Granted, I realize this is a beach blanket statement, but stay with me as we consider one simple summertime example: swimming.
While on a recent camping trip to Birkenhead Lake everyone was in the water. It was hot – about 36ºC – and the frigid river streaming in from a nearby snowmelt was a refreshing change from the beating sun.
Tykes played on the shoreline, under the sometimes-watchful eye of parents, suited head to toe in SPF protective clothing that came with built in floatation that made them look more Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than toddlers.
I think this may be where it all begins. Our collective desire to keep kids safe while we opt to do other things, like read, cocktail, or chat with our spouse or best friend. Therapist and author Jennifer Kolari calls it “lying down parenting” which pretty much sums up the approach of so many parents – and not just because we’re talking about beach activities. It doesn’t take a lot of effort and you get to keep doing the things you always enjoyed before having kids, merely glancing up every so often to ensure Junior hasn’t been swept away by a rouge wave.
However, you can’t keep Michaelangelo in that suit his entire childhood. What many parents opt for around the five-year-mark is to throw on a proper PFD never realizing that developmentally their child needs to be able to do more than splash around the shallow water within earshot of mom or dad.
How can anyone learn how to swim if they are constantly wearing a life jacket?
Not only that, but time and again I overheard parents saying “no” to requests to swim out to the buoy and back, or over to the nearby dock, or 10 metres down the beach with a new friend. Very few parents got in the water with their kids sans-floatie and actually played with them, challenged them, or taught them anything about being in
I was lucky enough to have grown up on a lake in the summer months. I had lots of experience being thrown in the air by my uncle or jumping off his shoulders, my dad taught me how to hold my breath for a really long time as I sat on the sandy lake bottom and how to sail; the only thing my mom fretted over when I was swimming was whether or not I had my sun hat on. Life vests were for boating, and in the ’70s … well, we all know they made for very comfortable seating.
When I was a kid and wanted to swim in the deep end of the public pool we were obligated to jump in and swim three widths to prove we wouldn’t (unintentionally) sink to the bottom – and then, when we were good and tired, we were allowed to play there.
This ability wasn’t judged on our number of years on the planet. We didn’t have to be over a certain age to swim unsupervised in the pool, we just needed to know how to swim. And we did. Because someone taught us.
Parents are sending their children off to university in life jackets these days: They are sitting in on admissions and job interviews. Big corporations in the U.S. have departments to handle helicopter parents who can’t step out of their kids’ lives while they are at work.
By all means, get in the water with your kids when they need you to teach them. Then get out, stand back, and let them do their thing.