Swim Safety Gone Overboard at YMCA

Readers — Safety is good. Excess safety can actually undermine itself, as it seems to be doing at this Y, in Philadelphia:

Dear Free-Range Kids: The YMCA where my family has a membership has recently made a change to its free swim policy that made me instantly think of you. The more I think about it, the more I’m hoping you can help me figure out how to deal with it.

The new policy is that all children under age 11 who do not pass a swim test (swimming unaccompanied above water for the length of half the pool) must wear a life jacket–in addition to having their parent in the water with them in the shallow end–while enjoying “free” swim. As you can imagine, this new policy stinks! My son can’t practice swimming anymore since he can’t go underwater, can’t move his arms enough to stroke and can barely get himself out of the pool with all the extra puff he’s encased in. Not to mention he is now developing a false sense of security about his own safety in the water, and a complete inability to float on his own.

The Y, of course, claims the new policy is safer. But I disagree. How safe can kids be in the water if they’re never given the opportunity to practice actual water safety?! They can practice during swim lessons, of course–but those cost money in addition to the membership.

What do you think? I’ve written my first letter to the powers that be, but am wondering what more I can do. – Krista

Lenore here: I’m wondering what else she can do, too. That’s where you come in, readers. Any advice you have for her is welcome. What irks me most about this policy is that is crippling. It’s like telling kids who have not yet mastered bike riding that they can’t take off the training wheels. There’s also something insidious about the idea that kids are in constant danger unless their parents are right next to them. Adds my buddy Ben Miller, policy analyst at Common Good:

“In all likelihood, the Y is less concerned with the children’s safety (after all, they should be pretty safe in a supervised environment with a lifeguard) than with their own safety from being sued. In the unlikely event that a child is hurt, they can claim to have done ‘everything possible’ to avoid risk. And the policy doesn’t cost them anything; it only costs the children, who have a harder time learning to swim, and the parents, who have to pay for lessons.”

AND get into the water! – L. 

Life vest? Check. But where is your security detail?

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