This is a follow-up to the puddle-jumper question. You summarized: “Kids should be supervised around pools at all times. And this is true even once they know how to swim.” And I completely agree! But now my kids are 13, 11, and 9 years. My 13-year-old boy has often wanted to swim at friends’ houses when parents aren’t present or aren’t supervising. This doesn’t seem like a good idea to me, but all the other parents seem unconcerned. So far I haven’t allowed this, but I’m wondering if there are any guidelines, recommendations, or data on older kids and swimming.—Teresa
This brings up one of the hardest questions I have about older kids, which is, basically: When are they like adults? Clearly, it is okay for an adult to swim alone with another adult. So probably if he was 18, that would be fine. But is 13 like 18? Or is 13 like 9?
I’ve written more about drowning and pools here, and when you look across age groups (table below), your children are in the lowest-risk age group. We actually see that older teens have a higher risk; this is largely due to the influence of alcohol.
The reason for the much lower risk for older kids is partly that they are more likely to know how to swim. It’s also that they understand better their limitations and are physically stronger. Drowning among smaller children often happens as a result of their falling in the water because they do not know better; this will not happen for an older kid.
For a 13-year-old who can swim, the biggest concern would be (say) they hit their head somewhere on the pool, or some similar accident. If they were completely alone, this could be quite dangerous (just as for an adult). If they are with their friends, the danger dials down considerably since the friends could drag them to some safety and then find an adult.
In your shoes, using the data, I think it would be reasonable to allow your older child to swim unsupervised with his friends, perhaps after ensuring that there is a parent relatively nearby if they are needed.