A video clip of a baby learning how to swim has sparked a parenting debate on TikTok.
The short clip, shared by mum Krysta Meyer from Colorado Springs in the US, shows her infant son, Oliver, being thrown into a pool by a swimming instructor, who then jumps in after the baby but does not intervene as he sinks.
Baby Oliver quickly rights himself and floats to the surface of the pool on his back, and is met by encouragement from his instructor and mother, who was standing by to watch and record the lesson.
“Oliver amazes me every week! I can’t believe he is barely two months in and is catching on so fast. He is a little fish,” the accompanying caption reads.
Since sharing the clip it has been viewed more than 51 million times on TikTok and another 20 million times on Twitter.
While Oliver’s swimming skills are no doubt impressive, the video has seemingly divided parents, with some criticising the technique used by the instructor.
“Dropped him in there like a bath bomb,” one user wrote.
“Lil mans not swimming he’s fighting for his life,” another added.
“I work in Aquatics and while I know the benefits and this actually works, my heart stops every time I see these,” another wrote.
In response to the controversy, Meyer told Buzzfeed that she understand that the clip might be divisive, but explained that the her son wasn’t taking part in a typical swimming class, but something known as infant survival or ‘self-rescue’ swimming.
The technique involves throwing babies as young as six months into a swimming pool and allowing them to right themselves unaided.
The idea is that, were a child to fall into a pool while no adults were around, the lessons would impart them with the instincts needed to float on their backs until help arrives.
“A lot of people are seeing a kid being thrown into the water and thinking, ‘That’s not good! You shouldn’t be doing that!’” Meyer expains.
The mum, who only joined TikTok in February this year, also discussed the impact the clip going viral has had.
“I’ve gotten death threats. I’ve had people tell me I’m the worst kind of mom, that I’m endangering my children, that I’m traumatising them,” she added.
Lauri Armstrong, who co-owns Little Fins, where the clip was filmed, told BuzzFeed the aim is not to teach the infants how to swim, but to get them comfortable in water, to learn how to recover and flip over if they fall in, and to float on their backs.
“The whole premise behind what we do is safety,” she said. “We teach eight-month-olds to assess their situation and find an exit strategy [in water]. I know it seems crazy.”
She said that though it is understandable that there’s a “shock factor” when people see children being dropped into water, it is important that instructors use that specific method.
“When kids fall into bodies of water, it’s often not pretty. It’s often very disorientating,” she explained to Buzzfeed.
“They have to learn to come up and recover on their own.”
However, she was keen to warn that parents should not try the technique on their own.
“Please don’t throw your baby in and try to get your baby to do this untrained!”
Interestingly, the technique is not actually new, but has in fact been around for decades, but is not without criticism with one 2017 report from the UK argued the practice could be traumatic to young brains.
“Drown-proofing methods through floating have been around for decades, but the techniques are becoming more prevalent and have recently caught widespread international attention – leading to us, uniting as an industry in the UK to speak out about our concerns,” Dr Francoise Freedman, a medical anthropologist at the University of Cambridge and a leading experts on baby swimming said in the report.
“Conditioning (forcing) a baby or toddler to float relies on extreme traumatic methods and sadly no amount of praise will compensate for the memory of inflicted pain – it just gets pushed into the recesses of our brain, where it is recorded.
“While some children will escape unscathed, for others, the trauma may resurface in later years and cause a fear of the water. And because we do not know who is at risk, we have to question if it is worth doing; and the simple answer is no, based on scientific evidence and statistics.”