A controversial video of a baby learning how to swim has ignited debate on TikTok, with some referring to the method employed as “traumatic.”
The short clip, which was shared by mom Krysta Meyer and has since been viewed over 51 million times, shows her young son Oliver being thrown into a pool by a swimming instructor, who then jumps in after the baby but does not intervene as he sinks.
Oliver quickly rights himself and floats to the surface of the pool on his back, and is met by encouragement from his instructor and Meyer, who was standing by to watch and record the lesson.
“Oliver amazes me every week!” the proud mom wrote on TikTok. “I can’t believe he is barely 2 months in and is catching on so fast. He is a little fish.”
TikTok users were divided over the technique being taught in the video, which is often referred to as “self-rescue” swimming, where children as young as six months old are thrown into pools and allowed to right themselves unassisted. The idea is that, were a child to fall into a pool while no adults were around, the lessons would impart them with the instincts needed to float on their backs until help arrives, avoiding an accidental drowning death.
“Lil mans not swimming he’s fighting for his life,” wrote one user.
“All fun and games till it doesn’t float back up,” said another.
“I work in Aquatics and while I know the benefits and this actually works, my heart stops every time I see these,” commented a third.
“This stuff makes me want to cry every time….” another user added. “It’s impressive but I just can’t imagine doing that to a baby.”
Proponents of “self-rescue” swimming lessons, which are sometimes referred to as “survival swimming” lessons, argue that the method can protect babies and toddlers from accidental drowning by helping them “activate” their survival instincts, which can be used in case of emergency later on.
Infant Swimming Resource (ISR), a prominent U.S.-based company that provides survival swimming lessons for children six months to six years of age, pioneered the technique and claims that, to date, it has delivered more than 8,000,000 self-rescue lessons and “saved more than 800 lives.”
However, the method has been criticized by some health experts, who believe it can inflict serious trauma on children during their most formative years.
“Conditioning a baby or toddler to float relies on extreme traumatic methods and sadly no amount of praise will compensate for the memory of inflicted pain,” said Dr. Françoise Freedman, a medical anthropologist at the University of Cambridge, in a 2017 report condemning the practice.
“While some children will escape unscathed, for others, the trauma may resurface in later years and cause a fear of the water,” he added. “And because we do not know who is at risk, we have to question if it is worth doing; and the simple answer is no.”
According to the American Association of Pediatrics, children can safely start taking swim lessons as early as one year old. A 2009 study found a whopping 88 percent reduction in the risk of drowning among children aged one to four who had received swimming instructions.
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