Enraged and Inspired by the YMCA

Readers — Here’s a feisty comment that came in response to tytyyyiezf
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.


37 Responses to Enraged and Inspired by the YMCA

  1. Linda Wightman September 11, 2013 at 7:50 am #

    I want a jumping pillow! Those kids remind me of the joy my grandchildren get from jumping on the bed. All too soon we grow older and heavier and can no longer have that pleasure without harming the bed. Maybe the world would be a saner and happier place if we all had access to jumping pillows. Not to mention healthier — what a fun form of exercise!

  2. RobC September 11, 2013 at 8:35 am #

    I’m reminded of the two young children I saw at the beach last summer, wearing lifejackets to paddle around in less than a foot of water. I was embarrassed for the poor little guys.

  3. TaraK September 11, 2013 at 8:35 am #

    Our Y has a rule that kids 6 and under be within arms reach of a parent or pass a swim test. Seems reasonable to me, my youngest is six. I was sitting next to a mom a couple of weeks ago who’s OLDER child is six. She had a baby in a front pack. She’d convinced the staff that the 6 year old (who was shy and didn’t want to do the test even though he could swim) was safer alone in the water than her baby who would be slippery as she tried to stay in arm’s length of the six year old who refused to do the test. She won. 🙂

  4. QuicoT September 11, 2013 at 8:37 am #

    Those jumping pillows look AWESOME!

    Wish they’d had ’em when I was a kid.

    Tell that Massachusetts Y to send you info on how we can donate to their legal defense fund. I’m in a fightin’ mood this morning…

  5. Shannon September 11, 2013 at 8:41 am #

    We’ve had soooooo many issues with our local Y. My then-3-year-old daughter had a near-drowning during Y swim lessons, and I had to bang on the glass to get a -parent- to pull her out…because I had been told it was unsafe for me to be on the deck with my other child in in infant carrier, in the event that I should fall in. Fail!

    More recently, I had to fill out a SIX-PAGE background check….all because I might be timing races in my daughter’s swim meets.

    I think my favorite rule at the local Y is “No Splashing.” Really? It’s…a….POOL. With WATER.


  6. Jordan September 11, 2013 at 8:49 am #

    Jumping pillows are amazing! There’s one at the campground we go to every year for Labor Day weekend. And the kids often go to it supervised by the oldest child who is 13.

  7. Onemusingmama September 11, 2013 at 8:54 am #

    Huh. Our local Y is pretty reasonable, I guess. There the rule is that IF a child is wearing a vest, a adult has to be an arms-length away. But there’s no rule requiring a child to wear one. My 4-year old graduated to only using noodles and let me tell you that I’m a heck of a lot more nervous with him using only pool noodles than having that vest on. But he’s actually learning to swim slowly (he refuses to take swim lessons but is perfectly happy in the water with a parent). Now if only the pool were a little more shallow and he could touch the bottom I think he’d be swimming a lot more on his own.

    I would bet anything that the parent suing over the jumping pillow signed some sort of liability waiver for camp. The jumping pillow sounds like fun!

  8. Arlington Mom September 11, 2013 at 9:10 am #

    We sent out daughter to swim lessons at the Y two summers ago and had the same experience. My daughter can go off high dives and swims strongly in the ocean waves. But she is short and didn’t meet some arbitrary measurement rule. So she was strapped with a life jacket the whole week. It not only hindered her ability to learn to be a stronger swimmer, but she was embarrassed and cried each day until I withdrew her.

  9. Sheri September 11, 2013 at 9:14 am #

    A camp here has one of those jumping pillows…in a lake…under a high platform…in which other kids jump down onto the pillow launching the previous jumper (who scrambles to the end) high and over into the lake. It’s the best 5th grade field trip ever. Yes, the schools take them, to this beast, that launches them into orbit.

    And I had to fill out a 10 page deep security background check to attend as a chaperon (way to much fun to miss!). 😀

    It’s a study in contradiction.

  10. Jennifer Griffin September 11, 2013 at 9:22 am #

    Our local pool also requires a parent in the pool with a kiddo under 9. I had two under this age this summer (thankfully she’s 10 now) and this meant that when we went alone, my daughter had to stay with me and her 5 year old brother the entire time. Needless to say, this kind of ruined the pool for her, staying in the shallow end. When I got out for one second to get a pool toy that had bounced away the life guard (who was all of 14) immediately told my kids to get out too, because mom was out. We don’t go to the pool anymore.

  11. lollipoplover September 11, 2013 at 10:12 am #

    The risk of jumping (on any surface) is not the surface itself, it’s how the foot/ankle or wrist/hand lands on the surface. I worked with orthopaedic surgeons for years and they get so much business from trampolines, bouncy castles, etc. because kids land wrong. Teaching basic coordination skills(jumping and landing) would be something kids could learn at a YMCA. Why would we not teach them this or remove the surface?
    I would love a jumping pillow (though fear my dogs would defluff it and make the yard snow)!

  12. mystic_eye_cda September 11, 2013 at 10:30 am #

    First off, please don’t judge parents when you see their kids wearing a life jacket in water that doesn’t really need it. My kids spend most of their summer near rivers, specifically one with a nice shallow area beside an area with a decent current. They are used to wearing life jackets in or near water, since they were small. I encourage them not to use them when it’s not necessary (swimming pool, shallow lakes, etc) but ultimately I don’t believe it will make them any more safe in the long run to force them not to use them before they are ready

    The kids wearing the life jackets in the 1ft deep pool, are just like the ones wearing a wool hat and mittens in the summer – some things truly are not worth a fight with a small child.

  13. mystic_eye_cda September 11, 2013 at 10:40 am #

    I wonder if the arms reach rule has less to do with drowning and more to do with “The lifeguards are sick of raising your kids”. The public pool rules here are pretty loose, as far as how many kids you can have per adult and how close the kids have to be to the adult. And the cut off age for needing adults at all is pretty young.

    Mostly the loose rules work, but one pool with a separate shallow area for smaller non-swimmers has that area overrun with 7, 8, 9, etc year olds who can swim well being kids, playing tag, splashing, and generally being boisterous kids. Which is fine, but not fine the area for small kids, and mainly ones not comfortable in the water. Sadly often their parents aren’t around, they had to have come in with the kids but I have no clue where they get off to. Life guards are there to stop people from drowning, if they have to keep stopping to teach kids how to behave they’re not doing their jobs (watching swimmers), and are probably pretty annoyed (if they wanted a gig as a babysitter they’d get one)

  14. Denny September 11, 2013 at 11:04 am #

    I don’t let the 4.5 year-old I nanny wear a lifejacket unless she will vein deeper water. I seeno point in water that’s 3feet deep or shallower, and it makes it harder for her to move and have fun.

  15. J.T. Wenting September 11, 2013 at 11:32 am #

    When I was a kid pools had rules barring the use of life preservers and other floatation devices as they are not safe.
    Reasoning was that they’re liable to fail, and a child wearing one could drown if it fails and the child doesn’t know how to swim (and no child that can swim wants to be seen dead wearing those things of course).

    End result, swimming classes were popular and cheap, most every kid learned to swim before they were 7-8 years old.

    We still had life vests, for when my parents took us with them on their yacht on open water, and then only when under steam.

  16. John September 11, 2013 at 1:09 pm #

    Many organizations such as the YMCA say they take these type of precautions with kids because of liability issues. People would say that the Y has a point because they’re only protecting themselves. That actually is true BUT what is the root cause of this nonsense and why should a lawsuit like this have any teeth? Basically it’s because of American mentality when it comes to children. Because we Americans assume that children (anybody under 18 years of age) are either made of porcelain or balsa wood so therefore, the adults should have known better and took that into account before allowing them to jump on a pillow. Goodness, this crazy assumption even stretches to the point of believing that an 88-year-old man is tougher and more tenacious than a 17-year-old boy who plays football and is on the wrestling team! Because he’s an adult and the 17-year-old is a “child”.

    In MY opinion, any Judge with common sense should throw this lawsuit out because risk is inherent in ANY activity. But because it was a CHILD who was hurt, the parents will get a windfall of money and the YMCA will once again need to go overboard on safety and eliminate activities that would normally be fun and rewarding for kids. All because of that one very small possibility of a kid getting hurt while engaging in it.

    Until America gets out of this crazy mentality that EVERY kid is as soft as a snowflake just because he has not yet reached the age of 18, this type of nonsense will continue.

  17. Missy Homemaker September 11, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

    At our Y, children must be within arms length of a parent in the pool until the age of 9, and with a parent in the pool until the age of 12. What this means is that I can’t send my perfectly responsible 15 year old son into the pool with my 5 year old while I work out essentially making the Y useless to us. We homeschool so it’s either I go without the kids, or the kids go sit in the lobby waiting for me because there are no other activities they can do while I’m there.
    As for the parents suing the Y: It’s ridiculous that people feel the NEED to lay blame on someone for every.single.little.thing these days. Accidents don’t just happen anymore it seems. It’s someone’s ‘fault’. I do wonder though if the parents weren’t convinced to sue through their insurance company.

  18. Chris September 11, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    First of all I must recommend this article, and I think it gets at the heart of our parenting problems here – http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/?_r=1&

    Keeping our kids “busy” can only raise anxious adults. Secondly, I’d just like to say that in the Jewish Torah, God commands parents to teach their children to swim! I used to take my babies to “baby” 6 month old swim lessons at the Dalton Community Center in MA and we’d have to let them go at one point…their reflex is to hold their breath and actually swim.

    Of course we used arm floats after that, but my children became fish! And they had plenty of summertime fun swimming with friends and family without any worrying on my part!

  19. Nicole September 11, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

    Thought you might like to hear about my friend’s kid, as it relates to both this and your last story… her 12 YO ended up with a broken arm at camp #1, proving he certainly was allowed a lot of active fun there. She sent him off to camp #2 with his little pocket knife, which they immediately replaced with a bigger hunting knife. She thought that was pretty cool, only thinking later, “I’ve just left my son with a broken arm and a giant knife” – 🙂

  20. Stephanie September 11, 2013 at 1:38 pm #

    I love that jumping pillow!

    I like how Legoland water park handles life jackets. They’re available, so parents can decide if their child needs one. Not required. I use one on my youngest because she loves the water so long as her face doesn’t go in, and can’t swim yet.

  21. EricS September 11, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

    It’s a sad, sad world now. Everyone looking out for their own self interest. Not the children’s, but the adults’. Using their children to get what they want. I’ve raised mine as I was raised, and if anyone has any issues with that, they can call me out for using common sense and logic. Luckily, I have a pool, and teaching my kid isn’t an issue. He can swim just fine on his own. He knows the rules of the pool. And is aware of consequences. He’s the “lifeguard” with his cousins and friends. It’s a tried and tested method of parenting for generations upon generations. Teach children how to fend for themselves. And many do just fine, and grow up to be confident, energetic, and creative individuals. What you teach your child is what they learn to be as adults. It’s that simple. And at an early age, they pick up on everything, even if you don’t realize it. I know some parents wonder why their child is so scared about certain things. But when I point out that it’s the same fear they have, they look all confused, and guilty. They are so conditioned to fear certain things, that they don’t fully realize it’s actual fear. And fear which their children pickup on.

  22. JaneW September 11, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

    Especially in the USA, injured people or their families sometimes sue just for the money. This is very common among those with limited or no insurance coverage, because without the lawsuit, proper treatment would devastate them financially. (In the case of injured adults, sometimes they have inadequate sick leave and need income replacement). If everyone who was injured in an accident was guaranteed of proper treatment and income replacement, whether the accident was ruled to be the fault of someone with deep pockets or not, then I think there’s be a lot fewer lawsuits.

    Now, in this case, I read the original article, and it really didn’t sound like financial desperation was the issue at all.

  23. Aaron Bennett September 11, 2013 at 3:09 pm #

    We are lucky. Our Y, at least at the full day summer camp, is stunningly free range. Two summers ago our (at the time) 4 year old convinced them to let him jump off the climbing tower! That’s not nearly as dangerous as it sounds, then have a good spotting procedure, the kids are belayed at all times — but nonetheless their written policy is kids have to be five to jump off. He talked them into it, they let him, and his counselor video’d it on her camera phone and showed us when we picked him up.

    During the day, they swim three or four times, get bitten by mosquitoes, come up filthy, with new potty words, new taste in junk food and terrible tween pop music, and laden with joy, giggles, inside jokes, self-confidence, and an awareness of themselves as growing independent human beings that comes with being left alone with other kids to play and do stuff. I love our local Y.

  24. SKL September 11, 2013 at 3:16 pm #

    In my second TKD class this Monday, I injured my foot and didn’t realize it was bleeding until after blood got on the instructor’s gear. “Sorry,” I said. “Why? I expect this to happen. This is a contact sport.” Some of my classmates congratulated me on bleeding on only my second day, LOL.

    My kids are in this class with me (family TKD) and I expect that they too will get hurt at times. Shoot, they manage to cut themselves at The Little Gym (which is padded from wall to wall). And then there was that time the biggest horse stomped on my kid’s foot at horse riding camp. How’s a kid supposed to have fun or learn anything useful if pain is never allowed?

  25. Donna September 11, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

    @SKL – Be prepared for broken toes. During the 5-6 years that I did TKD, I broke every toe I have at least once. Those little things just get in the way sometimes when you kick things.

  26. Jenn September 11, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

    My Y must think I’m crazy. Every time I’m in the water with my daughter, one of the lifeguards helpfully comes over and offers me a life vest for her. And every time, I tell them that no, I don’t want her to wear that, I want her to be uncomfortable in the water and to understand it isn’t safe.

    I actually do own life vests, though. There is a time and a place for them, and out in the ocean on paddleboards and in kayaks is appropriate. They are not for learning to swim.

  27. J.T. Wenting September 11, 2013 at 6:16 pm #

    @JaneW ” If everyone who was injured in an accident was guaranteed of proper treatment and income replacement, whether the accident was ruled to be the fault of someone with deep pockets or not, then I think there’s be a lot fewer lawsuits.”

    I seriously doubt that.
    There’s a group (and I get the impression it’s a substantial group) who deliberately let themselves (or their children) get hurt and receive minor injuries in order to have an excuse to sue.
    While the Y may or may not be a target for those people (I don’t know their financial situation) they are also a conduit for money coming from secondary lawsuits to the company making those jumping cushions, the pool construction company, the city that licensed the pool, and of course all their insurance companies, so more than enough money just there.

    It’s an industry, an industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars, maybe billions of dollars.

  28. SKL September 11, 2013 at 7:00 pm #

    Donna, it was in fact my toe – ripped my toenail back, ouch! My kids and I will be doing some clipping before our next class.

    And I’m thinking once I receive the gear I ordered, some things will be less painful . . . .

    Never had a broken toe so far. I hear it is very painful.

  29. Let_Her_Eat_Dirt September 11, 2013 at 7:59 pm #

    We’ve had similar issues at our new Y. Our girls (3 and 5) are both good swimmers — the five year-old can go almost a pool length underwater. But because she doesn’t do a proper “crawl” the lifeguards won’t let her near the deep end. At least they don’t make her wear a life vest, though.

    Parents like the ones in the article are the reason why the Y and other organizations are so paranoid. Even if 90% of those lawsuits get thrown out, the time and expense of even a threatened lawsuit can be enough to get an organization to recoil. It’s sad.

    Let Her Eat Dirt
    A dad’s take on raising tough, adventurous girls

  30. Kimberly September 11, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

    My Y has the in the water near the kids under 6 rule. They enforce it with kids that aren’t behaving and can’t swim. My nephew was 5 this summer. I was in the water – because it is Houston.

    My niece and nephew wore their life jackets for a while at the pool. Because they spend a lot of time in open water. They just felt more comfortable with the jackets on. When Niece took swimming they had to make a new class for her and another girl. The other kids were scared to put their faces in the water. My niece and the other girl – were sitting on the bottom of the pool.

    As for kids paddling around with life jackets on. That could be all (Then) 5 kids in my extended family. The kids kept the jackets on the whole time we were at the beach, except when they eating lunch. The reason was simple – I would take the whole bunch out to the 2nd sand bar (over all heads but mine) and we would float/body surf in. Then one of the Dads would take all 5 out/float in. Then they would play between the beach and first sand bar. Then someone else would take them out. This would go on all day. STopping taking off jackets and putting them back on just took so much time it wasn’t worth the trouble.

  31. Quantum Mechanic September 11, 2013 at 9:46 pm #

    One thing to keep in mind about lawsuits — they can happen even the parents don’t want them to!

    Say your kid gets injured, and all the medical stuff is covered by your health insurance plan. Your health insurer has the right to sue, in your name, to try to get back from the venue the money it spent on your kid’s care, whether you want them to or not.

  32. Cynthia812 September 11, 2013 at 11:11 pm #

    The pumpkin patch/corn maze in our area put one of those jumping pillows in last year. It’s an accident waiting to happen, but a lot of fun.

  33. JG September 11, 2013 at 11:45 pm #

    Lenore, you have to post videos like this: http://www.kidswimcharlotte.com/KidSwimmers–Vids-.html

    Infants, under 1 year, can be taught to float and do rudimentary swimming. I know this, because we took our kid to classes at that age. I saw it with my own eyes.

    Using life jackets rather than swim instruction for children is dangerous and absurd. Children simply MUST be taught to rescue themselves in the water.

    At least parents who do this nonsense do receive justice one day–they all will have a helpless 30 year-old living in their basement some day.

  34. Reziac September 12, 2013 at 12:37 am #

    Lifejackets? are they sure they didn’t misorder straitjackets??

    And as to that jumping pillow… my neighbor’s 15 month old baby jumps on the big outdoor trampoline. She rides (sitting in front of mom) on the quad, and her balance is already so good she can ride, at a fair speed, without even needing to hang on. Can you imagine her doing that with a straitjacket mom??

  35. Reziac September 12, 2013 at 1:20 am #

    Oh, and a voice of experience: it is MUCH harder to learn to swim in a pool where your feet can touch the bottom. And there’s a reflex in some kids (and I was one of ’em) where if your toe so much as grazes the bottom, you automatically stand up. This short-circuits the swimming process, and makes it that much harder to learn your “water balance”.

  36. Stacy September 12, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    It is awesome to watch the children at my daughter’s diving lessons flinging themselves off the board into the 13-foot water with no lifejackets. The youngest, who must be about five, preferred the higher 3 meter. And we don’t even have to sign liability waivers or pass a swim test.

    We also have a place with a jumping pillow. Lots of fun, even for adults. And if someone gets injured, well, my daughter broke her arm falling a few feet off a swing, but now the pain has been forgotten and she just remembers how incredibly brave she was.

  37. EmmyB September 12, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

    Re. kids getting hurt. I got called to my son’s school last week on the second day of school. They have a large circle of rocks in the playground intended to be used as an outdoor amphitheatre. He was doing what every other 7 year old does there – jumping from rock to rock. And, as is completely predictable, really, slipped, landed head down, and split his forehead open. School shrugged, bandaged him up and called me. I shrugged, and took him to get glued back together, and he still had to catch up on homework that night. No fuss, no worries about law suits. There may have been a school accident report, but I haven’t bothered chasing it down. Kids get hurt sometimes, and he’ll be more careful next time. A jumping pillow sounds pretty awesome, though.

    I’m less blasé about water safety, but at our pool, once you can swim from side to side, you get a green armband and you’re free to be wherever you want, without a parent glued to you.