Swimming lessons: on statistics and parenting

This week, my daughter had her first swimming lesson. A quarter of the Netherlands is below sea level, and another quarter is prone to flooding by river. As a result, learning to swim is part of our culture. Still, when my four-year-old said ‘I can swim already, and I want to dive in the deep pool’ right before her first lesson, I found myself slightly worried.


Rationally, these kind of fears are pretty baseless. I looked it up and a little over a hundred people in the Netherlands drown each year. Only around fifteen are younger than twenty. Given that there are almost three-and-a-half million children here, that gives a 4-in-10.0000 chance your child will die from drowning each year, or an 8-in-1.000 chance they’ll drown before reaching the age of twenty.

And that’s the overall statistic for drowning. I’ve found only 2 instances of children drowning during a swimming lesson in the Netherlands in the past decade or so. In both cases, the children in question did not speak the language well and that seems to have contributed. As horrible as this was, it doesn’t apply to my daughter.

So, rationally speaking, I should not be afraid that my daughter will drown at her swimming lesson. Irrationally, I was worried. Of course, that hasn’t stopped me before, and it didn’t this time.

On media

I’ve talked about helicopter parenting before, and societal pressure. This seems to be a variation of the same problem.

You see stuff in the media, and suddenly you’re afraid. One of the two children I mentioned above that drowned during swimming lessons was in the news just last week.

The Covid crisis is rife with similar problems. Yeah, Covid is bad. We should fight it, but — actually — the chance of children contracting it is small and the mortality in small children is negligible. Nevertheless, they closed schools around the world for months, while this may have been severely damaging for certain children. One can question if the cure was worse than the disease. Let me just add that I do not say Covid is harmless, and I think the opening up of states in the US was a lethal mistake. Opening just schools, though…

Moving on. I’m not a fan of Terry Goodkind because he tries to use his books to sell his ultra-right-wing-slash-libertarian views and I feel ‘Naked Empire’ is a fascist manual. However, his Wizard’s first rule I’ve always found fascinating:

Wizard’s First Rule: people are stupid.[…] They will believe a lie because they want to believe it’s true, or because they are afraid it might be true.

Terry Goodkind

And yeah, I fall for this all the time. But I fight it as well. Because my daughter should learn how to swim. She was so excited about her swimming lessons she jumped up and down for an hour the day of her first lesson.


Children are bad for your blood pressure. So are the media. My advice: always look at your own unconscious hang-ups and bias.

Oh, and before you think you should look at non-main-stream media, or swear off the news altogether: no news or bad media sources will make you even more vulnerable to the Wizard’s First Rule in my opinion.

Martin Stellinga Written by:

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands