Are These Parents Terrible or Brilliant?


I have to confess, I’ve watched this video five times and I’m still not sure what to think of it.

On one hand: these parents are completely nuts. Little dude is only seven months old! Why not wait until he’s shown an interest? Or at least until he can, you know, walk?

On the other: presuming it’s safe (a maybe), how are these parents any different from those who firmly nudge their toddlers into golf, chess, violin, etc? It’s not about the kid’s desires, because it rarely is — it’s all about the parents.

So is this a prime example of terrible modern parenting? Or is it just a slightly more edgy version of the kind of innovative parenting that produces prodigies?

Are they awful? Or just smart?

What do you guys think?

PS – Here’s what my daughter Katie (15) says: “It’s better to put little kids into fun, slightly risky situations (if it’s safe, of course!) rather than to shelter and overprotect them.”

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21 Responses to “Are These Parents Terrible or Brilliant?”

  1. Mia Lynn says:

    Don’t see the ‘harm’ – if correctly supervised…but would there be a benefit in terms of skill acquisition, at this age? Interesting.

  2. I agree with your daughter. The great pianist and music educator Bill Evans said a good teacher get the student excited about something to the point where the student will explore on his own.

    Sometimes the parent/teacher needs to throw something at the student and see if it sticks.

  3. The lesson I take from this post is the urgent need to address the distinction between acceptable and unacceptable encouragement.

    Like Daniel, I really don’t know what I think about the treatment of the toddler. But I do think we (those of us who talk about and work with talent) need to spend a little more time than we have reflecting on the essential distinction between pressure and opportunity.

  4. Andy says:

    this quite honestly makes me gag. if his hands slipped off the bar and his head crashed backward (and somehow that video made the light of day) we would not even be having this discussion. i’m a swim coach and subscribe to just about everything in your books… this is over the top

  5. Chuck says:

    My thought is its a little much. It seems there’s a safer way. but is this a lot different than a kid skiing between his parent’s legs or biking in a pull along? I think the video might make it more dangerous than it really is. But I still think yikes, why not wait few years. The risk is if it terrifies the kid and he associates negative thoughts with the sport.

  6. casey says:

    No no no! Too much risk for what reward? A possibility they will really enjoy water skiing when they get older? Its one thing to start teaching a sport at age 2 or 3 but like you said Daniel, the kid can’t walk yet and if something goes wrong there, babies skulls are made to protect a water ski accident.

    From a brain development perspective, primitive reflexes need to be integrated at this age and that happens by lots and lots of floor time with creeping and crawling. That would be one of the best ways to give your kid a head start before the age of 1. Keep them on the ground and have them figure out how to move and walk. It will help develop the proprioceptive and vestibular systems that help with reflexive balance and spatial awareness, which I’m pretty sure are needed for every sport. Check out Reflexes, Learning and Behavior by Sally Goddard, and DNS out of the Prague school.

  7. Zach says:

    I completely agree with your daughter. I wish my parents would’ve done this to me! But to answer your question, terrible or brilliant, I’d say neither. Creative, and perhaps bold, would be a better description, IMO.

  8. Ed Bielski says:

    Looks like fun to me. I think people spend Way too much time winging their hands over what babies do. It seems like something the family has a passion for. It seemed reasonably safe to me. Then again, my brother and I used to throw my sister back and forth at some distance. Are they instilling passion or creating a monster? The monster only comes if they force it as he ages.

  9. djcoyle says:

    Thanks, Casey — appreciate the ideas and the recommendation. I guess the thing to remember here is that there are lots of alternate paths to consider, many of which have good results.

  10. djcoyle says:

    So true, Ed. It’s all about that question of whether or not the parents force it. Hope they keep those straps on his feet loose!

  11. kristen says:

    Just…. “why”?
    Is it for the child’s enjoyment? I doubt it.
    Does the enjoyment and acknowledgement outweigh the risks of such an activity? Not sure.
    This video gives me no feeling. I don’t go, “wow look at that” nor do I think it’s child abuse.
    Just… “why”?

  12. kristen says:

    (enjoyment and acknowledgement of the parents to have a child that has a tight vice grip)

  13. gpo613 says:

    Whenever you start anything you are going to be terrible at it. Sure some skills transfer from say sport to sport, but that beginning you are going to suck. The main benefit of starting something really young is that you might not even know you suck or care. Big difference between a 5 year old and and 25 year old picking up a golf club for the first time. The 5 yo has plenty of time to get better and probably has little shame. So the earlier you start the better off you are.

    But in the end it only matters if the kid has the passion for the activity. Even if you put the kid in the perfect environment the kid may just not love the activity. It is only when you have great coaching, great environment, and passion will one turn out to be one of the greatest in an activity.

  14. BDoyle says:

    Great – Living proof that a human can acquire the same motor skill set and manage the same task as a water skiing squirrel.

  15. Mcaraballo says:

    No problem exposing your children, but this seems to young…let your children choose, but what I feel stronger about is why not have him in a helmet? It looks like he is in shallow water…he could fall, hit his head off the bottom…I would have waited til he was older. Seems like it served as entertainment for parents than an attempt to expose a child to world experiences.

  16. doc says:

    Not worth discussing until the kid is slaloming on one leg and holding a beer in the other and he’s being pulled behind a boat.

  17. Eric W says:

    It looked safer than many of the things around a house, if the kid fell it would be into water, much softer than a fall down the stairs. Infants are often dumped into swimming pools (I’ve seen lots of videos of it) and do really, really well at a young enough age. The risks of drowning were next to nil. Presumably it was the mother that was within steps of the kid at all times, ready to rescue.

    The kid did learn some things, how to stand up and hold on to things, not to be afraid of water, and that his parents enjoyed the heck out of him.

    Should parents all do things the exact same way?

  18. Geof G. says:

    I completely agree with Eric W!

    I think the title ‘Learning to Waterski’ title is causing a lot of people to react negatively than what it actually is. Having raised 4 children, I thought the video was fun.

  19. James says:

    The kid seems to be focused and that seldom looks like you are having a good time, but it has been associated with a good learning state. As to the child’s safety he seems like he is in good hands what with the woman running along side of him. It made me nervous, but the parents seem to have it covered.

  20. Matt M says:

    I think people have a different picture than reality.

    – Not sure there’s even a boat involved, possibly a dad pulling or holding a rope.
    – The child has a life vest on and, sure, could fall in the water however Mom is right there anyway.
    – The skis are essentially a single hydroplane (no danger of splits) with a fixed walker and feet fixed in place (and again, attentive human powered tow).

    Did you ever gently swing your toddler around in a circle, while on solid ground? Shame on you! you could have dropped them on that hard ground!

    But seriously: Art of the possible. I see nothing wrong with this if all parties are sober, safe and have the aim of inspiring delight in the child.

  21. Read Page says:

    You can never discover too much when it comes to golf. You’re always learning more. I bet the experts still find out something everytime they go on the course. – Thruston

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