Of diving boards and backflips

I was lucky enough to spend some time on vacation last week near a beautiful lake in France.  Crystalline, cool waters, looming mountains all around, and kids everywhere jumping and diving into the water with abandon.

I watched the scene from a floating platform 50 feet out in the lake.  I noticed that the two lifeguards on duty, responsible for more than 100 swimmers, mostly talked to each other.  Parents stayed on the grass, relaxing and chatting.  No one hovered.  And all the while kids from 4 to 14 (and a few who were 44 and 64) bounded off of a high diving board, doing backflip after backflip into the water (often almost landing on one another).  It felt like another era.

Contrast this with the public pools in NY, where I go with my kids, and the constant cacophony of lifeguard whistles, nearly nonstop, telling each and every kid all the rules they are breaking.  No diving, no rollicking, no horseplay, no running. No, no, no, no, no.

It may well be that kids are safer at the public pools in NY, that there are fewer accidents.  But it may also be that all the whistle-blowing and intensive supervision doesn’t do anything at all for safety, but takes a lot of the fun out of childhood.

We often act – especially in the U.S. – as if there’s no harm done in being just a little bit safer, having just a few more precautions.  But it feels a little like the proliferation of low-fat and diet-conscious food while obesity rates soar — somehow we may be barking up the wrong tree, attacking obvious symptoms that have little to do with the real problem.

Sitting on the dock, watching those kids in France bombing into the water, it reminded me of what childhood used to be.  And it made me worry that what we’re really teaching a generation of kids is fear — this at a time when what we need more than ever is audacity and fearlessness.

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6 thoughts on “Of diving boards and backflips

  1. Yes, I know what you mean!

    Don’t do this , don’t do that. I could see a funny co-relation when I went to Vatican last month.

    You aren’t allowed to speak inside the Sistine Chapel, leave alone take photographs. The guards there end up creating more noise and being a nuisance to everyone than all the people put together. Talk about hypocrisy.

  2. Well said.

    “If you are not free to choose wrongly and irresponsibly, you are not free at all.”
    Jacob Hornberger

    I raised my girls to be aware of their environment and not be foolish. I also told them that 997 grownups out of a thousand would die trying to save a little girl. They can’t live lives of freedom, if they are hiding in fear, of those few in a thousand.

    Liberty involves risk. It’s worth it.

  3. I should add one thing for clarity — I didn’t mean to imply that no one should be watching the water or that safety is unimportant (which I may have implied by my reference to the distracted lifeguards). I just think we need to be aware of the tradeoffs between freedom and fear, and make them consciously.

  4. I so agree with you. When I see that kids no longer walk to school by themselves, and I’m living in relatively safe Brighton UK at the moment, then I really wonder what we are up to with our society.

  5. Well said!
    I feel we live in a time governed by fear… just turn on any news channel for an example. Recognizing and facing our fears is one step in the right direction; growing up to face the world fearless is another. I grew up to the saying “the world is your oyster.” It’s time to harness some of that open-minded brashness and go forward.

    Thanks for sharing

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