Dear parents: You need to put your phone down and watch your child’s swimming lesson.



Teachers bring it up in meetings, coordinators brainstorm ideas on changing the culture at the pool, and, yes, kids get upset.

This week one of our teachers came out of his shift and told us that he almost cried during a lesson, because a little boy in his class swam the length of the pool, looked up at his Dad for praise, and said:

‘Why won’t Daddy watch me? He’s always playing on his phone.’

His Dad was so engrossed in his phone that he didn’t hear his son call out to him. This particular boy had put in so much effort. He had listened well to the teacher, he had tried his hardest, and he just wanted his Dad to be proud of him.

Sadly, we see it all day every day.

I teach classes and see parents/grandparents/caregivers/whoever completely missing out on the effort that their children are putting in to this lesson, the comedy they bring to the classes with their imaginative ideas, the competitive streak that suddenly appears when a child realises they can do something and do it well.

You could walk into any learn-to-swim environment, and I bet you will see a row of parents sitting on their phones.

As an instructor I can tell you that overall, lessons are great fun, and we get so much out of them. We get to see children change, develop, grow. We get to hear about their days, we get to help them through what can sometimes be a frightening experience, and we see progression.

That progression can be huge; it can be a child finally trusting themselves (and us) enough to let go. It can be a child mastering bilateral breathing. It can be a child perfecting a streamline kick. It can be a child putting their eyes in the water, it can even be minuscule (in appearance), e.g. tucking a chin in further towards their chest; but that could have taken weeks, if not months to happen.

How are you going to see those accomplishments if you are on your phone or ipad, or reading a paper?

How are you going to know that your child IS benefiting from the lessons if you are not watching? Do you see how much they have to take in and do all at once?

Honestly, I get sad as a teacher. I am a little disappointed when ‘Michael’, after months of encouragement and gentle guidance, finally trusts me enough to push off from the edge and paddle out to me, only to see that his caregiver hasn’t noticed. They are not even looking our way.

That’s me, feeling sad, as an adult.

Imagine how ‘Michael’ feels.

I do get it, I know that sometimes it is unavoidable. I know that work can reach us any and everywhere, and while your child is in a safe environment, being watched by another adult, it is convenient to get those final emails done. It’s finally ok to book that appointment online, without your small person trying to talk to you or show you something.

It’s just that, they usually are trying to show you something.

I work for an ever-expanding company, and at the co-ordinators meeting this week, an item on the agenda was: HOW do we get parents to put their phones down?

We discussed banning them (not very realistic)

We discussed posters (will you see them?)

We discussed talking to parents and gently encouraging them to watch

We discussed creating an app where you can watch your children swim (in real-time)

We even discussed offering free wifi and changing the password to “please get off your phone and watch me swim”.

Then the following day, our amazing teacher told us about the boy in his class, whose Dad didn’t realise his son was calling out for him.

‘why won’t Daddy watch me? He’s always playing on his phone.’

Please just try it. You will be amazed how much you get out of it, and I’ll bet you your child will work their absolute hardest.


Big thanks to K N for the pic.

22 thoughts on “Dear parents: You need to put your phone down and watch your child’s swimming lesson.

  1. Kate says:

    That parent might also desperately trying to manage a job and be frantically replying to emails so that when their kiddie is around they can be playing with them!


    • notsogreatcatsby says:

      Hi Kate,

      Yes I absolutely see and agree with that, that’s why I mentioned it within the post.

      On the one hand I see that it is inevitable from time to time, but in prioritising emails for the entire 30 minute class every week it is detrimental to the child’s confidence and willingness to learn, especially with beginners.

      Play is super important, but if you saw how hurt children are (every day) by their parents not watching, or even looking up when we call out to them, you might view watching the lesson as important, too.

      That being said, I spend most afternoons walking around poolside, and you’d be amazed how many people are on facebook, or shopping for t-shirts online.

      I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty for needing to work, I just hope that those who can put the phone down, will put the phone down.


      Liked by 1 person

    • Colleen Yeager says:

      As an idea, you might like to hire or invite 5 or 6 strangers to purposely cheer the kids on. This will delight the kids and everything else will fall into place.


    • rjmcleod says:

      That parent should go somewhere where the kid cannot see them then, deal with the email, and come back with the phone put away.

      They can also make it clear to people (co-workers, friends, etc) that during the child’s swimming lesson, they will not be responding to any messages or emails.

      I hear this from parents all the time. “What if”, “might be”, etc. It’s just excuses. At the end of the day, either be present for your kid, or don’t be.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Chelsy says:

    Absolutely agree..I used to teach swimming 20 years ago and obviously NEVER had to worry about parents not watching their children as phones weren’t an addiction back then. But I have seen many many parents in both Brisbane and now Perth on their phones constantly and also one parent decided she could go to the pool cafe and have a coffee instead of watch her child. I have even had to smile and acknowledge other people’s children as I felt sorry when they looked up and mum or dad wasn’t watching. It is DISGUSTING behaviour and is sooo sad for our kids. Wake up parents and appreciate the time you have with them because it won’t last long. And when they are older they will remember you not showing any interest in their achievements as the phone was more important and you will have to explain your selfish actions!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Steven Taylor says:

      So true, good for you for making a point. When I am with my children I am focused on them and what they are doing. It only comes around once then they are gone. I had the privilege of teaching all 3 of my children to swim and what a joy it was when the day to came and you could see the confidence in their eyes when they knew they had the swimming and treading water figured out. Yes, put the phone down and not only during swimming but any other event. There’s plenty of time to check the phone later. Besides most of the time it is just mindless scrolling through messages etc that have already been read. Pay attention to your children more than your phone it will be a better world for sure!


  3. Becky says:

    I agreed 100%. It’s easy to pop out babies but entirely different game to raise them; which means being there for them in every sense and that means giving your child or children time and attention and energy no matter how old. A child’s first and biggest fan and cheerleader is a parent or legal guardian whoever that is. I see too many parents relying on grandparents, babysitter and instructors to play that role. Pay attention to your kids not matter what their age. You are the only face they will recognize in see of faces when they look back – give them a thumbs up and shout out the kudos. Put your damn phone down and get off the social media. Your work can wait too.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Diane says:

    I agree! Wake up and enjoy them, because when they finish schooling and move out they will mimic the behavior the parent showed them. They will always feel they were less important than a game or Facebook. I watch sad kids in grocery carts while Mom or Dad actually belittle the children for interrupting them as they gaze into the screen. You have stated this very eloquently. It is not very much fun for these parents to have the mirror held up for them to see what they are doing. Good job.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Tracy Carlson says:

    I retired from teaching swim 5 years ago and it was becoming a big problem then. If a parent cant put down their phone for 30 mins to watch their kid swim then something is really wrong! I don’t want to hear they are managing their job! Signed working mother of 6

    Liked by 2 people

  6. doug says:

    HI, yes it a shame that phones redirect our attention to other thing. I agree with you parents need to pay more attention to their kids. I use to coach soccer and it’s like during practice i’m the sitter. They drop off the kids and leave to come back normally way after practice.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Melissa says:

    I totally agree. My son is always looking to me at wrestling matches, football games, band concerts, to see if I’m watching, to see if I’m paying attention to him. My daughter also asks, “Did you see my goal?” “Did you see this?” “Did you see that?” Our children need our attention, love and support. Put down your phones people. Your child(ren) are more important than passing the next level in Candy Crush or checking out your Facebook status.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Laura Gapczynski says:

    Thank you for being brave enough to bring this up. Parents seem too preoccupied with their phones and it is disgusting. As with anything else, if they didn’t want children, then they shouldn’t have had them….

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Tracy King says:

    Hi Cat, I am in America and I totally agree. I watch my two boys ages 8 and 10 the entire time they are having their lessons. Because they take them at the same time, I praise them when they do good, encourage them when they are struggling and also try to reinforce what the teacher says when she is with the other son. It is so important to keep your eye on them for this reason and also if they get in trouble during the lesson. I don’t want to ever have to tell my husband I was on the phone if he has to ask what happened.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Lois says:

    WOW! You just got me. I am in tears, but that’s good. I take my 6 year to swim lessons each week and I am usually on my phone doing various things, none of which couldn’t wait until later. I will be leaving my phone in the car now. Thank you. I think most parents (at least me) just don’t realize it. Thank you for calling us out. It is needed sometimes.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Laurie says:

    Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes!! Thank you soooo much for writing this article. I see it all the time at the pool. Whats worse is I see parents take their kids to the pool to play. Our pool doesnt have a lifeguard. Parents plop down on a recliner and never once look up to check on the safety of their kids. Meanwhile their 3 year old is playing in the deep end unsupervised.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Robert says:

    I agree with you on this. I have a six year old son who has been in swim lessons for about a year off and on, when money is available. His mother, my ex-wife, went to swim lessons with him maybe two times, one of those times I was there. All she did was text her friends or shop for stuff. With the approval of the instructor, I am in the pool with him. Giving him attention and praise and hi-fiving him. He loves when I take him but he is just there when mommy takes him. I see all to often parents not paying attention to their children when all they want is attention. My son is always “daddy look at me, look at me” .

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Jessica says:

    I see this as a lifeguard all the time too! It’s so upsetting to see a kid sit on the wall for their entire lesson, calling out and waiting for their parent to look up at them. Parents should be watching their kids because sometimes instructors need help getting the kid to pay attention or to behave, and they should be watching because their kid might slip off the wall or whatever they’re holding on to and start drowning, and the instructor and/or lifeguard might be busy or elsewhere on the pool deck and unable to get to the child fast enough. Pools can be a really dangerous place, especially for little ones. I love parents who sit up and keep an eye on their kids when they are in a lesson. I think it shows just how much the parents care.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Nicole says:

    First off, I applaud the instructor for caring so much about her students development and feelings. I believe most teachers take on those roles because they do care so much, and bringing awareness to parents to appreciate precious moments in our busy world is certainly not a bad thing. However, as a parent, I have mixed feelings about this line of thought and a different perspective to offer. On the one hand, I am personally not much of a technology driven person- no one in my home owns a tablet or the latest greatest iPhone, and I usually carry a book with me which is my personal preferred time-passer. Also, my youngest child is currently 16 years old, so my kids mostly passed the “look at me, mom!” stage before the era of everyone owning a smartphone and being on it all the time, or giving their kids tablets to keep them occupied. And It’s clear that these days people in general are distracted by technology, with often times tragic outcomes (i.e. while driving). I don’t doubt that an obsession with technology can adversely affect personal relationships, be it between spouses, friends, or parents and children. I don’t aim to defend any of that. However, back when my children were younger, and even currently with my teen being involved in athletics, I rarely stayed to watch their lessons or practice (though I’ve always attended games, competitions and performances in rapt attention). I would drop them off and run to the grocery, go for a walk, or spend time with my other child, or, if I did stay and wait, it was often in the lobby where I might pass the time reading a book or magazine or chatting to other parents. Their lessons and practices were *their* time to gain independence and learn, as well as my time to accomplish other things, or maybe just take a break and refresh from the constancy of mommy duties. Of course there would be times *outside* of lessons for them to show off what they were learning: when we were at the pool together, in the yard with a soccer ball, or perhaps at home in the kitchen showing off ballet moves (while I may have admittedly been “distracted” by things like cooking dinner). In fact on the occasions I *have* stayed in practices or when watching games/competitions, I would even tell my children NOT to look at me, but to pay attention to their instructor or coach. I feel that is a good lesson for them as well. I certainly want my children to feel confident that I care for them and encourage and recognize their accomplishments, without feeling that their efforts are to please me or vice-versa. Independence and self-confidence (which is different from the popular notion of self-esteem) are, imo, virtues that are slipping away with the advent of “helicopter parenting”, and that could be said of the independence of children *and* of mothers. Put rather bluntly, my children don’t exist to please me, *nor I to please them*, and I want that to be understood, while still creating a mutually supportive family atmosphere. I’m thankful that for the most part I did my mothering of “littles” before the ubiquitous use of social media, so on the occasions I took them to parks, and enjoyed sitting in the sun and reading a book (which these days could just as easily be on a tablet or phone for others), or had a conversation with another mom while they enjoyed time with each other and peers unfettered by my hovering, there was no publicly aired judgement of the greater picture of my parenting based on a snapshot moment in time. As a final thought, I’ve heard coaches/instructors complain about parents hovering on the sidelines and distracting their kids, so maybe looking on the bright side, the parents lack of attention could make for a more focused learning environment for them? Maybe it would be better for all concerned if the parents had a lobby area to wait instead of poolside? I remember in ballet classes there was usually a one way window where parents could watch if they chose to without the children seeing them. And thank you for your thoughtful concern for your students, I don’t mean to take away from that, just to offer another point of view.


  15. Peter Dvergsten says:

    I used to help with my twin sons grade school softball when they were in second, third and fourth grades. My wife mentioned one night that she felt bad for some of the boys that there were not more parents that came out to watch their kids play. The same was with basketball and other sports. You could tell that some kids didn’t try as hard because there was no one to cheer them on. I am proud of my sons that they show up and sometimes coach their kids and they have asked me to come sometimes too. Sometimes I think that, as much good as they do, that the cell phones were made by Satan to take our interests from where they should be.

    Liked by 1 person

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