By Melissa Grant
Children are starting swimming lessons earlier than their parents did, but often stop before achieving essential life saving water skills.
New research has revealed three-quarters of kids exit swimming lessons before the age of eight as other interests compete with time in the pool.
It is an alarming statistic given the study, by the Royal Life Saving Society, also found children didn’t reach water safety benchmarks until they were older.
On average, boys and girls are aged between nine and 10 years when they achieve national benchmark minimum skills of 50m freestyle, 25m survival backstroke and treating water for two minutes.
Geelong Aquatic Centre owner Deb Gill said parents wrongly believed their children were safe when they could swim 10 metres in the water.
She said kids were much safer in the water when they could swim between 200 and 400 metres.
“But we can never guarantee safe – it’s about supervision,” she added.
Ms Gill said children’s swimming skills weren’t being helped by the fact many parents only booked lessons in the warmer months despite the pools being heated.
“By the time the kids come back in Term 4 they are back where they started,” she said.
Royal Life Saving Society Australia CEO Justin Scarr said children were taking up swimming lessons earlier than in the 1980s and 1990s, but younger wasn’t always better.
“Our concern is many children exit swimming lessons at an age where they are less likely to learn the lifesaving skills that will help to protect them as they enter adulthood and are exposed to more hazardous water environments,” he said.
Mr Scarr said it could be difficult for parents to maintain their child’s enthusiasm for swimming lessons after they turned six years old, with weekend sport, parties and after school care competing with time in the pool.
The Royal Life Saving Society has urged parents to have the swimming skills of their 10-14 year old children reassessed and to consider re-enrolling them in lessons over the winter.