A viral video of a toddler’s swim lesson has sparked a major debate among parents online.
The clip, posted by TikTok user Brandon Pennington, shows his 18-month-old son passing his swimming test — a process that involved the toddler being thrown backward into a swimming pool.
Pennington’s video received more than 3.5 million views in its first day on the social media platform, and drew comments from thousands of users who shared their thoughts on the somewhat common yet often controversial method of teaching young children to swim.
Pennington’s son manages to stay afloat, but he can be heard crying for help as he struggles in the pool without support. That point, and the fact that the 18-month-old was fully clothed during his lessons, seemed to upset some commenters.
"That could actually cause him some trauma," one user wrote on a subsequent video of the lessons. Another added, "That’s torture right there."
However, many parents were quick to point out the benefits of the lessons, calling it "life-saving."
"Y’all are attacking the parents but this is very important," one user wrote. "Kids die bc they don’t know how to swim smh."
"I’m a lifeguard … and this parent is being very smart! teach ur kids young so they do not risk their lives," another added.
Others who were supportive of the video pointed out that while the crying and fully clothed outfit made the child seem distressed, it was an essential part of the lesson.
"It’s not meant to be comfortable," one user wrote. "And the clothes are necessary if he’s near a pool and falls in regular clothes. This is smart to prevent drownings."
Pennington posted several more videos of his son’s swim lessons, even sharing a compilation of photos that featured him and the toddler playing in the pool together.
"Loves the water," Pennington wrote. "As soon as he [could] sit on his own he was in the water all the time playing."
What’s the truth about swim lessons for toddlers?
Swim lessons for young children — especially those that involve throwing them into the water without support — have long been a point of controversy among parents.
According to the American Association of Pediatrics, children can safely take swim lessons as early as 1 year old. Those lessons seemed to often pay off, as a 2009 study found an 88 percent reduction in the risk of drowning among children aged 1 to 4 who had received swimming instructions.
The practice is not foolproof though. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that a wide array of factors — including a lack of barriers, supervision and floatation devices — contribute to drowning deaths.
Swim lessons are by no means an all-encompassing measure, and, in fact, a 2017 Slate article on drowning deaths cited several studies that noted the instructions often made parents overconfident about their child’s swimming ability.
As for the aesthetics — seeing toddlers crying and struggling in the water as they attempt to stay afloat — experts have said that is, unfortunately, part of the process.
"This is not water enjoyment,” Michael Middleton, a pediatrician based in Orlando, Fla., told the Washington Post. "The child is being forced to do something they’re not comfortable doing."
Ultimately, the American Association of Pediatrics advises that parents always stay close to young children — regardless of their experience level — when letting them play in the pool. Supervision, the organization states, is "is one of the most important ways to help prevent drowning."