When I was a kid, my family joined a community club pool. At that club, kids could go alone, without their parents, if they were eight years old or older and could pass a swim test. The swim test involved swimming several laps, treading water for one minute and then retrieving something on the bottom of the pool. My brothers and I passed that swim test easily and then spent the whole summer at the pool all day. We would get there when they opened at 10 am and stay until lunch. After heading home for lunch, we would go back to the pool until dinner time. Often my mom would come with us in the afternoons. Sometimes we would go back after dinner with my dad too. When we weren't swimming there, they had sand volleyball, tetherball, and a video game room. All of our friends did the same thing. It was such a great place!
I was telling my kids about this awesomeness and one of them said, "Man, I wished I grew up when you did and lived in that place!"
I decided to look up that old community club pool to see if it was still there. Sure enough, it's there. So I decided to see if my kids could have the awesome summers now that I had when I was a kid if we lived in that place. I was disappointed to learn that all of the things about the pool remained mostly the same except a few key differences. They upped the age of attending without a parent to TWELVE! My oldest, who is an awesome swimmer and the same age I was my first summer at the pool, wouldn't be able to attend without an accompanying adult even though he could easily pass the swim test. The same swim test that I took at age eleven, mind you.
Why did we trust an eight-year-old in 1989 with doing something that today we wouldn't let an eleven-year-old do? What changed? Did they have one or more children unaccompanied by a parent drown in that pool between 1994 and 2014? If they did, that would be terribly tragic, of course, but other than that, I can't see any reason why they should change the age if it was working then.
About eight years ago, a seven-year-old from Mesa, Arizona swam across San Fransisco Bay. By himself. It was to support campaigns to teach kids to swim to prevent childhood drownings. Why do pools have rules that wouldn't even allow this seven-year-old, obviously an accomplished swimmer, attend the pool without being accompanied by a parent?
My own seven-year-old could pass that swim test. I am seriously bugged by the notion that kids are not capable and need to be protected all the time. The best times I had were the times I was given the freedom to do things as a child. My younger brothers and I had a lot of fun times and a lot of them were at that pool. I have the fondest memories of that place.
I don't know what the pool rules are at my current pool of choice regarding unaccompanied kids, simply because it is far enough away without any sort of bus service that my kids will have to always go with me. Fortunately, they have a mama who loves to swim too (thanks to my childhood and spending those days at that pool), so we will go as often as possible. But I won't be standing next to them nor will I force them to wear a life jacket all the time. How can they learn to swim if they are always wearing a life jacket?
Somehow, kids have become incapable of doing things they could do on their own twenty years ago. Parents have helicoptered and hovered and overprotected to the point that kids no longer can do the same things at the same ages as they could in the past. They simply aren't ever allowed to try so they never develop the skill and are therefore not capable because we don't let them become capable.