Posted Date: Sunday, July 22, 2012

Kids not learning to swim

WATER SAFETY: Teen drowns near Georgian Bay cottage on the weekend

By SCOTT TAYLOR, THE LONDON FREE PRESS

Too few parents make swimming lessons a priority for their children, says Lifesaving Society public-education director Barbara Byers.

The result: a tragic litany of preventable drowning deaths in backyard pools and in rivers and lakes.

A 17-year-old boy drowned near a cottage at Georgian Bay on the weekend, bringing to 58 the number of drowning deaths in Ontario since January. National Drowning Prevention Week runs until July 29.

"Many people just don't realize that you really do need to learn to swim. I don't think the priority is as high as it should be," Byers said. "Our most recent survey that we have says that 46% of kids have ever taken lessons,"

Byers wonders if parents are tuning out the message that teaching kids to swim is essential.

"This is a life skill that we need for our whole life," she stressed. "But some parents are afraid and so they say, 'OK, what we're going to do is never go near the water.' That may work while you have control of your children and while they're under your watchful eye, but they grow up and they're not with you all the time and their friends are going to the beach and swimming. Your child wants to fit in and he goes in and that can be real trouble."

Three children and an adult have drowned in the London area this summer.

So far, three children in the province under the age of five have drowned, including two-year-old Gabriel Lyttle in a friend's swimming pool June 24.

The Lifesaving Society six years ago introduced its Swim to Survive program, which London kids learn through their elementary schools.

But the basics aren't always enough in a Great Lake when a wave knocks a child over or the bottom suddenly drops off.

Red Cross of Canada water-safety expert Shannon Scully-Pratt said it's surprising and disappointing that so few children know how to swim and have taken lessons. "The very first thing you do in a long, hot summer is you cool off with water. You go out to beaches and backyard pools and that's when incidents happen."

Children between the ages of one and four and males ages 15 to 44 are the most likely to drown, Scully-Pratt added.

"We've had a decrease in the number of boating-related drownings, which is great, but we've seen the same amount or more in our teenage males, who are going out there and doing some things around the water that maybe they shouldn't be doing, such as cliff-jumping and diving and not having the comfort in the water that they should have."