United Kingdom

'Self-rescue' swimming classes for toddlers condemned as traumatic

Teaching small children how to swim is a rite of summer. But some so-called "self-rescue" swim classes have been condemned by some experts as traumatic events that could affect children long after they get out of the pool.

In dozens of YouTube videos, children as young as six months old topple into pools before contorting themselves onto their backs, where they float on the surface of the water. Proponents say that teaching children such methods protects against accidental drowning.

In the U.S., Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) is the most prominent purveyor of "self-rescue" swimming lessons. It claims to have taught more than eight million lessons and saved more than 800 lives.

However, critics have cast doubt on whether the lessons are doing more harm than good.

Last month, in response to the growing popularity of "self-rescue" classes in the United Kingdom, seven swimming organizations published a joint report saying, "There is an urgent need to examine if these drown-proofing techniques, which are being promoted to parents as insurance for their child’s water safety, are actually safe, acceptable and effective."

Dr. Françoise Freedman, a medical anthropologist at the University of Cambridge, went a step further, saying "Conditioning (forcing) a baby or toddler to float relies on extreme[ly] traumatic methods and sadly no amount of praise will compensate for the memory of inflicted pain."

"While some children will escape unscathed, for others, the trauma may resurface in later years and cause a fear of the water," Dr. Freedman went on. "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."

ISR spokeswoman Ashleigh Bullivant responded to the U.K. report with a statement saying that "any program touting itself to be involved in 'drown-proofing' a child should be avoided at all costs. No one can be "drown proofed" and leading parents to believe their child is no longer at risk for drowning by participating in any swim program is irresponsible and unethical."

In an email to Fox News Bullivant also pointed out that ISR does not have any certified instructors teaching in Britain, but added that "we would love to have children in the U.K. benefit from the ISR program and join the more than 300,000 children around the world who have participated."

Click for more from The Times of London.