What About Letting Kids Swim at the Beach without a Parent?


A tbtediddtk
question probably many of us have asked:

Dear Free-Range Kids: I’m a fairly Free-Range parent, becoming more so due to my daily exposure to your blog, including the helpful and insightful comments from your readers.

The issue I’m currently struggling with is freedom at the beach. I’m always afraid at the beach when I see how deep my children and husband go out. Now two of my sons (almost 16 and almost 13) want to go to the beach together. I am afraid to let them. I don’t know how rational my fear is, and would love to get some perspective. I read that 80% of drownings at the beach occur at places and times that there are no lifeguards. But I still worry about that 20%. Both boys do know how to swim, but they do it mostly at the pool.

How do I assess beach danger so that I can determine what are rational limits to place on my kids at the beach?

Thanks in advance for any wisdom you or your readers can offer!


I wish I knew. Deep water scares me too, especially when we’re talking about water with currents. (Remember, I’m not as brave as some people assume!) I am far more afraid of kids and drowning than kids and strangers.

As for actual decisions made,  we were only at the beach on rare vacations, and this was when our kids were younger, so we never let them swim in the ocean without being certain someone was there — a lifeguard and me or my husband.

Now our 17 year old swims at the local pool with just his friends, no lifeguard, and that seems fine. Anyway, I will post this for others to comment who have thought about this more “deeply” (so to speak). – L


Is it safe for teens to swim at the beach?

Can’t he just lie there and drink?  

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84 Responses to What About Letting Kids Swim at the Beach without a Parent?

  1. E August 10, 2015 at 11:05 am #

    Again, another situation where well meaning reader don’t have enough information to help this Mom out. Knowing how to swim and being “strong swimmers” are two different things.

    So, not having enough info (and I wouldn’t unless I was their parent), my suggestion would be to make sure she and her husband have observed them enough to make a decision. Are they strong swimmers? How often do they swim in the ocean? Do they know how to deal with a rip current? Have they ever needed assistance when swimming with their Dad? Do they have a respectful/helpful enough relationship between the two of them that one wouldn’t leave the other or challenge the other to go farther/deeper than comfortable?

    These aren’t irrational fears. Open water risks are valid and should be respected.

    My kids both were lifeguards (at pools, not beaches) at 16, 17. They both traveled to the beach (Atlantic) with friends when in late HS (unsupervised). I was probably more nervous about them making the 2 hour drives, than the swimming, but I’m sure I still offered some reminders (that they no doubt didn’t hear).

    Good luck

    Good luck.

  2. lollipoplover August 10, 2015 at 11:07 am #

    Maybe her 16 yo can take a lifeguarding course through the Red Cross to boost his knowledge and her confidence in her son:


    I took this course at age 15 and was a lifeguard and taught swim lessons. These are great life skills to have! I will encourage my kids to do the same. Beach conditions fluctuate and knowledge and judgement (like recognizing rip currents) come from experience and education (like the Red Cross course). That said, we love the beach, swim in the ocean all the time (the older two will go out with each other for hours), but respect the basic rules: never swim alone, always be aware of current conditions.

  3. Anna August 10, 2015 at 11:19 am #

    They’re 13 and 16 and know how to swim and this is even a question? The older one is old enough to be a lifeguard himself, for Pete’s sake!

    When my family went camping or to a summer cottage, once we knew how to swim (i.e., really swim, like a full length of a full-size pool with no assistance), we were allowed to swim without my parents as long as we followed a buddy system – strict adherence to a buddy system was the unbreakable law of swimming, at least in my family.

  4. K August 10, 2015 at 11:23 am #

    We were at the beach last week (mid Atlantic) and the rip currents were fierce. The lifeguards were constantly pulling people out. Kids and adults. My oldest is 11 and I do prefer to be with him at the beach. Not in the water with him, or even standing at the water line, like when he was younger, but watching. He’s a strong swimmer, but even strong swimmers can get caught in a rip.

  5. delurking August 10, 2015 at 11:27 am #

    When I was a kid, I started swimming at the beach alone at ~ 9 years old (it was walking distance). Later, living farther from the beach, I drove to the beach to go windsurfing alone when I became old enough do that, year-round in NJ.

    Currently, our kids are 5 and 8. We are far from the beach, but at our local pool we don’t watch them anymore. There are lifeguards there.

    Compared to many risks people worry about, drowning is actually a bigger one. These are risks that I have always thought are worth it, because of the particular joy I found in those activities. On the other hand, no one can say you are unreasonable for not taking this risk; there are probably many other activities that will make them happy and your judgment about your kids’ abilities and the level of risk you are willing to take is what matters.

  6. JR August 10, 2015 at 11:52 am #

    I understand the mom’s desire to not let the kids go alone to the beach. But – and I mean this in the kindest way possible – what does she think her presence will accomplish? If a kid goes out too far or gets pulled into rip currents, is the mom going to jump in and try to save him? Unless this mom is a Coast Guard rescue swimmer, that move will probably result in TWO people needing a lifeguard, not just one.

    IF the teens are strong swimmers, and IF they know and respect the dangers of open water, then it should be fine to let them go by themselves. If anything, they will probably be MORE cautious knowing that they – and not mom or dad – are responsible for their own safety.

  7. Bose. August 10, 2015 at 11:55 am #

    The wise approach strikes me as the same as kids crossing streets and using transit. Drill kids on safety (never swim alone, know how to swim well, be aware of your surroundings, always respect the water) as well as talk to strangers (lifeguard, other kids, parents: How’s the water today?). Set limits based on kids’ age, ability and conditions (get out when tired, no swimming beyond point xxx). Have a plan if anything goes awry.

    My grandparents lived near a major river and then one of the Great Lakes. There was a deep sadness, and yet familiarity, around hearing that the search was on for a kid missing in or near the water. But that was just one piece of the total awareness, including teaching of safety on boats and in the water.

    In my tweens, I also had the benefit of summer afternoons at a small-ish lake with Dad. At various points, he had a canoe, kayak, sailboard and a catamaran. I and sibs were free to paddle out on (and eventually across) the lake in sync with our skills and awareness.

  8. SKL August 10, 2015 at 12:02 pm #

    I too am skittish about water, probably because I myself am not a strong swimmer.

    I make sure my kids swim well. So far they have always been in some sort of swim program from age 3 to age 8 (they joined swim team at 7 and that will take them to adulthood assuming we don’t have a big “I quit” crisis). As soon as they are old enough, I plan on having them take life saving courses etc. as well.

    That said, given that they can swim well, I will let them swim wherever there is a lifeguard. I trust that the folks organizing guarded swim areas are generally responsible. I’ll give my kids the usual speeches and let them go. They can’t learn how to be safe if they never get a chance to test the waters [pun intended].

    When I was a teen, I used to go off with my siblings and swim without a lifeguard, in deep ponds not necessarily intended for swimming, despite not really being a good swimmer. What I learned is that human instinct to survive is strong. I know there are 100 “what ifs,” but we can’t let those rule our lives.

    I know drowning is not a fairy tale. But the last drowning I heard of “in real life” was of an adult in the middle of a triathlon. As far as we can tell, he was at the lowest imaginable risk of drowning, and yet he drowned. At some point we just have to close our eyes, hold our noses, and jump in, if we’re going to live at all.

  9. Jay August 10, 2015 at 12:03 pm #

    Parents have to be ready to assess their kids’ skills. I believe that almost every child should be taught to swim, and given the opportunity to practice those skills. We lived in Tucson — land of backyard swimming pools — when our child was born and so she was swimming from 6 months. Now 12, she is an accomplished swimmer and we have no problem letting her go to nearby Lake Michigan with a friend. Rip currents are a rare but real concern, but she is a strong swimmer who knows what to do when she can’t reach the beach at her present location.

    We wouldn’t let her go alone, but my wife is an experienced open-water swimmer and she certainly wouldn’t undertake a real swim in the lake all by herself.

  10. E August 10, 2015 at 12:10 pm #

    @JR — I’m confused. Are you suggesting that if someone is in distress in the open water that there is nothing anyone (who is not a lifeguard) can do? They could call attention to the situation if there is a lifeguard…they could advise/remind them if they are trying to fight a rip current in the wrong fashion…they could take nearby beach items (boogie boards, flotation devices, etc) out to them. Heck, if they didn’t observe a rip current (but parents on the beach did) they could warn them and/or tell them to come in further, etc.

    I’m not suggesting this Mom needs to be there, but being “in trouble” in the water and getting help is not uncommon.

    Again, you’d have to know a lot more about the kids before coming to any conclusion about if they are/aren’t ready to go unsupervised.

  11. Barbara Sarnecka August 10, 2015 at 12:14 pm #

    I think the rule of thumb for everyone (adults as well as kids) is that NOBODY should swim in the ocean alone. If your kids like the beach, I’d invest in a junior lifeguard course for them (so they know how to rescue each other in case of trouble, get out of riptides, etc.) and stipulate that they need to swim together– nobody goes alone.

  12. Andrea August 10, 2015 at 12:16 pm #

    The question I have is what does she mean by “beach?” If we are talking about a small calm lake, or the placid beach at Turks & Caicos, and my kids are strong swimmers and tend to take care of each other, then I wouldn’t have a problem with it.

    If we are talking about the beach at the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North Carolina or something, then, no I wouldn’t let them go unless a lifeguard was present. I–an adult–wouldn’t go with with my friends unless a lifeguard were present — this is so that I know that the beach conditions are okay for swimming more than anything else. Sometimes they close the beaches because of strong currents, etc., and if there is no lifeguard on duty then there is no one present to evaluate the beach (which I am not equipped to do).

  13. Wendy W August 10, 2015 at 12:17 pm #

    There are multiple variable here that we are not in a place to assess. I would leave this decision to her husband. Presumably, since he swims with them, he would have a good sense of their ability and judgement in that situation, and he knows the beach and the particular risks of that location. I would let him make the call, and for the remainder of this summer, I would restrict them to swimming only at this known location, not other beaches where they do not know the conditions and the currents.

  14. bsolar August 10, 2015 at 12:17 pm #

    “How do I assess beach danger so that I can determine what are rational limits to place on my kids at the beach?”

    The underlying issue is that it’s actually not that easy to assess the risks of a beach, a river or a lake. The end result is that the untrained tends to have big irrational fears. The trained knows what it’s dangerous and his fears are rational: he knows when it’s actually time to be afraid and to either get out of the water or avoid diving in the first place.

    So the first suggestion is to follow the advice of professionals: stick to places under lifeguard surveillance and actually act according to their instructions.

    You can also educate yourself or your sons: lifeguard courses are available from a very young age and people who like swimming tend to find them very interesting. This will make things much safer with or without actual lifeguard surveillance available.

  15. John August 10, 2015 at 12:22 pm #

    Very interesting subject that really hits home with my situation growing up. My father had a phobia of lakes regarding me. Swimming pools were fine, but not lakes. In 1962, our small Wisconsin town finally put in a city swimming pool. I was 6-years-old and became an avid pool rat! My summers in the 1960s included morning swimming lessons at the pool followed by an afternoon swim and then a late afternoon swim team practice. That swimming pool was my summer home! When I turned 16 in 1972, my summers consisted of working at the pool starting in the concession stand. Finally I received my Water Safety permit and then was employed as a lifeguard/swimming instructor every summer at the pool up until 1979. I have some wonderful memories of that swimming pool and just last year, we had a pool staff reunion and reminisced about our memories growing up and working at the pool. But had it not been for that swimming pool, I probably would not know how to swim to this day! I always wanted to go to the beach with friends when I was a kid but dad wouldn’t let me. “Go to the pool, it’s just as wet” he used to say.

    Back then I thought dad was ridiculous BUT I can now sort of see his point. If a kid goes down in a lake, nobody will have a clue where he is because lake water tends to be murkier than pool water. But if he goes down in a pool, because the chlorinated water is crystal clear and the swimming pool covers a much smaller area, you’d be able to see him struggling beneath the water, especially from a lifeguard chair. So I can now see where my father was coming from although he didn’t even like it if I snuck away to the lake when I was 14 and an excellent swimmer by then.

    So I also see where IIana is coming from. But as I would tell my father, it should be very safe for a teenager who is an excellent swimmer to go to the beach. When I was 14 and snuck away to the beach with my friends, my father was mad and said to mom, “you know, he could drown!” So my mother said to him, “well yes, there is that very small chance, but you know he’s a teenager now and is an excellent swimmer and should be more than ready to handle the lake. You’ve got to let him go!”

    Considering IIana’s two boys are 13 and 16 and know how to swim, I’d tell her the same thing. Although her concern is valid, she’s got to let them go as they should be more than capable of handling a lake and even the ocean!

  16. JJ August 10, 2015 at 12:23 pm #

    If there are life guards I would be ok with it. At the outer banks where there are major rip tides and many beaches without lifeguards I would be nervous but allow it but only if there were other people at the beach to call for help.

  17. Sukiemom August 10, 2015 at 12:24 pm #

    We live 5 minutes from a few different beaches. Each one has a flag on it indicating the conditions.. One beach in particular is notorious for rip tides.
    My kids started going there with friends (no parent present) when they were 12-13. No problems.

  18. Dean Whinery August 10, 2015 at 12:25 pm #

    My friends and I frequently bicycled through Los Ángeles area traffic several miles to beaches starting when we were about 12. There were lifeguards present, but we never needed them.
    Hmmm. That’s a double dose of Free.Range, isn’t it. Bikes on busy streets and at the beach without a helicopter parent.
    We all reached adulthood anyway.

  19. sigh August 10, 2015 at 12:30 pm #

    JR said “IF the teens are strong swimmers, and IF they know and respect the dangers of open water, then it should be fine to let them go by themselves. If anything, they will probably be MORE cautious knowing that they – and not mom or dad – are responsible for their own safety.”

    Agreed. I say the same thing about traffic and crossing the street. Parents who fret that their kids aren’t “ready” to cross the street are often judging by how dependent their kids seem. Of course a kid is going to delegate to someone more experienced if they’re standing right next to him! But he probably won’t learn the skill until he’s given the opportunity to do it independently.

    I think of swimming as similar to driving, as well. My 14-year-old is going to get his learner’s permit in a province that allows it. I have total confidence in him as a driver… wish I could hand him the keys already, but it will take 3 years for him to get a real license. I’ve noticed how he is as a passenger: aware, asking me questions, correcting me on my sometimes illegal choices… I was not at all aware like that as a young passenger, and yet I started driving at 16. Everyone did, regardless of how responsible they seemed or how good their reflexes were.

    It’s serious business driving a car, or swimming in open water. Having the company of someone more experienced does seem like a good idea, but at a certain point… you’ve got to be able to become responsible for yourself.

  20. Kenny Felder August 10, 2015 at 12:36 pm #

    I always feel that age is the wrong criteria for these kinds of decisions. Would I allow a 10-year-old to swim unattended at the beach? Some 10-year-olds, and not others. How about a 17-year-old? Some 17-year-olds, and not others.

    There are two questions I think you have to ask. First, are they strong swimmers? Second, and more importantly, are they mature enough to follow common-sense rules such as “don’t swim if there’s lightning,” “use sunscreen,” and “know your own limits”? You know your sons. If the answer to both questions is “yes” then they are probably much safer swimming in the ocean than driving to get there.

  21. david zaitzeff August 10, 2015 at 12:44 pm #

    At Greenlake park in Seattle, what they do is to say that persons under a certain age who wish to swim beyond a certain point must pass a basic test of swimming 50 yards out to a buoy. The test is observed and supervised by a group of lifeguards. After the test, then, those kids are permitted to swim in certain places. Before, they are not.

    The solution used at the Seattle parks is probably an excellent way for your kids to learn . . . and it would be a fun adventure to find or create a suitable swimming test . . .

  22. WLB August 10, 2015 at 1:01 pm #

    The trick to being at the beach is to learn how to be there safely. Here on the Pacific coast, children grow up learning about beach safety. It’s important to know the dangers of sneaker waves, riptides, and staying off logs in the surf or wet sand.

    Here are two good guides to beach and water safety. Both are realistic and not over-the-top fear-mongering: http://www.oregon.gov/oprd/PARKS/pages/beach_tips.aspx#Beach_Safety_home

    Kids who know about ocean and water safety are actually better off than a lot of inland tourists, and if adults can learn the commonsense rules of safety, so can this woman’s teens.

    That said, decisions like these need to be made on a parent-by-parent, kid-by-kid basis. Kids who are mature, less likely to show off, and have better impulse control will be ready to go to the beach sooner than kids who first need to demonstrate more readiness.

    So in summary, even though oceans are definitely more dangerous than strangers, this is like every other Free Range Kid Issue: Know and communicate the safety rules, know your kids, decide accordingly.

  23. Buffy August 10, 2015 at 1:02 pm #

    I agree – we need to know the body of water that this beach surrounds. Is it a lake? A Great Lake? The ocean? The MIssissippi?

  24. Warren August 10, 2015 at 1:32 pm #

    Former lifeguard here. First if the beach is lifeguard supervised, there should be no problems at all. If the beach is not supervised, then differ to your husband’s judgment, as he is the one that knows the boys abilities best.

    If you do allow them the freedom, make it in stages. The first couple of times have them text you periodically with an “All’s Good.”. Just do not make that a permanent condition. If they show you everything if fine the first two or three times, you should be okay to eliminate the need for updates, as a sign of your trust in them.

  25. Daniel August 10, 2015 at 1:48 pm #

    I would let them swim without you/your husband if and only if there is a lifeguard on duty at the time. At least at first….
    I would also look into getting them some propper training (ask the lifeguard they will know about any schemes in your local area)

  26. Kim Lombard Robson August 10, 2015 at 1:48 pm #

    I grew up in L.A.’s south bay, basically surrounded by beaches. I remember getting dropped off with my best friend and we’d spend the entire day working on our tans. We were 12 years old. We’d have a picnic lunch (which once got destroyed by seagulls while we were in the water). I wouldn’t worry too much about drownings, especially if both boys know how to swim well. They’ll probably be spending most of their time on the sand flirting with girls, anyway.

  27. A reader August 10, 2015 at 1:52 pm #

    It’s funny, I consider myself generally, though not entirely, Free Range. There are risks to everything, and I do believe that we cannot drive ourselves crazy to protect from every potential danger, but if you are knowledgeable in the actual statistics out there, you can choose which safety measures it does make sense to be fastidious about. So, for example, “stranger danger” is such an infinitesimal risk that I do the bare minimum there. But car accidents and drowning are like the two biggest safety threats to kids, so I take those seriously.

    Even adults, frankly, need to be careful here. I don’t think it’s a good idea for anyone to go swimming alone. My grandmother has a pool in her backyard, and she and my grandfather used to take nightly swims together in the summer. Since his passing, she doesn’t do that unless she has someone else over, because she doesn’t feel comfortable swimming alone with no one to help or call for help if something happens. I know how to swim, but I’m a weak swimmer and also never swim alone, because if I got into any sort of trouble, I would not be able to help myself. Also, I will never forget the worst shiva visit I ever had to make. A teacher of mine lost her 10 year old to drowning; his 12 year old friend survived but suffered permanent and significant brain damage. They went swimming together at a local beach and got caught in a tide. They were pulled out too late. I don’t think anyone is to blame, and it’s pretty clear that nothing could have changes the outcome other than choosing the mall over the beach, but it did underscore that water is no joke and needs to be taken seriously. I think these kids are certainly right to be going together, and they are certainly old enough to know about basic water safety. As I said, I don’t think it’s a good idea for anyone of any age to swim alone. Maybe insist they swim somewhere with a lifeguard on duty, it’s an extra set of eyes and hands if needed.

  28. Kacey August 10, 2015 at 2:01 pm #

    I grew up in a beach town and was a lifeguard myself. It’s not enough to be a strong swimmer. There are dangers, like rip currents, that everyone needs to know about and how to respond to if caught. Educating your kids about marine dangers is as, or more, important than educating them about how to interact with “strangers.” Have a talk with your kids to see if they know about and how to respond to riptides, jellyfish, undertow. Talk about how they might know if the surf is too rough for them. Discuss their buddy plan; even at a lifeguarded beach I don’t think people should swim alone. Many beaches post surf reports with green, yellow and red flags (and sometimes purple for jellies and other dangerous marine life). You can go online to see the report and it will say if there are riptides or rough surf. If the the report isn’t online, there may be a number you can call. If you’ve done all this and are still apprehensive, send them to a guarded beach, during hours the guards are on duty. But, really, if they can swim, know how to recognize and respond to surf and marine dangers and have a buddy plan, they will be fine.

  29. Susan August 10, 2015 at 2:02 pm #

    I think people on this thread are all envisioning something different when they hear “beach.” I live in North Carolina and am picturing very dangerous currents, no lifeguards, and yes, even sharks. Also, I’m picturing my own son, who as a young teen considers himself immune to harm, and therefore would not obey any rules if I were not there to enforce them. He would go out farther than we agreed on, he wouldn’t notice a rip current had him, etc. Parents have to know their own child, and the conditions. I think this should be up to the parent’s discretion – they shouldn’t be charged with neglect for letting the kids go to the beach, but they also shouldn’t be shamed for keeping an eye on the kids.

  30. JR August 10, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

    @E – Of course people who are not lifeguards can assist swimmers in trouble. It happens all the time.

    The scenario I was picturing was with the boys swimming rather far out in the ocean and the mom sitting on the sand. If her boys got in trouble, her ability to help in that situation would be rather limited. Although she could certainly alert the lifeguard, one would hope that the lifeguard would already be aware of the situation.

    When I read the mom’s question, the vibe came across something like, “If I’m there, nothing bad will happen to my boys.” That’s magical thinking at any time, but all the more so when dealing with such a large and unpredictable force of nature like the ocean.

    I agree with Wendy and Warren that in this case, the mom should defer to the dad’s judgement because he has spent more time in the water with the boys. The idea of having them check in every so often is a good one as well.

  31. Ben August 10, 2015 at 2:07 pm #

    The ocean has currents that are actually a serious danger. Knowing how to swim is not enough to be safe in the ocean. either make sure they don’t go out too far or make sure you get them lifeguard training or very advanced swimming lessons to deal with sea dangers. That said, you shouldn’t just forbid them to go. You should let them know the sea poses a serious danger to swimmers and that being safe should be their priority. Perhaps a couple of episode of “Bondi Rescue” will help?

  32. Lihtox August 10, 2015 at 2:14 pm #

    The advantage the mother has over the lifeguard is that she is specifically keeping track of her sons, while the lifeguard is watching everyone. But if the boys keep track of each other, then that’s probably as good or better. The only danger is if the older boy wants to do something risky, won’t listen to the younger boy, and even threatens him if he calls the lifeguard. If they have that sort of relationship, then the older boy may need additional supervision. (Presumably if they BOTH decide to do something risky, like go out too far, they’ll be easier for the lifeguard to spot.)

  33. hineata August 10, 2015 at 2:19 pm #

    Depends entirely on the beach itself and on their experience ocean swimming. At 16 I wouldn’t have ‘let’ my son beach swim in one or two locations around here, whereas one or two others would have been fine. Ocean swimming is an entirely different matter to pool swimming or lake swimming in many areas, and unfortunately only you, Mum of the 13 and 16 year olds, can answer that question for your own beach.

    Heck, there’s beaches I would strongly discourage my 53 year old husband from swimming at unsupervised :-).

  34. lollipoplover August 10, 2015 at 2:20 pm #

    You could also try the approach of totally dissuading them from going in the water by having family movie night with “Jaws” and showing them a healthy dose of Shark Week. DVR it and play it on repeat. Keeps them out of the water, guaranteed.

    I had a similar feeling with my son, who recently purchased a fishing kayak and wanted to go out on the bay. Alone. Don’t think I didn’t think of those 14 year old boys still missing in Florida.

    But I let him go. He had a life vest on, he told me his plan and time he would be back, and he has a lifeproof case on his cellphone. Skies were clear, conditions were smooth, not much of a current. He came back early. By his own assessment, it was too dangerous to be out fishing alone. He said the increased weekend boat traffic and boats getting too close to his kayak were rocking him and almost knocked him over. So he ended his trip and planned the next high tide excursion early the next day when it was quieter on the waters and the fish were biting- he caught bass, sand robs, flounder, and sand sharks.

    Summers should be enjoyed- Beaches are great but not every day is a swim day. Teaching them to use good judgement and assess conditions for dangers, just as you would. Get a good surf channel to follow weather conditions of the ocean- and follow them. Talk to the lifeguards on the beach.

  35. Tamara August 10, 2015 at 2:24 pm #

    When I was a child we camped a lot and I loved the water! I would swim as much as I could – the family joke was they would pull into the campground, drop me off at the beach, then pick me up again on the way home. I swam unsupervised from about 9 years old. I was always a strong swimmer – no lessons, I just knew how. When I think about this as an adult and with my own kids it freaks me out! My kids are that age now and both strong swimmers but I think I would have to consider the circumstances very carefully before leaving them at the beach.

    With lifeguards? I would be near where they are but not concerned. At this age, 10 and 7. But at 16 and 13 I think I would want them to be able to go alone – one of them can even drive by then! I believe they could stay safe at the beach too.

  36. Jen August 10, 2015 at 2:38 pm #

    @ Kim Lombard Robson – that’s funny, that’s what I was thinking too. 2 teenage boys at the beach–they’ll be on the beach, at the arcade or hanging around the concession stand flirting with the girls.

    I too am a former lifeguard and an absolute nut about water safety — we vacation on the coast of Maine each year. I worry about the kids going out too deep–the bottom is uneven, there are rip-currents, very rocky shores — so I usually go out with them to ride the waves. Fact is, in Northern New England it’s typically too cold to actually swim at the beach unless you are a kid. 🙂 When they are a bit older (12+), as long as they are swimming with a buddy, I don’t think I will feel the need to watch them as closely as they should be stronger swimmers by then.

    To our letter-writer, if you are concerned, have their swimming ability assessed AND have them take a class or watch a video on beach/water safety pertaining to the area you live in so that they know what the hazards are, how to avoid them and what to do if they are caught up in them. If you are talking about visiting a beach at a lake or pond, I would think that the buddy system is all they would need if they swim well. And they should always identify something with them/around them that could be used if there is an emergency — a float, kickboard, oar — to reach out to the person in trouble. They MUST know not to swim out and try to rescue someone without something to put between them and the person in need of rescue – so they can let go and swim away if needed. This is especially important and must be driven home. You don’t want the rescuer to become victim #2.

    Beyond that, let them go and have fun. If you’re still worried, show them the original Jaws movie. 🙂 Forget about swimming out too deep, our kids wouldn’t even step in puddles after that!

  37. Lori August 10, 2015 at 3:05 pm #

    In my opinion, swimming in a pool (which I’ve done unattended other than lifeguards since the age of 7) and swimming at a beach (which I still would not do alone) are two very different things. Even a strong pool swimmer may not be a strong lake/ocean swimmer or know how to handle circumstances like riptides.

    Again, my opinion, but I would be hesitant to let anyone in my family swim without an additional person who remains on the beach keeping an eye on them. Lifeguards can only watch so much beach, and many places do not have them at all. People freak out about sharks, but forget about more common dangers at the beach like unexpected waves and riptides.

  38. Warren August 10, 2015 at 3:13 pm #


    Yes lifeguards can only watch so much. Speaking from experience, we developed priority watching. Lifeguards know which people to pay a little more attention to, what areas require more attention than others.
    I cannot speak for the rest, but a lot of our lifeguards developed trained hearing as well. You would also be surprised at how well your peripheral eye sight improves when you have a job such as lifeguard.

    I am a firm believer that swimming lessons to a certain level of ability should be mandatory for all children.

  39. JR August 10, 2015 at 3:24 pm #

    In situations like this, it may be worth it for the boys to swim as though the lifeguards weren’t there. What I mean is that they should treat all risks as though they, and they alone, were responsible for mitigating those risks. If they approach the ocean as though nobody will come to save them if they screw up, they’ll be much more responsible in their actions. And if something unexpected *does* occur, the lifeguard will hopefully fill the gaps.

  40. Ilana August 10, 2015 at 3:47 pm #

    Hi, Ilana here, thank you all for your perspective.

    Some more info: the beach is on the Mediterranean. Jellyfish yes (July more than August), sharks no. It’s a given that we would only let them swim at a beach with a lifeguard on active duty. Both boys are reasonably strong swimmers, and can swim much more than the 50 yards one commenter mentioned as a test.

    While we were waiting for my question to be published, the boys asked again to go – this time with their 18yo brother. We said yes, and we were nervous, but felt we should let them go. We reviewed info on rip tides together beforehand. They had a good time. Coincidentally, the sea was very placid, and there were hardly any waves. We can check conditions online, including jellyfish. The 18yo is leaving home next week, though, so the 16yo and 13yo will ask again, I’m sure. In fact, they’ve already asked to go camping together at the Sea of Galilee. They’re both experienced campers, so we’ll probably let them, albeit with some trepidation. I don’t think there are waves at all.

    When the 18yo was six or so, he was at the beach, near my husband, when the water suddenly got deeper and he couldn’t get himself back. Another swimmer (probably age 12 or 13) talked him back. My husband was limited in how much he could help him directly, because he was holding the now 13yo, who was then just a baby (in retrospect not the best idea perhaps). It was scary! I think/hope it has affected the 18yo’s judgment and made him more careful. The other kids know about this, but I imagine the 18yo is more affected than the others.

    Generally, if my husband is there, the kids aren’t allowed to go past him. When he’s not there, they’re not allowed to go past a certain depth that I tell them, for example, their stomach. But it is very easy to get into much deeper water without noticing. I call them in closer from time to time. Of course they have more fun with their father. He’s a lot taller than me, so he can easily stand where I can’t.

    The 16yo and 13yo are fairly responsible, and they have a loving, supportive relationship. BUT, they love to horse around together, climb on each other, play with each other, etc. So we worry that they might get a bit carried away in surroundings that are potentially dangerous. My husband and I are both not quite sure they’re ready. But we feel like we don’t have enough info about beach swimming to evaluate its safety. We ourselves are only ok swimmers.

    I hope this explanation wasn’t too long! Bottom line, does anyone have statistics or specific information regarding safety at a lifeguarded beach? Thanks again!

  41. Warren August 10, 2015 at 4:00 pm #


    LOL, your last comments were short compared to some I have written, as well as others.

    Can I make a suggestion. Instead of worrying about the statistics on lifeguard beaches, go down and talk to one of the lifeguards. Tell her or him what you are going through, and ask them nicely about their training, and what advice they may have.

    Psst, ask about their training not qualifications. One is interest, the other can come off as a trust issue. Fragile egos and all. But I am sure they would be more than happy to help. A good lifeguard isn’t only well trained but is well mannered as well.

  42. hineata August 10, 2015 at 4:10 pm #

    Off topic slightly but what does everyone consider a beach? I don’t think of a lake edge as a beach, just a lake edge or shore. Beaches are only coastal.

    Is that the general idea?

    And sorry Ilana, didn’t read properly before. Obviously your boys are reasonably used to the ocean. If they’re generally sensible kids and there’s also likely to be a lifeguard present, or other people, and it’s a beach they’re familiar with, they should be fine. I let my 13 and 14 year olds go down to the beach with friends from the camping ground at Ohope, which is a very fun surf beach with strong surf, undertows and also lifeguards and lots of other people . They had a ball and no particular issues.

    Personally I would be less inclined to let my kids go swimming without me at a beach where there are no other people around, but I would imagine with your larger population that might be less of an issue up there….

  43. CrazyCatLady August 10, 2015 at 4:20 pm #

    First, Mom needs to talk to the lifeguards. Are there rip currents? If so, what area is the worst for them, what is the best? The boys need to swim in the “least” rip current area. Not all beaches are created equal…some places are safer to swim than others.

    Boys need to agree to swim in front of the lifeguard, if they are in an area that is not roped in. Currents will often “shift” swimmers down the beach in the direction of current. The boys need to be aware of this and be able and willing to move back up so that they are in the “covered” area. (Some beaches I have been at in CA only had guards on sections – they did not cover the whole beach.)

    I think it is fine for this to be done in a graduated manner…that is, Mom pops in and out at first to be sure they are where they belong.

    Boys need to be able to explain how to get out of a rip current or other dangers if they are present. Mom should learn about this too….You Tube should have some videos.

    The boys should understand the “Reach or Throw, Don’t Go!” philosophy. That is, they themselves should not try to rescue their brother should he get it trouble….they need to call the life guard and/or get something to throw out or to reach out with. People who are drowning think only about getting air. That means, they will push down the person trying to save them so that they can get to the surface and get air. To avoid two drownings, the one not in trouble should get help….lifeguards MUST carry a flotation device that will help prevent a second drowning.

    If the boys can do these things…they should be fine. A junior lifeguard class would not be a bad idea.

  44. hineata August 10, 2015 at 4:20 pm #

    Oh sorry Ilana once again, posted before I saw your next one! The Mediterranean! Fun! But jellyfish. …ick! I wouldn’t have thought there would be enough sea per person on your beaches to cause too much trouble, LOL….the beaches we saw very recently were so crowded.

    Hope the boys have fun! !

  45. Buffy August 10, 2015 at 4:28 pm #

    I think of a beach as anywere with an expanse of sand, swimming, and possibly lifeguards. That’s why I was thinking that the body of water was important.

  46. Ilana August 10, 2015 at 4:39 pm #

    Hineata, which beach were you at that was so crowded? I haven’t experienced that, although we only go 2-3 times a year. It’s over an hour drive away.

    Thanks CCL for the info, and thanks Warren for the suggestion to talk to the lifeguards. May be a dumb question, but how can a lifeguard chat with beachgoers? Don’t they need to watch and listen constantly?

  47. Christina G August 10, 2015 at 5:00 pm #

    I grew up in a beach town and I will say, my parents weren’t what anyone would have called “free range”, though definitely not helicopter parents. My sister and I were the same difference in age (3 years apart) and by the time I could drive at 16, she was allowed to come to the beach with me and my friends. Things you could look into if you are worried are the flag systems at the beach. If it is a green-flag day (no current, unlikelihood of water pests like jellyfish), it seems perfectly reasonable at that age to allow them to go to the beach together (or even better, with some additional friends). If it was a red-flag day, I would advise them waiting for a day when the surf was calmer, as really, no one should be in the water when there is a red flag. You could use your personal judgment for yellow flag and combo flag days. As for purple-flag days, it just depends on how concerned you are by jellyfish and other water pests affecting their ability to get out of the water safely. Hope this helps! The flag systems are great but if you live in an area that doesn’t utilize them, there are often beach cams online so you could check how the surf looks overall.

  48. Laura August 10, 2015 at 5:27 pm #

    As someone who is not a strong swimmer myself, I totally understand this fear. My kids are still way too young to go to the beach/pool alone, but I think teens should be able to go by themselves as long as they are proficient swimmers and understand beach safety (like how to swim with the current, get out of the water if there’s lightning nearby, etc.). I don’t know if I’d let them take a boat or jet ski out on the ocean (perhaps on a smaller lake if they are experienced boaters/kayakers). I definitely think water safety is very important and do feel water risks are a bit higher than say sending your kids down the street to play at the park alone. I really think it depends on the individual kid.

  49. Warren August 10, 2015 at 5:41 pm #


    My kids love going to Sandbanks Provincial Park, here in Ontario. As a kid I loved Wasaga Beach here Ontario. There are many wonderful beaches on the Great Lakes. Some awesome ones on the Ottawa River. Lake Nipissing is incredible. Simcoe has a few as well.

    I think people tend to forget or are not familiar with Ontario’s lakes. I have gone fishing with some guys from the states, and they couldn’t believe that we had lakes that you could not see across, and not be one of the great lakes. I drove cross country from Vancouver to Toronto with a friend, that had never been out of B.C. When she saw Lake Superior she couldn’t believe the size of it. She said if she didn’t know better, she would swear she was on the coast.

  50. Ravana August 10, 2015 at 5:46 pm #

    Common sense is all that is required.

    I grew up by the Great Lakes and went to the town pool and the beach alone or with friends starting at age 12 (the minimum age allowed by the village). Before doing so however I had to prove that I could swim about a 1/4 mile without stopping, tread water for 10 minutes, (both these tests were done by a parent at the village pool) could recite how to get out of a rip current, and could safely bike there (being followed by a biking parent the first time). I was only allowed to go to the beaches where there was a lifeguard and only during hours when the lifeguard was present. I managed to grow to adulthood.

  51. TrollBuster August 10, 2015 at 5:48 pm #

    I have started reading this site. Who is this TROLL Warren? He seems to spend all day on this site. Does he have a life, or live in a dark room (probably a cave)?

    He does not have a life.

  52. Hancock August 10, 2015 at 6:03 pm #

    You’re the mom. You know your kids and whether they are strong swimmers or otherwise. Drownings happen and they are a terrible tragedy. However, drownings are like deadly car accidents: after all we can do, they are not always preventable by reasonable standards.

    Does your sixteen year drive? Is he a good swimmer? Does he have a history of good judgement? If yes to all three, it would be a green light in my house. The thirteen year old is probably not used to having his life in his own hands yet, may still need practice swimming, and might need adult guidance; but, again, that’s your call.

  53. hineata August 10, 2015 at 6:16 pm #

    @Illana – we were in Spain :-). The only other Mediterranean beaches I have seen are in Italy. Crowded is relative of course, and we Kiwis tend to be rather selfish about our space. …20 people on a beach seems a crowd in a lot of places. Benidorm and San Sebastian seemed to have thousands….

    There is a beach up the Coromandel which you need to walk about a half hour in over rocks, I forget the name but it is supposedly one of the top ten beaches in the world (which shocked me though I suspect it just has to do with the fact that it is completely undeveloped ). Our large camping group walked in there in dribs and drabs one day last holidays. On the way in, after crawling over a particularly annoying rock, I asked someone coming the other way, an older Kiwi, whether it was worth it. To which she replied that it was pretty but the crowds really spoilt it. Got there and it was beautiful, and the crowd of maybe 150- 200 people spread along it were all enjoying it.

    That’s Kiwis for you though….we’re selfish buggers, LOL!

  54. Brian August 10, 2015 at 6:18 pm #

    Wow, lots of great comments! For what it’s worth, I’m a retired Coast Guard guy, and would add that one of the more important aspects to consider here is not necessarily whether someone is a “strong swimmer”, but whether they are cool, comfortable, and skilled in being a “survivor” in the water. We saw lots of “strong swimmers” exhaust themselves (permanently…) trying to swim very hard, only to find they couldn’t stay afloat when they ran out of gas. However, I remember recovering a woman, who was a weak swimmer, after she kept herself afloat for more than six hours just doing the “dead man’s float.” By the way, she did it so well that when the helicopter crew spotted her body, they assumed she was dead. Until she raised her head and took a breath… Learn how to survive, not just to swim.

  55. hineata August 10, 2015 at 6:22 pm #

    @Warren – yeah, I wondered about the Great Lakes. Presumably they’re big enough to have tides? Nothing like the Pacific of course, but yes, I would imagine you can’t see across them.

    Crap, we have rivers you can’t see across in winter….not because they’re wide- they’re not – but because of the fog :-).

  56. hineata August 10, 2015 at 6:33 pm #

    Oops, my bad….you were talking about places NOT the Great Lakes. Those things must be frigging enormous then.

    As we flew over Canada down to Seattle, we passed over something called Peace River. Sounded lovely, and isolated. Nothing else mentioned on the airplane map for hundreds of miles. Must be a lot of Canada like that, huge tracts of land or water just sitting there minding their own business, pretty much unpopulated. Unimaginably large…..

  57. Nicole August 10, 2015 at 6:34 pm #

    I guess the real question is, what would mom being there do to make the situation safer? If the mom is a champion lifeguard, well, that’s a real benefit. If mom is just an average swimmer, she’s likely to jump into a dangerous situation and require saving herself. Do the boys need mom there to remind them of the rules when swimming, or will they remember and behave without her?

    Bottom line, if the kids can behave reasonably well together without supervision and the beach has a lifeguard on duty, I doubt mom being there makes them any safer than they are without her.

  58. Donna August 10, 2015 at 6:55 pm #

    If there are lifeguards, I think it is fine as long as they are generally responsible and likely to follow any rules that you give them.

    If there are no lifeguards, I would only allow them to go alone if I trusted both of them to basically take care of themselves independently. The buddy system is one thing, but a 16 year old who has not been trained as a lifeguard should not be expected to be one.

  59. Kate August 10, 2015 at 7:19 pm #

    You’re going to see a lot of responses from folks like me who grew up on and around lots of water. 🙂

    I spent summers in water as a kid and teen. Mostly swimming and canoeing with my brothers. My parents had us all take Red Cross swim lessons/water safety and set limits accordingly. For example, swimming in unmarked waters (as opposed to marked-off swimming areas) required that we be strong swimmers, having completed the “White” badge in the Red Cross program (equivalent, I believe, to Level 10 of the new program). That was the last level before the two lifesaving levels.

    Once we completed our Bronze Medallion and/or Bronze Cross (both lifesaving levels), not only were we equipped to save each other should need arise (and, here in Canada, actually legally obligated to come to the aid of swimmers in distress), but we also had learned a lot about various water dangers and how to judge the safety or danger of a situation.

    So…my kids (10, 7, and 3) take Red Cross swimming lessons. Right now, they are young and inexperienced enough that swimming happens under adult supervision, but I hope they will continue to learn the skills they need to have more freedom in the water. And I’m looking into re-certifying my Bronze Cross lifesaving level just for the assurance that I have what it takes to keep my kids and others safe in the water.

    As a Free Range parent, I think skill-acquisition and realistic risk assessment is what freeranging is all about. Concern about water dangers is not unwarranted–it’s far more likely a child will drown than be kidnapped, for example. But the best we can do is give our kids all the skills and knowledge available and balance out the risk of danger vs. the risk of not experiencing all that life holds.

  60. Brooke August 10, 2015 at 8:23 pm #

    I’m not a free range parent by any stretch of the imagination but huh? Growing up near the beach/bay we were allowed to go sailing, swimming, etc without parents around once my older brother hit middle school. When I was a teenager we’d drive an hour to the beach by ourselves and do whatever we wanted with no parents around. We were all geeky honor students so no getting into trouble, but the more troublesome kids were there surfing & smoking weed without their parents too. Pool lifeguards can start at 16, I think beach lifeguards at 18. BTW I’m not even 30 so this is like a decade ago not in the 1950s or something.

  61. James Pollock August 10, 2015 at 8:23 pm #

    The majority of deaths due to rip currents occur to people who are unfamiliar with them and thus do exactly the wrong thing when they get caught in one. Strong swimmers who know how to react to being in a rip current are rarely drowning victims (and when they are, its usually because they’re trying to save someone else.) Google is your friend… are they wanting to go to a beach where rip currents are known? Do they know what to do if they get caught in one?

    If you need something to take comfort from irrational fear, make them take some kind of flotation device with them, like a surfboard. If one of them gets caught in a rip current, the other one can swim out with the flotation device and then they’ll be able to float safetly until help arrives.

  62. James Pollock August 10, 2015 at 8:28 pm #

    I went to a summer camp located on an island in the Pacific Ocean (OK, it was in the San Juan islands, which are located between mainland Washington, the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, and Vancouver Island, British Columbia. But that particular camp takes 6 year olds, includes a beach, with access to rowboats and sailboats, and I don’t recall a lifeguard station.

    By the time kids are 13 and 16, they’re probably OK for swimming at the beach unattended, regardless of how well they swim, because they should know their limits AND there’s two of them.

  63. Susan August 10, 2015 at 8:55 pm #

    Another point to consider is how often the family goes to the ocean. My family only vacations at the beach once a year for 5 days. My kid doesn’t really get much ocean swimming experience. Someone who grows up on the shore or spends all summer every year there is a whole different ballgame. The OP mentions the Mediterranean. I swam once on the Adriatic and it was calm as a lake… I’m picturing the Mediterranean being similar. This is very different than the knock you under with every wave with sand blowing up your nose as you tumble helplessly over and over sorts of beaches that I’m used to.

  64. CM August 10, 2015 at 9:59 pm #

    Here is my answer based on my own experience.

    From 13-19 I traveled to Florida with my swim club every March for a week to get a start on Long Course season.

    There was one chaperone, and the coach.

    We were to travel in pairs, but that was the only stipulation. As long as we were on time for meals and practices, we had free reign over what we did (no boys in girls room and vice versa).

    We would rollerblade to the mall, hang at the beach, shop, etc., as long as we traveled in pairs.

    We never swam at the beach in the early morning or evening, and somebody always knew where we were going.

    I would feel completely comfortable for my son to be in the same situation.

    If I was smart enough at 13 to not wander off with strange men, I trust my son to have the same good sense.

    We swam in the ocean all the time, and yes we were competitive swimmers, so very strong, but there is always risk when swimming in the ocean. Rip currents, jelly fish, manowar, etc. there is always an inherent risk.

    Your job as a parent is to know if your children are smart enough to know how to ask for help, knowledgeable on what to do if caught in the rip current, and smart enough to know when it’s safe to swim.

    Always swim with a buddy whether you are 9 or 99. It’s just common sense.

    So – discuss with your husband if you feel both boys are able to handle the responsibility.

    Like I said – I did it for many years. Never had any issues. Always on public beaches with lots of people and lifeguards. You have to weigh the pros and cons.

    And you need to know that if something bad happens, you made the best decision you could at the time and cannot second guess yourself. It serves no purpose. If only’s will drive you insane.

  65. Kevin August 10, 2015 at 10:55 pm #

    My first thought was 15 and 13? Are you kidding? I was swimming in a pool and a bay by myself before I was 10. I could swim across the bay (probably 150 yards or so) by myself and no one batted an eye. I’m not sure the first time I went to the ocean by myself but it was probably right around age 10. But then again, I started swimming before I was 5 and was a strong swimmer. So that makes a big difference. So, like others have asked, how well do they swim? That’s obviously important. Are there lifeguard towers on the beach is another important question. Also important is what beach you are talking about. Some are definitely more difficult than others.

    I can see one commenter mentions a lifeguard class. Here they have a Jr. Lifeguard (I believe it is age 10-17 but I’m not exactly sure) program that runs for 6 weeks or so, culminating in an around the pier swim. If they can pass a course like that I’d say you can relax a little or maybe even a lot.

  66. Michael Fandal August 10, 2015 at 10:57 pm #

    Education and preparation demonstrates wisdom. If you and your sons consider themselves competent swimmers read up on news pieces about good swimmers who drowned either when trying to save someone else or panicking followed by fatigue from strong currents. When it comes to swimming alone it is better to remember better safe than sorry

    There is a group in NYC called open water swimming association. They sponsor swims such as going from Brooklyn to Manhattan or Coney Island swims ipadt the jetties.
    Best to practice drills simulating drowning just like school fire drills. Equip yourself with rope attached to buoyant device. William James true wisdom is to be ready for anything. Each son ought to practice saving the other. When they demonstrate their competence let them have fun in the surf remembering at all times the ocean is king. I led in Coney Island mere seconds from the beach and ocean and regret not becoming a strong swimmer. There was always the rope from lifeguard chair leading into ocean with floating barrels from shall to medium to way over your head. That was a great way to overcome fear of deep safely. Wear bright colors to be visible in case something goes wrong but most likel all will go well

  67. Madeline August 11, 2015 at 12:57 am #

    I would say this depends more on the beach than the kids. Are they going to a place relatively warm water, gentle currents, and easy surf or are they headed somewhere cold and rocky with horrid rip tides? Is there boat traffic or would they be completely alone if they got pulled out?

    Maybe I’m wrong but I thought the idea of free range parenting was to teach kids risk management.

    I know I’m not a kid but I’m planning to sail from Chicago to the Carribean soon. I’m plotting my route through the Great Lakes and I find warnings that the Saint Laurence Seaway can be treacherous with strong currents, whirlpools, and the greatest tidal difference in the world – 47 feet in some places.

    A lot of my friends say I know no fear for taking the trip in the first place but trust me I have decided to take the canals instead of the Seaway. I’m still going on an adventure but I’m not going to be stupid about it.

  68. tdr August 11, 2015 at 4:28 am #

    I am someone who rarely worries about typical dangers, but when we are on the beach in Delaware I do not let my kids swim without a lifeguard present.

    We have had too many personal close calls. Riptdes are not uncommon AND they are truly dangerous even for strong swimmers.

    Life guards know how to recognize them when they are occurring and how to save you if you get caught in one.

  69. Barak A. Pearlmutter August 11, 2015 at 5:31 am #

    This is a big issue for us, as we’re very into swimming at both pools and beaches; being statistically literate we’re aware that unintentional drowning is a major cause of death in children; and as a teenager I worked on a camp waterfront so have some first-hand experience with how quickly things can go south. Here are a few thoughts. (a) A lifeguard course is a great idea, but even some informal water safety training, like reading and drilling on some lifeguard instructional materials, can be very helpful. (b) Viewing some youtube videos with case studies of how some strong swimmers got in trouble might give them some perspective. (c) Buddy system, no cheating. (d) Make it a habit to talk to the lifeguards before going into the water: often they have useful information like where the jellyfish are or that there’s a rip current in some location, and also they’ll know who you are and be able to keep a better eye on you.

  70. Sylvia August 11, 2015 at 7:46 am #

    If you are talking about a beach with the possibility of riptides, never ever go in deeper than your belly button. Not just kids, this is also for adults and even for strong swimmers. I would talk to them about what you do if they get caught in a riptide or any other emergency. If they are responsible kids/teens I wouldn’t be too worried.

  71. anonymous mom August 11, 2015 at 9:32 am #

    If we were talking about kids who were 8 or 10, I’d say it would really depend on the kids and how experienced they were with the ocean and with swimming. At 13 and 16, I don’t see it being a problem. As noted, the oldest is old enough to be a lifeguard himself. As long as they understand how to be safe in the ocean, and have some basic guidelines to follow–stay within view of a lifeguard, don’t go out too far, etc.–I think it’s fine.

    I also see JR’s point completely. It’s not that nobody can do anything if somebody drowns, but a mother with no water rescue training sitting on the shore is not likely to be able to do anything to help her drowning child. A lifeguard is there for that. I grew up spending summers at the Jersey shore, and the lifeguards did an excellent job of keeping people safe. If the currents got too strong, they’d call everybody in for a while. If somebody wandered out too far, they’d blow the whistle and call them in. They knew the water conditions and what was and wasn’t safe better than a mom with no training sitting on the shore would have, and if somebody did get into trouble, they were trained in how to actually help them. So I really don’t see any reason why the mother being there would in any way make these teens safer. (And I’d say that swimming at a beach without a lifeguard would be an unsafe idea whether the mother was there supervising or not.)

  72. anonymous mom August 11, 2015 at 9:39 am #

    On a side note, from the time I was probably 8, my parents entrusted my safety in the ocean pretty much entirely to the lifeguards. While I went to play in the ocean, they’d read or sleep or sunbathe or talk, often from quite a distance. I have no doubt they peeked out every once in a while to make sure I was okay, but they weren’t weren’t spending their time at the beach monitoring water conditions or tracking my every move.

  73. Dana August 11, 2015 at 2:23 pm #

    It depends on how familiar the child is with the ocean and if they are a strong swimmer with experience dealing with things like currents and rip tides. I grew up going to the beach and was comfortable in the water and so at age 13 I began going on the bus with my friends. Important to note that we were only at beaches with lifeguards on duty, but no parents.

    The ocean does present dangers, but for a strong kid who is a good swimmer, they are really no more at risk than an adult (a lot of the people pulled out of the ocean by lifeguards are adults). And for goodness sakes a seventeen year old boy is as strong (if not stronger) than most adults!!

  74. Ann August 11, 2015 at 5:27 pm #

    It’s not a good idea for anybody to go out swimming by themselves – I’d say older teens should be with same-aged pals or adults. I don’t know if I’d let a 16 year old go with a 13 year old. Could the 13 year old help save a drowning 16 year old? That said, a relative of mine was 16 and a strong swimmer when he went with pals swimming in a lake – and drowned. A responsible kid, too, no drinking or anything.

  75. Jenny Islander August 11, 2015 at 7:11 pm #

    I agree with JR. If the parents aren’t rescue swimmers themselves, they wouldn’t be much use.

    If there is a lifeguard and no rule about unaccompanied minors, I would certainly let the kids go alone. If there is no lifeguard, I recommend always going with the child if only to remind them (as I have to remind my kids over and OVER) that the undertow can strike in knee-deep water if the right (wrong) wave hits.

  76. Barbara August 11, 2015 at 7:56 pm #

    My kids are 11, 12, & 13. They often bike to the beach on their own. They are given a strict tme limit and are required to call once an hour. Sometimes, they are home much sooner because the first rule is to check in with the lifeguard upon arrival as to the rip current status and safety of the water. Unless they’re given the go ahead by the lifeguards, they come home (or call for a ride). They obey this rule because they know failure to do so results in loss of freedom. The first time, and even the second time was a little nerve wracking, but they never would have learned how to be safe had I not allowed them this.

  77. Cassie August 11, 2015 at 10:54 pm #

    I am with Barbara – you don’t swim at the beach alone.

    I am Australian, we grow up with a beach culture and being well aware of the dangers. Rips are deadly, and being able to see them, and avoid panic when caught in one, is not something that goes hand-in-hand with simply knowing how to swim.

    In Australia we are always taught to “always swim between the flags”, and not to swim on unflagged/unpatrolled beachs UNLESS you have skills that prove yourself an exception (such as growing up in little nippers – a life saving club that starts training kids when they are 5years old, or have spent your life surfing and learning about the water in other ways).

    For the general population – swimming between the flags on a patrolled beach is absolute.

  78. Warren August 12, 2015 at 12:06 am #

    The absolute rule of never swim alone is a little over the top. During my years as a lifeguard, I loved my time in the pool alone. Pool opened at 6:30 am. I would be in a five. Only the underwater lights on, by myself and get in a few miles before opening up. The peace the quiet was second to none.

  79. bsolar August 12, 2015 at 4:18 am #

    @Sylvia “If you are talking about a beach with the possibility of riptides, never ever go in deeper than your belly button. Not just kids, this is also for adults and even for strong swimmers.”

    I actually believe that relying in being able to stand is the wrong approach to swimming safety. Take your example of a riptide: a riptide can appear suddenly and can be so strong to actually sweep you off your feet even if you are only at waist level. If you rely on being able to stand and the current propepls you in deep water you will definitely panic. If you are comfortable in deep waters you can avoid panicking and figure out how to get back. Not to mention that in shallow waters waves and currents tend to be much more violent.

    On top of that it strongly depends on the availability of beaches with regular, shallow floor. Here going deeper than waist level could literaly mean taking 2 steps off the shore.

  80. Andre L. August 12, 2015 at 8:01 am #

    What does alone mean?

    Without close supervision of parents? That is in principe fine if the teens are used to it and trained on the dangers of open waters such as rip currents

    Alone as with no other known person or buddy nearby? Requires some caution but doable if the beach has lifeguards.

    Swimming alone in the beach out of sight of anyone else? Dangerous, and outright not recommended even for a athletes.

  81. Maggie in VA August 12, 2015 at 1:08 pm #

    Ocean swimming can definitely be dangerous; I’m just a bit stumped as to how the mom’s presence alleviates it, unless she means by ensuring they only swim in guarded areas or, I dunno, punishes them if they swim out too far? I think I was sixteen when my parents let my friends and me start driving to the beach by ourselves.

  82. EricS August 12, 2015 at 2:14 pm #

    Like with everything else, it just takes common sense, and logic. Be smart. They can swim, that’s a big bonus. Hopefully they are proficient and confident in their abilities. Now teach them how water behaves in the open ocean. Most especially rip currents. Before jumping into the water, make sure they know where the rip currents are. Many think the calm areas along the coastal line are the best places to go. Because it’s calmer waters. But in reality, those are the places you want to avoid. That’s were the rip current is. Also, make sure they know how to handle a situation if they are caught in a rip current. Don’t panic. Let the current take you out, it will eventually stop and then you can swim back, or swim towards the sides of the current where there is more wave activity. There are plenty of information online about rip currents. The second because concern would be sharks. But those are rare as well.

    It just takes some know how. The rest, well, that’s all up to us and the kids. Just like with many of the things we talk about here on FRK, there are things that we just can’t foresee and plan for. The best we can do is empower our kids with knowledge and smarts. They will in turn be able to keep themselves safe. And when they come home in one piece, you’ll feel better and more confident about them, and their ability to adapt and learn.

  83. Michael August 13, 2015 at 5:12 pm #

    My dad had a simple solution – If we wanted to go to the beach alone, we had to be able to swim a mile in the pool (without touching the wall or ground) – A true 1 mile swim. My 2 brothers, 1 sister and I all completed it between 8 and 10 years old and we all then went to the beach with our friends on the city bus whenever we wanted. We grew up in Orange County, CA – about 10 miles from San Clemente, CA.
    We were also taught important knowledge, like swimming parallel to the shore when caught in a riptide – not trying to swim against it.

  84. SOA August 15, 2015 at 9:54 pm #

    Pool with lifeguard, go for it. Even a pool with no lifeguard as long as you use the buddy system. Same for a lake. Make sure everyone is a competent swimmer and can have access to call 911 and know that they need to be careful about trying to save a drowning person as they will drown you too as you try to save them if you don’t know the right way to do it. Bring some kind of raft or life preserver.

    Beach more tricky. I don’t even like to go out more than thigh high in the ocean. So for that I would say they can go alone but make the rule no further than thigh high and only on a crowded part of the beach with multiple people and preferable a lifeguard.