As the official start of summer looms closer and closer, everyone's got their eyes on the closest pool, just waiting for their chance to jump in. But as the pool noodles and goggles come out, so does the seasonal conversation about keeping kids safe in the water. It won't be long until we're inundated with reminders to apply tons of sunscreen and be vigilant for things like secondary drowning.
That may be why a 7-month-old video of a baby plunging headfirst into the water and rolling onto her back to float while adults look on is suddenly going viral. It fits right into the seasonal conversation about keeping kids safe and allows people to indulge in another favorite pastime — jumping to conclusions about how crappy every other parent but themselves is. The video has gotten a barrage of criticism, and all of it misses the point completely.
The video, uploaded to Facebook by Florida mom Keri Morrison, keeps a camera trained on Morrison's 6-month-old daughter Josie as the baby takes a heart-stopping plunge into the pool. She rolls over and begins to whimper, while a woman's voice praises her for doing a good job.
Internet verdicts come down swift, as all manner of experts took time out of their busy day as professional parenting experts to tell this mom why she should have her child taken away.
These comments are misguided for two reasons. The first is that what baby Josie is doing in this clip is a very specific type of infant survival technique called a roll-to-back. The combination of instinct and training can teach kids as young as Josie to survive if they fall into a pool.
The second reason is simpler and more than a little heartbreaking. Josie has learned this technique in part because Morrison had a 2-year-old son named Jake whose drowning death prompted Morrison to teach her daughter how to survive in the water.
Heaping a bunch of ignorant criticism onto a mother who has lost a child in a very tragic situation does in fact make you an asshole, but when you're so utterly wrong in your criticism, that makes you an even bigger asshole. What should Morrison do as a mother who is raising a child on a freaking peninsula? Keep all her kids indoors and in floaties forever so she never has to go through the pain of losing another child?
Or perhaps what she has done, which is the smarter, saner thing to do — take a proactive approach that will increase her daughter's chance of survival. Josie was not in danger. The technique she employed is part of a program of swim and survival lessons from a group called Infant Swimming Resource, whose stated mission is "not one more child drowns." Learning the roll-to-front self-rescue technique is listed as the fourth of five important safety rules on the group's website, the first being adult supervision, which Josie clearly had.
Of course, we're not saying that a bunch of internet commenters don't know as much as a group of professionals teaching a safety course developed by a doctor, but... OK, yeah, maybe we're saying that.
Anyone who lives near the water knows that putting off teaching a child to swim is out of the question — it's an accident waiting to happen. Babies can take swimming lessons, and if you can swing it, they absolutely should.
We didn't always feel this way. As recently as 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended putting swim lessons on hold until a child was older than 4, in part because the concern was in parents becoming less vigilant around little swimmers.
Since then, they've updated that position, noting that evidence has begun to emerge that shows that children between 1 and 4 years of age can in fact benefit from and decrease their risk of drowning by taking lessons. Still, they haven't gone so far as to recommend it outright, because knowing how to swim is just one small piece of keeping kids safe in water.
They recommend instead a multilayered approach that includes barriers like pool fences, knowledge of CPR and always, always, always adult supervision. Swim lessons can fit into that safety plan.
The surest way to keep your baby safe around water is to have them under constant, capable supervision, and there's no substitute for that. But what could possibly be detrimental about also teaching a child what to do in a worst-case scenario?
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