A Surprising Number of Parents Say They'd Let Their Child Swim Unsupervised

A new poll reveals that more than a third of parents would let their kids swim alone, and 1 in 7 would allow it if their child wasn't able to swim independently.
Pavel L Photo and Video/Shutterstock

With the temperatures hitting the 90s this week in the Northeast, pool season is getting off to an early start. But along with it comes the risk of drowning. According to the CDC, drowning is the second-leading cause of injury-related death in kids ages 1 to 15, with about 1,000 kids dying every year, and another 5,000 making trips to the ER for non-fatal water-related injuries.

Scary stuff! Yet even so, a new national poll reveals that 37 percent of parents of kids ages 6-18 said they'd let their kid swim in a home, hotel, or neighborhood pool without adult supervision.

"Familiar places such as a backyard pool may provide a false sense of security, but we know that drowning can occur anywhere, often instantly and silently," explained poll co-director Gary L. Freed, M.D., M.P.H. "We strongly advise parents to closely supervise kids at all times, even if they think their child is a good swimmer."

My son is 11 and my daughter is almost 15. Both of them are strong swimmers. And yet whenever they go swimming in a friend's pool after school, I'm always anxious. Will the parents be watching? A lifeguard? An older sibling? And how many other kids will be in the water? You hear stories all the time about children hitting their heads while playing around a pool and silently slipping under the water without anyone noticing. After all, it takes less than 2 inches of water for a child to drown.

There is currently no national standard in place to determine whether or not a kid is old enough to swim alone. Probably because there are just so many variables. But to be honest, I don't think I'd ever be comfortable with my kids swimming unsupervised.

There are, however, some things we can do to help give our children a better shot at staying safe—like designating a water-watcher and investing in swim lessons.

"We know that formal swimming lessons reduce the risk of drowning among children," Freed explained. "But some families may have to work harder to find opportunities for their children to become comfortable and confident in the water. Some neighborhoods don't have a public swimming pool and the cost of swimming lessons can be a barrier for some families."

Many communities are addressing these issues by creating new swimming programs that are more accessible and affordable. And in the meantime, Freed recommends parents check with their local parks and recreation programs to see what is available in their area.

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and mom of two who writes about parenting and pop culture. Check out her website holleeactmanbecker.com for more, and then follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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