When Can My Kids Swim Without Supervision?

Updated on July 13, 2016
K.H. asks from Houston, TX
38 answers

We have just bought a home with an in-ground pool and I'm wondering about pool safety. My kids are 12, 10, and 8. When is it acceptable to let them swim without any adults monitoring them? I mean while I'm in the house and checking on them. Of course, the rules would be that no one is allowed to swim by themselves. How old does my oldest son need to be before this is ok?

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answers from Allentown on

After they've taken and passed water safety classes, and when you and he feel 100% confident in leaving the lives of the other kids in his hands.

Seriously, I love pool time, but I don't believe I'll ever be willing to place that responsibility on my 12yo. Heaven forbid anything were to happen on "his watch", and then he had to live with that...

11 moms found this helpful


answers from Eugene on

My kids swam competitively and I still wouldn't leave them in a pool without an adult watching. If I had to leave for a minute, I'd have one of the older kids get out of the water to watch the others til I came back. With all of them in the water playing, no one is really watching then, no matter how old or responsible they are.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

I ditto Carrie W.

I think, monitoring them is always a must.
There is constant supervision, and sporadic 'monitoring.'

Even hotel swimming pools and community pools, have an attendant watching.... even in adult pools.

Other older kids cannot necessarily keep track of the younger ones or the 8 year old.
It takes only about 1.87 inches of water, for a child to drown, face down.
Drowning is and can be a 'silent' incident. It is not always obvious to bystanders.

People/adults/kids have drowned, even in crowded swimming venues with lots of people around.

Maybe look online, to see if there are guidelines about this topic?
per ages of a child.

4 moms found this helpful

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answers from Milwaukee on

I have been an American Red Cross Swim Instructor for the past 11 years and teaching swimming and physical education in an urban school district. I deal with kids daily who are afraid of the water or have never even been exposed. Even though some of them become strong swimmers I still would never leave my class-room of high school kids for a second unless there were lifeguards at all time. We had pond at my house growing up that my 3 brothers and I swam in but I would have to say it wasn't until we were tees that my mother or father wasn't out there.

What I would suggest is seeing how your children are in crisis situations. Although they may be good swimmers when a crisis happens sometimes people just freeze or do not know how to respond. I would check with a local YMCA or American Red Cross and see if you can get your kids (particularly) your older one in a Jr. Lifeguard course that is offered for level 5 swimmers and about and it teaches them basic life saving techniques if an emergency arises. If your children are old enough, strong enough, and smart enough to handle a situation that may happen in a pool setting I would say that they are old enough. But if they aren't then you know. The swim instructor would also be able to test out their swim levels if you are wondering their abilities.

Water is a passion of mine and I just think although its so much fun it also can be extremely scary. You know your children better than anyone. I would just take the necessary precautions. Also have a walkie talkie out their just in case they need to radio for you or something.

Hope this helps.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

My neighbors growing up had an inground pool. They gave me a key to their fence when I received my Red Cross Life Guard Certification at 15 yrs old. They said I could swim any time I wanted and could bring a friend. My older brother couldn't even swim without me being there.

I saved another kid's life too. He jumped the fence and had fallen in the pool during the winter - lucky I heard him!

So my answer is never - unless they are a certified life guard.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

My youngest two are 18 & 17. The 18 yo is Red Cross certified at the lifeguard level. Last summer was the first time I let them swim in our pool without an adult there -- and NEVER without me or their father home. And if anyone else's child is over, NO ONE is allowed at the pool without an adult. My kids are responsible, level-headed, excellent swimmers and the loves of my life -- and I'd like to keep it that way.

Everyone needs to decide what works for them, but this is what works for us.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Hartford on

Never. It's never acceptable. It only takes seconds. Adults shouldn't even swim without "supervision" or someone paired up with them if a lifeguard isn't available.

Drowning doesn't look like drowning. What I mean by that is the splashing and noise and calling for help that you see on TV and in the movies is drama and it's a lie. Real life drowning is much more quiet than that and there's no flailing. Only sinking and breathing in water.


4 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

That is a really good question to ask, and I think 12 is too young. I never had a fear of pools(grew up with one in my backyard) until last August when I had to jump in, fully clothed, to pull a drowning kid out of the deep end of a friend's pool. I am still recovering from that experience as an adult. Imagine if your young son had to face something like that. I think you need to be out there with them for many more years to come.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Tampa on

Depends on the swimming ability of your children. If you have a child that is involved in competitive swimming, that is one thing. If they have only taken a few lessons here and there, then completely another thing. I personally would not feel comfortable letting them swim without adult supervision.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

I personally wouldn't let my kids swim alone - even as teenagers....rough housing happens...it only takes a minute.

I let my boys go to the public pool by themselves...but there are life guards there.

We considered buying a home with an in ground pool - our kids were much smaller then...but still - I wouldn't let them swim by themselves...unless i was fixing dinner at the kitchen window....but that would depend upon how long it took me to get out the door if there was an emergency....so my answer? still? not unsupervised.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from College Station on

Personally I don't think that anyone should swim alone. Child or adult. If you run into trouble in the water no one will realize that you have a problem. Just my opinion.


2 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

Until he is red cross certified in life saving.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

Personally, I would say they need you out there always. My two are 12 and 9 (will be 13 and 10 in June). They are both great swimmers and love the water, and I still stay outside by the pool with them most of the time. I read a book or magazine, or just watch them. Which often involves reminding them of some safety rule. I do get up and walk inside to get a refreshed glass of ice water, or stand inside to fold a load of towels. But our floor plan layout gives me a visual of the pool from inside through all glass french doors directly onto the patio/pool deck and from the bay breakfast window (full glass also) that is directly onto the patio/pool deck. I never stay inside more than 60-90 seconds. I keep a phone outside with me, so that I don't get distracted by a ringing phone or caught up in a conversation and forget they are out there. Plus, it is right there for 911 if it ever were necessary.

I do NOT allow them to be outside in the pool area at ALL if there are ANY guests, without an adult supervising them. My own kids know the rules of the pool and pool area, and are not overly aggressive or into dunking people or rough housing at all. They like to dive for dive toys and race each other from one end to the other. No diving board exists and no diving is allowed as we don't have the depth to permit it (6 ft at the deepest point, which is in the middle... shallow on both ends). But I know that other kids can often not remember the rules or think they won't be enforced. Some rules are going to be tested by kids no matter whose house they're at and all kids think that some rules don't apply to them. And I will admit, that often I will let rules slide once in a while b/c it is just easier (no running in the house, but someone ran through the family room, etc). But not with the pool. All rules are enforced. If I see a guest break one, they get ONE warning. If they break it again they have to get out and sit for a period of time. Then I remind them of the rule, give them another chance, and watch them like a hawk. I give no quarter for pool rule breakers and I am not particularly nice about it. Although otherwise, I am. :) They know I mean business regarding pool safety. We have been here for 5 years and our kids have a healthy respect for the pool. When the pool isn't "open" for the warm months, they are not even allowed out on the patio or around the pool when they are outside playing (it is screened in)... and they have never tested that rule. They just play in the yard and never try to even short-cut into the house through the patio... they use the other doors. They don't "hide" there when playing hide and seek. They just are not allowed out there. Period.

But, we only have 2 kids. Even that 60-90 seconds that I might pop inside for a new cup of ice in my water, or to retrieve the basket of clothes from the dryer to bring to the family room where I can see outside, would not happen if there were 3. Three is just a bad number when it comes to pool safety. Two could be playing together and not notice something going on with number 3. Our two play very interactively and would tell on the other if they were to do something they shouldn't, lol. And no one would be overlooked.
They know to NEVER pretend to be "in trouble" in the water, too. And never to pull on another swimmer when playing. These things took several summers to ingrain in them. And visitors never seem to know these rules. The first month or so of each summer I never leave them alone (even for that 60-90 seconds to refresh my water) until I see how much they remember the rules.
While your kids' personalities do play a part... I still wouldn't just let them go outside to swim and you only look out to check on them every 10 minutes or so. It needs to be that you are keeping track of how long you are away (by the seconds) not how long you have before you have to check on them.

I do notice, that the more kids in the water, the more risk taking goes on. At all age levels. Definitely wait a few more summers before you let them have any unsupervised time. If you can see them from where you are inside the house, then you can sit inside and stare out the window. But understand, especially since they are going to be new to understanding pool safety, that you need to be out there where you can correct dangerous behavior right from the start. It will take awhile (if not a LONG while, depending on your kids) before they remember what is NOT okay. And they won't think they are doing anything wrong, until you point it out. From that perspective, I would say your 12 yr old probably needs at least 2 full summers to ingrain the rules of safety around the pool. And that is assuming that he is a good swimmer, and if you plan to leave him keeping an eye on the other kids, that he has some CPR classes and water safety classes, etc.
I do NOT leave my 12 yr old in "charge" of anyone else.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Even adults should never swim totally alone. That's why every municipal or club pool has a lifeguard on duty, and it's why hotel pools have huge disclaimer signs so you won't sue them if something happens and they don't have a lifeguard there. As for kids monitoring kids in the pool -- Will a kid (even a teenager left "in charge") really be paying full attention if he or she is also in the pool enjoying the water? No. Another person could be on the bottom of the pool long enough to drown long before that "responsible" teen notices. A pool is a huge responsibility. By the way -- I hope you have the appropriately high fence with a locking gate around this pool, plus "no trespassing" signs, so that neighborhood kids cannot access the pool on their own. Many areas have laws or at least rules about what kind of fencing pool owners must have around their pools. You would never get over it if some kid or kids got into your pool one night or weekend when you were away and drowned. It happened in ths area twice last summer.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on


In my case my daughters were allowed to swim without supervision (me sitting next to the pool) at that age, however, I was close by. They are both good swimmers and have particpated in numerous water safety classes. I could also trust them to follow the rules, which include no rough housing.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Honestly, not until the oldest one is an adult or is certified as a lifeguard as an older teenage (like 16+). I will sometimes be in the kitchen for a few minutes, which is at the back of the house and has a window that looks towards the pool, when my 13-year-old is out there with his friends but I would never leave him there with the younger kids. Even responsible, mature siblings don't detach from each other and stay in true supervisory role with younger siblings enough to be counted on to watch them in the pool.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Nashville on

We was about 8 years old if not a little younger but we started swimming very young and were very good swimmers and my parents would be in the house and look out every little bit. But now that i have my daughter who is just 2 1/2 i dont think i would let her swim by herself at that age. I think i may be a over protective mom.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Biloxi on

Without knowing what level swimmers they are, it is hard say if they would be safe. But definitely establish pool rules:
No dunking
No diving
No rough horseplay

And never let your childrens' friends in the pool without adult supervision.

Also, check with your local Red Cross of YMCA and see if they offer any pool safety courses for children. And look into CPR courses for yourself also.

With all that in mind - have a safe and happy pool!!!

God Bless

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

I would say high school age.



answers from Washington DC on

NEVER. Nobody should ever swim without adult supervision. Not kids .Not grownups .



answers from New York on

Can they swim? Are they strong swimmers? Personally, I am funny about
pools and always require an adult outside.



answers from Oklahoma City on

If you are at home and the kids are good swimmers then I think they would be fine now. I would, however, spend a lot of time out there with them at least for a month or two to make sure they had the rules about horseplay down serioulsy. If they are good kids who are responsible and watch out for each other they should be fine by full summer. As long as you are home and can hear them.



answers from St. Louis on

not being facetious: when they're 21. Never take risks with safety issues.



answers from Houston on

We have a pool in our backyard and the rule is NO ONE swims without someone being there. That includes the adults. I am just not comfortable with my kids 18 and 22 getting in the pool with no one out there. I might run in the house to get a drink but I'm right back out. My dad was a life guard and the stories he has told me has given me a healthy respect for the water.



answers from Boston on

14 to swim with with a friend, never ever to swim alone.

Sorry, you've got a few more years of close supervision.



answers from Austin on

(Source = http://ndpa.org/home/ and http://www.colinshope.org/)

This statistic alone tells you that a child under age 14 should never be unsupervised in/ around water. Children under age 14 require constant VISUAL supervision by an adult, period. Drowning is a silent event, and adults cannot rely on "listening supervision" to keep children safe. A child can drown in as little as 30 to 120 seconds. Can you go get your laundry or run to the potty that fast? Is it worth it to live a lifetime of regret to refill your drink or answer a phone call?

A recent local study showed that 100% of parents surveyed said they were supervising the child at the time a drowning occurred, yet 100% also said they did not witness the event (otherwise, they would have stopped it, of course). This statistic indicates that even the briefest lapse in supervision - to run inside for a moment, to look away and rely on "listening" - can be deadly.

For youths and young adults in the 15 & up category, the bigger threat is spinal injury (from diving or horseplay) or alcohol-related injuries and drownings.

Parents should have a multi-layered approach to their family's water safety:
1. Put barriers between the residence and the pool. Self-closing, self-latching gates and 4ft safety fencing. Alarms. Locks on all doors and windows leading to the backyard. Better yet, do not live in a home with a pool until your youngest child is at least 5 years old, the age when drownings do drop slightly. Properly used barriers can reduce drownings by an average of 70%. (source = National Drowning Prevention Alliance symposium, 2010)
2. Teach your child to swim and return to the wall to safety. Your child can make good decisions when submerged if s/he has learned to love water in an effective learn-to-swim program that emphasizes love of water and comfort AND safety, not safety at the cost of happiness. Remember, your child will not panic if s/he has been taught to love the water and to get out of it at the side of the pool! Ongoing swim lessons reduce drownings by a whopping 88%!!! (source = National Institute of Health Study, 2009)
3. ALWAYS VISUALLY SUPERVISE CHILDREN AROUND WATER, even bathtubs, sinks, buckets, and fountains. Remember this slogan: "Children drown without a sound, supervise with your eyes." Assign a designated water watcher at all times - this person cannot look away from the pool or become distracted by other activities (like cooking on the grill or reading a book).
4. Learn CPR. Keep a cordless phone by the pool. Victims who receive immediate effective CPR have double the survival rate compared to victims who do not receive proper CPR. Remember, CPR = double survival rate. Immediate response by 911 first responders is also critical.

I hope all moms who read this will re-think their water safety strategy this year! Our Texas "drowning season" starts next month. May is National Water Safety Month. If you'd like to get involved or learn more about how you can help prevent drownings, please contact me!

G. S.
Site Director, Emler Swim School
Community Volunteer, Colin's Hope
[email protected]____.com


answers from New York on

When I was 13, I was given the job of watching the neighborhood kids in our pool (4 ft deep); however, I had had swim lessons from a young age, and was certified in CPR, etc (as a girl scout). My brother and his friends were around 8 and 9 years old. I was also allowed in the pool with friends my age, with no "adults" around. If there were very small children, usually a parent hung around to keep an eye on things.

I now allow MY SON (who is 4) in my friend's 4 ft pool with my friend's kids (ages 12, 9, and 7) - but I am never more than a couple yards away on the deck. Sometimes kids get a little rough, but you have to give them a little responsibility... or they will never learn to take care of themselves AND others.



answers from Houston on

We moved into our house when my boys were 1 and 3. Up until last summer, I stayed out there with them. They have essentially been swimming for 6 to 7 years. Last summer, at 7 and 9, I would allow them to swim while I was folding clothes or cooking, looking frequently. I also checked on them every time I couldn't hear them. However, if they have friends over, I always stay out there. I just sit in the shade with a good book. I believe it all depends how much have they been in the water, how confident your children are and know their limitations. There really are many considerations before you can make a great decision. Only you know your kids, but you never know about other kiddos. Also, although my kids don't really use them, we keep noodles in the pool for others to grab onto.



answers from Anchorage on

Depends on their level of swim ability, not age, and even then no one should swim alone, but if it is all 3 of them and they are all strong swimmers they should be fine.


answers from Kansas City on

i don't know it would depend on your child. one thing you might consider is to let the older one take a water safety course or a first aid course like the lifeguards take. just a thought.


answers from Raleigh on

I was definitely in high school before my parents allowed me to swim without someone outside with us. At your kids ages, my parents would only occasionally swim while we swam (the pool was in our backyard as well), but there was always someone sitting out there. An "at home" pool is so much different than a public one, so I do think the rules change a bit.



answers from Austin on

Even adults need supervision, so I would say no swimming if an adult isn't watching until one of them gets certified as lifeguard. Hope this helps.



answers from Washington DC on

It's a matter of pool protocol. Teach them now that no one goes to the pool area alone.
My kids are on swim teams and still swim with a buddy or with me out there.
Also, I wouldnt' go out into the pool without having someone come out with me, even though I swim fairly well.
My daughter is 15 and she will supervise her brother and sister. My 13 yo is a bit mmature to handle danger by herself so she needs an adult or Sissy with her.


answers from Birmingham on

I'd let him swim alone, with you nearby at 14. But kids get rougher and bolder, less cautious together. I wouldn't have him watch the others out there alone until they are 14 too. So when your oldest son is 18, and thus more grown up himself, then I'd let the younger boys swim alone with him.

And like previous people said, get them life guard certified as soon as they are old enough (I think 16yrs old). And until then, find advanced swimming courses for them. Even before you let them swim alone, this is good for their safety!



answers from Houston on

A million "depends" on this one. We've had our pool since the kids were 1,3,7. They are now 13, 15 and 19. Our pool is 5 feet at it's deepest point meaning right now all of my kids can stand up and have their heads out of the water. They all had swim lessons as kids and the rules have always been strictly enforced.
My oldest son's class had an end of school year swim party and my son's best friend drowned. The life guard spotted him, pulled him out, resuscitated him-he said he saw the light at the end of the tunnel. He was fine after a night in the hospital- but I can tell you it left an indelible mark on my son. Sadly 10 years later that same boy's older brother drowned-and was not rescued or revived but recovered two days later from a pond. Now there was a family that should have invested in swim classes.
So-it depends on the children, your pool and the responsibility level of your kids. You will also find a huge difference in the pool safety awareness of other kids with pools and kids without. Children raised in houses with pools tend to know and follow the pool rules.
When my kids were younger-closer to your kids ages-if they had friends over I would always make the kid's friend show me he could swim across the pool. NEVER believe another parent's assessment of their kids swimming ability. I cannot tell you how many times I have been told that a kid is a great swimmer when they aren't. One mom told me her son was looking forward to being a life guard-he was such a great swimmer. Except when I asked him to swim across the pool he looked at me petrified. "You mean without a float?"
I have also had three almost drownings in our pool-all occurred during pool parties. All were with more than 15 parents in attendance. It is YOUR pool, YOU are the one responsible to keep an eye on the kids. Parents will come to parties and chat-glancing occasionally at their kids. I too have jumped in fully clothed to pull a girl out of my pool who was struggling. Her mom was sitting next to me but she admitted -AFTER the fact-that she did not know how to swim either.
I am comfortable now letting my kids swim with a friend if I know that friend and their capabilities and swim level. I need to be home but not sitting outside. In elementary school that did not happen. The first few summers we ended up eating out a lot because I was pool watching rather than cooking dinner.
It boils down to this. Is it worth it? Could you live with yourself if someone drowned in your pool because you were inside?



answers from Austin on

When we had a pool, I saw that kids don't watch other kids like I would. It only takes a few minutes to bump your head and drown. So I agree that they must be lifeguard certified. Then I would say, "I am going in the house for a few minutes. ____, you are in charge. You must be watching, not swimming." Notice that lifeguards at pools are not in the pool swimming. They are outside watching. That's the main thing about watching. Most drownings are silent.

If you have a large group over, take turns with the adults as to who are the lifeguards. One is not enough with a large group. You cannot be socializing and be effectively watching.

Be sure to enforce rules, like no running. We had a tile wall separating our jacuzzi from the pool. Kids loved to walk on that. It was not allowed because a fall into the jacuzzi would be dangerous. After sitting out for a few minutes, each child learned. Your kids might be embarrassed that you enforce rules, but they will get used to it and not say anything after a while. They will just remind their friends that you are a pool nazi. :)

Also, we had a diving board and a slide. No one in line was allowed to be on the ladder or other end of the diving board while someone else was on it. It's an easier thing to enforce than to say you can only go this far. "This far" becomes a little farther, etc.

If it is really too hot to sit outside the pool or even too hot to sit with your feet dangling in the water, you can get an umbrella. But here's another idea. Those white plastic molded patio chairs are awesome IN the pool. If you sit in the shallow end, they will actually recline/float on the back two legs. Then you can sit with the water up to your neck very comfortably! I would suggest a hat so you don't get a sunburned face.

Have fun! It really is a blast having a pool. Your friends will appreciate how seriously you take watching their kids and you will have peace of mind with your own if you are out there with them.



answers from Austin on

I'd say the youngest needs to be at least 10-11. So maybe when the oldest is 15? I'd let the 12 year old and 10 year old swim by themselves for small time increments (meaning you'd check on them every 10 minutes or so).



answers from San Antonio on

Leigh and Lynn are right. No one should swim alone. Totally unexpected things can happen to anyone at any time.

Two yrs. ago a 18 yr. old Eagle Scout, who was a lifeguard and basketball player, had trouble with his heart while on a camping trip and taking a dip in the river. There were several people nearby to help and the boy was taken to the ER but was fine in the long run. The Scouts do not let anyone alone in the water---no one--even in water 2 feet deep.

I am going to disagree with those who said if the kids are "good swimmers" it's OK. I teach swim lessons. I can't tell you how many parents tell me on day one their kids are "good swimmers" and turns out they can't swim one width of the pool and breath correctly. This is a very opinionated term.

Congrats on your new home and I hope you enjoy your pool, but in my opinion, you will be supervising swimming for the next 10 yrs.

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