Why You Shouldn't Trust Lifeguards Around Your Kids

When my daughter was 3, we decided that it was time to teach her how to swim. Every Saturday, through the chill of Fall and Winter, my husband took her to a nearby underheated pool to play water versions of Ring Around the Rosy and Red Rover.

One Saturday morning, as my husband and daughter were in their swimsuits waiting patiently on a bench for class to start, they watched as a 5-year-old in a SpongeBob rash guard and swim trunks climbed the ladder down into a quiet area of the pool and started to swim around.

Suddenly, there was an odd sort of splashing, and he started to go under. The kid's mom, fully clothed and clutching her purse and phone ran over to the edge of the pool to grab her son but he was just out of reach and sank before their eyes. My husband told my daughter not to move and jumped into the water to fish the kid out.

Luckily, everything ended well. The kid was fine, the mother eternally grateful, and the lifeguard . . . well, the lifeguard eventually showed up when the kid was coughing and crying and safe on dry tile.

It all happened very quickly, of course. But I took away a few important lessons from this minidrama. With a little help from the Red Cross safety guide, here they are.

  1. Don't rely on the lifeguard. Yes, making sure a lifeguard is on duty is the first step toward water safety, and there are plenty of fully capable, expertly trained lifeguards out there. But all you need is one moment of distraction, one teenage newbie too absorbed with the girl in the florescent bikini to notice your kid spluttering in the water before it's too late. Always have another set of adult eyes on your kid, preferably yours.
  2. Teach your kids to swim. Despite the fact that she spent most of the semester blowing bubbles to the tune of nursery rhymes, my daughter did manage to overcome her fear of the water. Next item on the to-do list is to get her to do more than just hold her breath to the count of 10. I'll feel a lot better when she can at least doggy paddle without a floaty.
  3. Swimming skills are not enough. The 5-year-old in Sponge Bob gear clearly knew how to swim, otherwise his mom would not have let him climb into the water on his own. But just because you have a strong swimmer on your hands doesn't mean you can rely on their skills to keep them safe. Make sure to teach kids water safety rules. Young or beginner swimmers should wear proper life jackets, and older kids should always swim with a buddy. Keep an eye on kids old enough to go out on their own, and keep very young swimmers at arm's length.
  4. Learn CPR. This one is on my list since my last certification expired sometime last millennia. In the awful event that something happens, it's good to know what to do until help comes. Especially if help is (cough) slow to show up.
  5. Follow up. If your kid has a scare in the water, keep an eye on them to make sure they're not experiencing any negative aftereffects. Familiarize yourself with the warning signs of secondary drowning and dry drowning, which are often overlooked dangers of water distress.