Did you know that public pools have a rule that children under a certain age must pass a swim test in order to swim in deep water or be allowed to swim outside of arm’s reach of their parents?
One might assume at first that this is an obvious precaution to ensure the safety of the children.
- My 4-year-old is not allowed to take the swim test because you have to be 6-years-old. Never mind that she is a phenomenal swimmer, better than her two older sisters.
- My 6-year-old can pass the swim test but she isn’t TALL enough to use the water slides in the deep end.
- All 3 of my daughters could pass the swim test, but unless they do it EVERY DAY they must swim within arm’s reach of a parent at all times.
- A parent is only allowed to supervise 2 of their own children at one time.
- No parent may take a child into the deep end unless the child passes the swim test.
So it is effectively more difficult to swim with our children in a public pool than it is for them to get their driver’s licenses.
And might I add that adults are not put through this level of regulation when it comes to driving–an activity where it is very easy to kill another person, yet once you pass the driving test once you are allowed to drive pretty much forever.
And why can’t a parent swim with their own child in deep water and assume the risk? Are we, the parents, so irresponsible that we cannot decide for ourselves what we and our children can handle?
I bring this to your attention not so much because I want to rant about it, but because it is just one of hundreds of ways that children and parents are disrespected in mainstream culture. We as a family do not just blindly follow rules that don’t make sense to us. We choose to think and to decide if following the rules will bring us Joy or will it cost us our Freedom.
So we let our children decide if passing a test is the best way for them to engage in the activities that they enjoy in the water. They understand that taking a test is submitting to the expectations of another person who knows nothing about them and they are free to choose if they wish to submit themselves or not. They also understand that we have no expectations other than wanting them to stay true to themselves and to do what authentically feels right.
I struggle with this issue of whether or not to submit to mainstream expectations. On the one hand, I am not an anarchist. On the other hand, I believe that the only ultimate authority is my own will and conscience. For example, I choose to wear a seatbelt for my own safety, although I occasionally remove it to tend to a child behind me (Um, not when I’m the driver!) . I also choose to keep chickens in my backyard although it is not yet permitted in our municipality. I am aware of risk and choose how much risk is acceptable to me in each situation.
I think that rules like those that are enforced at public pools actually prevent children from understanding risk. While yes, I believe that parents are responsible for ensuring the safety of their children, I also believe that children are smart enough to take risks that they can handle. Treating all children as if they are unable to decide for themselves what will keep them safe ultimately makes them lose their own power of authentic risk taking. Some children who are constantly kept ‘safe’ will later rebel by choosing very unsafe activities. Other children who are always under the directive to ‘be careful’ will not be able to assess their own skills and will attempt activities that are way beyond their abilities.
I want my children to be able to think for themselves–about safety, but also about whether conforming to a rule is actually beneficial to them.
What mainstream experiences have you faced with your children that have made you question the rules?