Plus, what other water safety measures you should be taking this summer to keep your children safe at the pool.

By Cassie Shortsleeve
May 21, 2019
Credit: WeStudio/Shutterstock

In recent years, sales of mermaid tails and fins have exploded. And marketed as fun toys (with matching bathing suits, to boot!), they seem harmless enough. Some swim facilities are even offering classes with the tails. However, not everyone is convinced these toys are as fun or safe as they sound.

Here's what you should know about the swim toy—plus, other ways to keep your children safe in the pool this season.

The Dangers of Mermaid Tails and Other Swim Toys

At first, it might seem hard to deny a simple request for a toy that makes a small kid feel like a mermaid. But consider a small study of 25 children ages 2 through 12 conducted by The Royal Life Saving Society of Western Australia. It found that most kids experienced a 60 to 70 percent decrease in swimming ability when using mermaid tails or fins. Younger kids had even more trouble.

Petra Vybiralova, safe kids supervisor at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital says her daughter Samantha used a mermaid tail and said it made her legs feel heavy, as though the product was pulling her under a bit, and she found it slippery and difficult to get up stairs. She had to go underwater to take the product off and ultimately didn't feel safe.

"Imagine trying to swim with your legs being tied together," says Julie Gilchrist, M.D., a pediatrician in Atlanta, GA, and one of the authors of the AAP's newly-updated policy statement on drowning prevention. "This allows you only to have one kind of kick, a dolphin kick—one of the most difficult and least efficient for children to do."

On top of taking away normal kicks, strokes, and balance, mermaid tails also take away a child's means of standing up in a pool, Dr. Gilchrist adds. "I find them rather frightening because they take away many of the skills you would use swimming naturally."

Dr. Gilchrist says that she personally wouldn't recommend purchasing mermaid tails for children and notes that if you do purchase one, recognize that there is extreme risk associated with the product and that you should supervise a child to the point where you could pull them out of the water if need be.

Of course, mermaid tails aren't the only swim toy to watch out for this summer. Many air-filled toys—rafts, noodles—aren't designed to keep swimmers safe, says Dr. Gilchrist. It can also be harder for children to know where to bob up for air when a pool is filled with rafts or toys, says Vybiralova.

The AAP suggests products such as life jackets and puddle jumpers approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. But again, even with these products, Dr. Gilchrist notes that someone has to be watching.

"You can't assume a weaker swimmer is fine just because of a life jacket."

Comments (1)

September 28, 2019
Hi there :) as a lifeguard, swim instructor, mermaid and mom here are some of my tips for you on pool safety and mermaiding: 1. ALWAYS watch your kids in the pool. If they are in a swim lesson, fine I understand kicking back for a bit but until your child is proficient enough to swim a full length of the pool freestyle without struggling do not let them out of your sight. I can tell you that lifeguards are watching the poll but unless we catch your child showing that they might need extra help, we wont be keeping an eye on them specifically. If you need to leave for whatever reason or you have concerns about your child's swimming ability tell us and we will make sure to do a double check for you cause with everything wehave to do on deck, its possible to miss something. 2. I cannot stress this enough, ENROLL YOUR CHILD IN SWIM LESSONS ASAP! Water is very dangerous, and by enrolling your child in swim lessons even just for a little you greatly improve their chances of survival. Take parent-child classes if you can and get your kid in lesson by 3 years old. 3. Mermaiding is perfectly safe for kids who know how to swim and have a buddy. For a cheap, safe and well-respected mermaid tail, is the best way to get started. They also have safety information and how-to videos on their youtube channel so if your child is a good swimmer, check them out. 4. Mermaiding always comes with side effects. Foot cramps are frequent as is fatigue. Never let your kids push themselves and never let them swim in a silicone tail, those are made for teens and adults who are very proficient swimmer. Watch out for fabric tails that do not have an easy release system and have your kid practice with the monofin before letting the swim with the tail.