My thirteen year old son and his friend are hanging out today, working on a science fair project. It’s spring break, I’m taking my younger son to a museum and the park. I have no problem with the older two being home alone for a couple of hours. My son knows the rules, knows who to call and has proven over time that he can be trusted. HOWEVER, when he asked me if they can go swimming while I’m away, the answer is a flat out “NO.” “But WHY?” he protests, “you know we’re safe, you know we can both swim, you know we won’t do anything stupid....”
It’s true, what he says. I do know he’s safe and his friend as well, who I’ve known for ten years. I know they can both swim and in THEORY I know they won’t do anything stupid. But in spite of what he classifies as ‘stupid’ (i.e. taking power tools into the water, jumping from our second floor balcony into the deep end, trying to hold their breath until they pass out... ) doesn’t mean that stupid things don’t happen.
It doesn’t mean that an attempt at a cannonball can’t result in a head injury, it doesn’t mean that a surprise leg cramp can’t rattle even the most confident swimmer making it difficult for him to reach the side, it doesn’t mean that just because they are responsible teenagers with years of swimming experience that accidents can’t happen.
I am frequently asked by my clients for my opinion on what I call ‘The Whens’: When can my child swim without me in the pool, when can my children swim while I read a magazine or talk on the phone without having to worry, when can I be in the house with them in the pool and not have to watch every move? They are legitimate questions and they deserve legitimate answers. The reality is that there is no one right answer to any of these (I know you saw that coming... it’s such a parent thing to say). It’s your pool, it’s your rules.
I had a client for years who would comfortably let her four children swim (ages 5-13) without her being present, although she could hear them from the kitchen and den. I have others who feel that until the child is of a certain age there must be a parent in the pool with that child at all times, including the parent of a friend who was over for a swim date. I generally feel this way about pool situations; when it’s your children without friends over, you figure out what works best for you. I typically prefer that an adult actually be present around the pool area during the entire time, even if the children are older and competent swimmers and you can read a book (heaven!) the entire time, just the fact that an adult is there is all that’s required. If however, you add other people’s children into the mix, it’s my recommendation that you act as lifeguard because you just never know what unpredictable thing may occur when it’s not your children.
Believe it or not, the general recommendation for swimming (even adults) is that you never swim alone. While swimming is often considered the lowest risk sport in terms of injury, there are many unknown variables that can cause an accident faster than you can turn a page in your beach read. When you are hosting a swim playdate at your house, don’t feel you have to be the ‘nice guy.’ Lifeguards are not there to be your buddy, they are there to keep you safe.
Establish your rules before anyone gets in and don’t compromise. If the kids in the pool are not listening and respecting your rules, GET THEM OUT. Don’t give more than one warning or they will know you don’t really mean what you say. Above all else, if I had to pick my top rules in terms of safety it’s everyone keeps their hands to themselves and no running on the pool deck. Those two things can create a myriad of possible lifeguard interventions.