Ninnyism vs. Safety

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Lenore Skenazy writes of lawsuit-driven precautionary thinking run amok at a popular institution that many parents hope will teach their children how to swim:

At some of the YMCAs around the country, a rule for free swimming is now this: If a child is under a certain age -- sometimes as high as 11 -- and has not yet passed a swim test, a parent must be in the water with him at all times, not more than an arm's length away, in the shallow end.

And the child must be wearing a life vest.

This is all in the name of safety, of course -- except that it constitutes the exact opposite. It is practically guaranteeing that kids do not end up learning how to swim. How could they? Whenever they've got time to practice, they can barely get their head underwater! In fact, a head's going underwater is precisely what a life vest is designed to prevent. [bold added]
Skenazy compares this with her own experience and then suggests the tongue-in-cheek remedy of a class action suit against the Y for failing to teach children to swim. In the process, she reminds me of how I learned how to swim, despite a stupid rule our pool had in place for swimming lessons.

Because I am negatively buoyant (See Items 5 and 6.), unlike most people, I do not float in water. The result of this was that I was unable to do the "belly float" at an early stage of my swimming lessons. This was mindlessly enforced, preventing me from progressing, and leaving me to my own devices for learning to swim, which I was able to do precisely because our pool did not impose a silly requirement to wear a float for all children below a certain age during free swimming time. I also recall hearing about how my childhood best friend's dad learned: by jumping into a pond with a rope tied around his waist, with his father holding the other end.

While I would not use that last method to teach my own children to swim, it illustrates the ever-widening gap between our growing body of de facto prescriptive law and common sense. The gap is widening so much that more people are falling into it daily.

-- CAV


7-23-13: Corrected spelling of waist. 


Anonymous said...

HI Gus,

I think you mean waist, not waste...

On learning to swim, one of the funny things that Bill Cosby did was describing how he couldn't watch his daughters being taught to swim. It's from his album "To Russell my brother, whom I slept with." It's not available digitally, but the relevant part goes like this...

"Now, I want to teach your youngest daughter to swim.

"Erica? She's not even walking yet!

"well, crawling is the evolutionary motion from swimming.

"So he [the swim instructor] picks my daughter up and throws her into the deep end of the pool. And I'm telling you, man, she started doing that swimming thing, right on swimming, really cool.... AT THE BOTTOM OF THE POOL! With the air bubbles coming up (pop) HELP!

If you ever get a chance, though, the B side of the album is one of the funniest expositions of sibling rivalry I have ever heard. And parental discipline.

c. andrew

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for that recommendation at the end. Pumpkin is only two, but it is clear that sometimes she hates it when she sees ne of us holding her little brother.

It has started already!


Steve D said...

The swimming motion is perhaps the one and only true instinct that humans still retain but only as newborns. It disappears after a few months.