Enraged and Inspired by the YMCA

Readers — Here’s a feisty comment that came in response to the post about a reader’s YMCA that requires kids who haven’t passed the swim test to stand not more than an arm’s length away from their parents in the shallow end, and also to wear life jackets — virtually ensuring that the children can NOT learn to swim, because they don’t get a chance to practice. It comes to us from reader Emily. She was responding to “Jill,” who opined in favor of the measure.

And then we’ll see things from the Y’s point of view:

Jill — Maybe you can “never be too safe,” but forcing children to wear life jackets in the pool, and making it impossible for them to practice swimming isn’t “safe,” it’s stupid and short-sighted.  The life jacket rule ends at the age of eleven at some pools, seven at others.  So what happens when the children get to the “magic age” and still can’t swim, because they haven’t been allowed to practice in the relatively safe environment of a life-guarded pool?

At some point, you CAN be “too safe.”  “Too safe” happens when “safety” becomes the be-all, end-all concern, at the expense of allowing kids to develop skills, and parents to encourage them — without being kicked out of the YMCA pool for teaching their child to swim. You can be “too safe” when parents worry about being ratted out to the authorities for letting their children play outside unsupervised, or background-checked within an inch of their lives upon applying to become a scout leader.  I know people say that,  ”If it saves just one child, then it’s worth it.” But for every “one child” that these policies save,  many more children are being robbed of important childhood experiences — not just learning to swim,  but riding their bikes to get Popsicles, or joining a group like Scouts or Guides because there aren’t enough “perfect” adults to meet the demand for leaders, or  going on hiking/camping/canoe trips once they get into one of these groups, because those activities require miles of red tape.  The saddest thing is, a lot of kids don’t even know what they’re missing, because to them, it’s normal to live a sanitized, supervised, “safe” life.

As for water safety, the best way to prevent drowning is to teach kids to swim.  It’s also a real boost for self-esteem, especially since a lot of kids who aren’t good at traditional team sports can be good at swimming.  I know this, because I was one.  However, we’ll never know if we never let kids take off their life jackets. – E.A.

I showed this to Ben Miller at Common Good, the organization bent on restoring common sense to everyday life, and he wondered why a Y would insist on arbitrary rules like this. “A swim instructor, or a parent, knows what protection the child needs in order to learn and to be safest in the long run — not a one-size-fits-all rule like this one, designed around paranoia and liability fear.”

See? Common sense. But THEN, readers, I just got this article in today’s mail: A Massachusetts couple is suing their local Y camp because their daughter fractured her leg and twisted her ankle on the camp’s new “jumping pillow.” This time, it’s the parents who, while understandably upset, are  nonetheless over-the-top, insisting the pillow be removed. To its extreme credit, the Y replied (boldface mine):

“Although our insurance carrier assures us that we have one of the best safety records of any YMCA in the country, occasional injuries happen in our programs regardless of the level of precautions, training, and close supervision by our staff,” the Y said in a statement to the Globe. “To date, we’ve found the jumping pillow to be as safe as any other of our program venues including our playing fields, tennis courts, swimming pools, and gymnasium.”

I do fear a day when tennis and gym go the way of swimming and maybe the jumping pillow: Off-limits to kids unless their parents are right next to them, with a doctor-lawyer team right next to the parents.  - L


The Jumping Pillow at the South Shore YMCA outside of Boston.


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