Parents, Watch Your Children At The Beach

By Tom Podeszwa and Kerry Sullivan

What do some parents see when they think about a lifeguard? A kid sitting in a big chair working on a tan? Someone trying to boss swimmers around just to prevent them from having fun? And then there are the few parents who believe a lifeguard’s job is to babysit their kids. A lifeguard’s primary responsibility is to maintain patron surveillance by monitoring the water and being ready to act when an emergency arises. That means everyone in the water—not just children. But it’s still important for parents to do their job, too.

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The View From An Intern
An adult with small children needs to be in the water with the kids or near the water to keep an eye on them. As a lifeguard who began working at a beach when I was 16, I know firsthand how difficult this job can be. I know what it is like to see a beach so packed that I cannot even see the sand because of all the towels laid out. On days like that, the view of the water is even worse; there are too many people to count. Parents need to be aware that a child can go under the water without anyone noticing, even when a lifeguard is on duty. If parents need to leave the beach for any reason, they must take the child with them.

I have also seen parents run in after their kids before I even had a chance to react. I really do appreciate parents who pay close attention to their child, but being there does not take away all of the risk. While lifeguards are ready to help and know how to respond, parents are the first line of defense to prevent drowning.

Because prevention is one of the most important responsibilities lifeguards have, they must explain why the rules should be followed. Lifeguards go through extensive training—even after being certified—so they stay in shape and know how to work together in high-pressure situations. Parents can make the job a little easier by keeping a close eye on children, grandchildren, and even other adults. The best swimmers can become distressed, so the sooner a lifeguard is notified, the better the chance of survival.

Another Perspective
Unlike Tom’s account, I lifeguarded at a beach for only one summer and spent 10 years lifeguarding at a pool where there was more control. Today, I hire lifeguards for our beaches and pool. Every year, lifeguards are expected to do more and more. Thankfully, a waterfront director has taken over some of the duties so the guards can fully concentrate on the water. Maybe their job title should be changed to water guardians or water watchers. Each person is directly responsible for his or her own life, except in the case of minors.

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The rules posted at a beach are for everyone in order to have a fun, responsible, enjoyable day. Common sense is not outdated. Individuals who work at a beach or pool are trying to make it safe, so they should be respected. As a lifeguard, I am not here to earn respect, I demand it; should I do something to lose that respect, then I should be replaced. I hold my employees accountable; the public should be accountable, too.

Tom Podeszwa is an intern and Kerry Sullivan is the Program Coordinator for the Waterford Recreation and Parks Department in Waterford, Conn. Reach Sullivan at ksullivan@waterfordct.org.