Digital erosion of children – why we should be encouraging young to swim outdoors

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Keeping young children away from perceived risky activities such as outdoor swimming is damaging. At least that’s according to education expert Dr Sandra Leaton Gray from the UCL Institute of Education.

Writing in her book Invisibly Blighted: the digital erosion of childhood Leaton Gray says:

“Heavily supervised young children of today may simply be more likely to drown as youths because they don’t go swimming very often and their water safety awareness is low, compared to that of children who swim frequently under less supervision.”

Figures, published last year by the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF), reveal that 321 people lost their lives in accidental drownings in the UK in 2015 with 82 people having drowned while walking or running, and 29 deaths while taking part in a commercial activity.

The number also includes 30 people who died from suspected natural causes while or after being in the water.

Children and youths aged up to 19 represent 10 per cent of those killed, with 32 dying in 2015, 23 of these being in the age 15-19 bracket.

Speaking to The Sunday Times, Leaton Gray said young people were being deterred from dipping into waters that were safe by unnecessary “no swimming” signs.

“We are banning swimming in more and more places, and by doing so, making it more dangerous for the very young people we are trying to protect.

“Swimming has become an approved activity run by local authorities in special places, which are almost always heavily chlorinated swimming pools, with strict session times.”

Leaton Gray said supervised swimming in rivers and lakes would help reduce the risk and the numbers of lives lost.

“Young people gather in all sorts of dodgy spots that wild swimmers would never venture into and then start taking serious risks without being properly aware of the consequences.”

She presents her paper, ‘How risky is it to be a child?’ at the British Educational Research Association (BERA) conference this week.

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