I stand in the pool with both of my children, watching one swim on his own while catching the other as she jumps in – but I can see you out of the corner of my eye. I see you looking at your phone while sunbathing on the lounger. I see you sitting at a table, shaded under the pergola, looking at something on your laptop.
I see you doing anything BUT watching your child.
I wonder if you realize just how important it is to be in the pool, paying attention to your child(ren) who are barely able to touch their feet to the bottom of the pool. I wonder if you realize that, even though your child is in the baby pool, he or she still needs to be monitored. Do you know that the flotation device which you have belted to your child’s waist, or around his or her arms, is not a substitute for knowing how to swim? Do you know that while you sit at the table, looking at your laptop, your child just jumped into the pool and landed on top of mine, causing my child to go under water? Or that, while you were on your phone, I helped your child after she lost her balance in the baby pool (while still trying to monitor my own)?
I know these scenarios seem harsh, but they are a terrifying reality; in fact, in the last few weeks since the pools have opened for the season, I’ve witnessed all of the above – and more. As a lifeguard and swim instructor for over a decade, I have seen first-hand how a fun afternoon at the pool can turn into an emergency in the blink of an eye. After witnessing scenarios like those listed below, I feel compelled to make this plea.
- Just a couple of weeks ago, my son and his friend were playing at the pool together. Both myself and the mother of his friend (who is a close friend of mine) were in the pool with our sons, along with our other children. Another child who had been playing with our boys ran and jumped in the pool, landing on top of my son’s friend. This not only caused him to go under water, but scared and hurt him, as well. What was this child’s mother doing when this happened? Sitting at a table, looking at her laptop, completely unaware of the incident taking place in the pool.
- Later that day, we were taking a snack break on the lounge chairs next to the baby pool when we witnessed a child, not more than 3 years old, fall face-first in the baby pool after losing his balance. What was his mom doing? Texting someone on her phone. It wasn’t until we were almost to his rescue that she realized what was happening and moved to respond.
- Another recent incident involved a young child who was playing in the zero-entry end of the pool with her life jacket on, but who lost her balance which caused her to swallow a lot of water until she regained her balance herself. As this transpired, no parent was present with her in the pool. (If you have read this mother’s story about secondary drowning, then you know how even a mouthful of water in the shallow end of the pool can have potentially drastic results for your child.)
- At my neighborhood pool last week, my son was jumping into the pool and swimming when a young boy, maybe 5 or 6 years old, came over and told us that he couldn’t swim which was why his mommy had him wear his inflatable inner tube around his stomach while he played in the pool. I asked the boy where his mommy was and he pointed to the other pool, on the other side of the fence, where she was looking at her phone in a lounge chair beside the pool. The young boy then proceeded to jump in, just as he had seen my son doing, but lost track of his flotation device and was unable to swim to the edge of the pool. Because his mother was unaware of the situation, I rushed to help him while holding my 2-year-old in my arms and trying to watch my own son out of the corner of my eye.
These are only scenarios from the last three weeks, not to mention scenes I’ve witnessed in the last few years as people become more and more distracted and disconnected from their immediate surroundings. Perhaps I pay more attention to the other swimmers in the pool because of my history as a lifeguard, but I beg of you, please pay attention to your little ones at the pool. Please do not assume that their life jacket or flotation device will be a substitute for you monitoring them at close range. Please don’t assume that they will be able to swim just because they can touch the bottom when they enter the pool. Please don’t assume they’ll be fine standing by the side of the pool while you apply sunscreen to your other children. Constantly monitor your children. Stay close to them at the pool: sit on the edge of the pool in which they are swimming or be in the water with them as they play. Leave your phone and other devices in your pool bag when your little ones are near the water.
Please don’t assume your children will always be safe in the water – it only takes one second …