premises liability cases. If you have been injured, contact Breakstone, White & Gluck for a free legal consultation at 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676. You can also send us a message using our contact form.

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