Monday, March 31, 2008

Parents and Infant Swim Lessons

A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle on infant swimming shined a light on the psychology of parents in the Bay Area. The article discussed the American Academy of Pediatrics' official policy statement on infant swimming programs, in light of a local and nationwide boom in these programs. The AAP argues that children are not developmentally or cognitively ready to swim safely until they are four or older, and learning to swim earlier may give parents a false sense of security.

Despite these warnings, the popular and expensive La Petite Baleen program in the Bay Area, which often boasts a waitlist to get into classes, begins training children to be submerged in the water when they are just two months old. A new La Petite Baleen site is slated to open in June in the Presidio in San Francisco, and there are already 1,000 children enrolled, the article stated.

New parents are marketed to relentlessly. I still remember the box of formula that the postman shoved through my gate when I was pregnant with my first child (a product that I didn't want or need), and the mailings I received from Gerber and other companies who knew my due date, probably because my doctor's office had sold them the information. I heard a constant drumbeat of advice and buying information as a new parent, some of it from valid sources and some not.

I succumbed to the marketing as well, I think. Did I buy a Britax car seat and a Hanna Andersson jacket for my daughter because they were the best items on the market, or because being able to afford these things was a marker of my social class as a parent? I probably made these purchases for both reasons. Similarly, I think that the popularity of infant swim classes also has an element of status in it.

Are parents enrolling their young children in La Petite Baleen classes because they think that the AAP is wrong and swim lessons are good for infants and toddlers? Perhaps. Equally compelling, I think, is the social status that attending the school confers to the parents, which trumps anything the AAP says.


Swimming Workouts for Triathlon said...

This is great, kids must be accompanied by their parents in their swimming lessons. At the same time, their parents can also be enrolled in that training. Very interesting idea. Thanks!

Shawn said...

In my reading of the AAP statement, they are cautioning parents not to assume their kids who've taken baby swim lessons are capable of swimming without supervision, extricating themselves from water, or drownproof.

The AAP doesn't say that kids are unable to learn basic swimming skills or that swim lessons themselves can be harmful.

The upshot seems to be, go ahead and enroll your kids in swim classes, but don't overestimate their abilities or underestimate the dangers of water. Pretty good advice for anyone when it comes to water.