The Ice Caps Are Melting, Teach Your Kids to Swim

Public pools throughout Los Angeles County will open this week. As thousands of children head for the water it is the perfect time to remember that pools are both fun and dangerous places for young people. Drowning is the second-leading cause of accidental death for kids under the age of 14. Not all drownings occur in swimming pools or trips to the beach, but most pool deaths can be avoided simply by teaching children how to swim. Swimming is a skill that everyone can learn!

The percentage of children who have not been taught to swim is dangerously high. Unfortunately, 70 percent of African-American, 60 percent of Latino and 40 percent of Caucasian children have not been taught swimming. It is imperative that we change these numbers. Formal swimming lessons, according to a study reported in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine (2009), reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent among children ages 1 to 4.

As we start this summer, groups throughout the country are working to eliminate the tragedy of drowning. This involves a two-pronged effort: 1) increase public awareness of the problem, and 2) provide free or low-cost swimming lessons.

The USA Swimming Foundation has been a national leader in this campaign through its Make A Splash program. Cullen Jones, an Olympic swimmer and gold medalist, has been a leading spokesperson for the cause. For Jones, who is African-American, this is a very personal crusade. African-American children drown at a rate nearly three times higher than Caucasian youngsters. Jones himself nearly drowned when he was 5 because he never had swimming lessons.

Awareness programs are an essential first step in encouraging parents to put their children in swimming lessons, but they do not mean much unless they are backed up by actual teaching programs.

Here in Los Angeles, the LA84 Foundation is doing its part by funding the 28th Annual Summer Swim Program. In partnership with 100 public pools throughout Los Angeles, the Foundation sponsors swimming lessons and water sports opportunities for 15,000 children. Learning to swim not only saves lives, it also opens to door to many other sports. Through Summer Swim, kids who learn to swim can then learn the sports of swimming, water polo, diving and synchronized swimming. The ability to swim also is a gateway to surfing, kayaking, sailing and my personal favorite, rowing! Even going out in a boat or fishing becomes safer once you know how to swim. Since 1985, more than 250,000 kids in Southern California have benefited from Summer Swim. Some became Olympians. Some became aquatics directors. All became much safer in and near the water. It is one of the best investments that the LA84 Foundation or any organization can make in youth sports.

Raising a child is a lifelong commitment. Parents face many difficult decisions along the way. But, here is an easy call and an essential investment of your time: Make sure your children learn how to swim. It literally can save their lives.