Swimming Pools and Young Children: Are they a good or bad thing?

At a playgroup a few weeks ago, the topic of swimming pools came up. Fairly early in the conversation it was established that it is better not to own a swimming pool if you have young children in the house.

What I heard was interesting. Here were the main arguments against owning a swimming pool when you have kids around:
1. They will always find a way to get in
. Lock the door, they'll unlock it. Cover the pool, they will uncover it. Fence it, they will jump the fence. No matter what you do, you can never completely eradicate the hazard of drowning, unless of course, it's never there to begin with.
2. Any and all children always have a high risk of drowning. You can't teach a child to swim well enough to completely eliminate the hazard of them drowning, so why bother?
3. All children break the rules sometimes. Establishing pool rules is not enough to keep children in check all the time.
4. It's a lot of expensive maintenance, potentially involving dangerous chemicals. If you clean the pool yourself, you have to store the chemicals somewhere. Those chemicals are poisonous to curious children, and did I mention they aren't cheap? You can pay extra to have someone else come do it for you. But it will add up quickly.
5. Kids can learn to swim at the local public pool/rec center just as well as they can learn to swim at home. At this point in the conversation, everybody started comparing the pros and cons of the local swim classes and teams.

They made some great points. To be fair, none of them currently owns a pool, and it also seemed none of them had grown up with a pool. So, they are making their judgments with the best information they have, and surely they know better than anyone what is best for their own families.

However, I disagree with the blanket assumption that it is always better not to have a swimming pool when you have young children at home.
1. A good barricade CAN keep out very young children. Jane is a young child. She can't get in the pool when the fence is up. My personal opinion is that by the time she is big enough and smart enough to drag a chair over to open the gate, or jump the fence, she had better know how to swim! My point is, sure, your preschoolers and older aged children will always find creative ways to get in, but the infants and toddlers really can't.
2. Pool owners are better able to teach children about water safety. Fear of the water is a huge cause of drowning. Sometimes children drown in the shallow end because they are afraid of the water, when they have the ability to stand up! Spooking children into believing that a pool is a terrifying, dangerous place increases the likelihood of drowning.
3. Children who can swim well have a low risk of drowning in a pool. Obviously, all young children should always have adult supervision when swimming. But if they happen to break the rules, if they can swim, their risk of drowning is very low. However, their risk of getting the maximum severity in punishment suddenly becomes very high.
4. Children learn to swim MUCH younger when they have a pool at home. Sure, you can eliminate a pool in your own backyard. But what about your neighbor's? If a child goes in the pool every fair weather day of the year since before they turn one, they won't need expensive, troublesome swim lessons when they are three, four, five, sometimes six...Teaching your child to swim when they are little is accident prevention. If you have a pool, your child can easily learn to swim by the age of two, and by three they can swim the length of the pool and back without trouble. We are talking sans floaties. You could throw my sister in law Ella in the pool at the age of two, and she could swim to the side no problem, if she didn't panic. Which she usually didn't because she was accustomed to swimming.
5. You must store all your chemicals/hazardous substances safely regardless of whether or not you are a pool owner. Do you allow your young children free access to the paint, thinner, gas can, fertilizer, etc.? No, you store these safely in the garage. Chlorine is bleach (in a more solid, stable form!), which you know you've got a bottle of somewhere inside the house, where the child has freer access.
*6. Yes, having a pool costs money. Only you can decide if this huge investment is worth it for your family. We believe the learning, fun, and family bonding that can happen in a pool outweighs the cons. Later, when kids are older, having a pool means having your kids and their friends hang out at your house instead of somewhere else. Personally, I see this as a major benefit to pool ownership. But that is for another blog post.

To conclude: I think this goes back to that principle in "Finding Nemo", which is, "If you never let anything happen to him, then nothing will ever happen to him." I think the truth is that there is a wide spectrum of risk tolerance out there for parents. Having a pool with children around requires extreme caution and preparation. But I disagree that it is never a good idea.

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