The myth about floaties and water wings that all parents should know

When it comes time to teach kids how to swim, it's not uncommon for parents to research water safety tips, life jacket types and even signs of drowning.

As parents prepare their kids to enjoy playtime in the water safely, experts warn parents to look out for the common swim safety myths that can actually put their children in danger.

One of the most prevalent myths, Olympic swimmer Ambrose “Rowdy” Gaines IV says, is the assumption that floaties and water wings are safe.

"The problem with floaties is that it gives parents a literal false sense of security," Gaines, a member of the the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance (PHTA), a nonprofit organization that promotes swimming and water safety, tells "You throw your kid in a floatie and think: 'Oh, that's all they need.' It's really the furthest thing from the truth."

Gaines and fellow Olympic champions Missy Franklin and Cullen Jones joined TODAY to talk about swimming safety.

"We're not here to shame," Franklin said on TODAY, but "the big thing when it comes to floaties is they give your child a false sense of security. ... They're not safe just because they have a floatation device."

According to a survey conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of PHTA, 66% of parents believe that floaties and water wings keep children safe in the water, despite the fact that these devices are not recognized as safe personal floatation devices.

"It's something that was alarming to me," Gaines says of the survey results. "(A floatie) doesn't teach a child any kind of skills for learning how to swim because they're vertical in the water, and in many cases, a floatie can pop.

"A parent is the first line of defense," he adds. "Watch your child and never take your eyes off."

Jim Spiers, co-founder and CEO of SwimJim, an aquatics education program, and president of the nonprofit Stop Drowning Now, agrees, adding that the issue with floaties is that they "don't always work."

"Kids can slip them off their arms, they can tip over, so it's a huge issue," Spiers tells "They're an aid — they're not a rescue device, and parents should not look at them as a rescue device or as the babysitter in the pool."

Parents should supervise children at all times in the water, he says.

"They shouldn't be on their phones. They shouldn't be on their iPads. They shouldn't be working," Spiers says. "Their job is to watch their child."

Drowning is the leading cause of death in children between the ages of 1 and 4, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Natalie Livingston, co-founder and owner of of ALIVE Solutions Inc., a risk management consulting and education firm, says even putting your child in a lifejacket doesn't guarantee safety.

"Lifejackets are not a free pass to relax or check out as a supervising adult," Livingston, a 27-year veteran of the aquatics industry who has conducted hundreds of accident and drowning investigations, tells "They should be a visual reminder of the importance of your effective supervision."

It's not that parents should never use floaties, Gaines says.

"I think floaties are a good tool that get kids used to the water, but they shouldn't be used as a crutch," Gaines, who leads Step Into Swim, an initiative of the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance that promotes water safety education and works to create more swimmers, says. "I'm begging parents not to take their eyes off their children when they're in or around water."

Floaties keep children in a vertical position in the water; Gaines says the key is for kids to learn how to float on their backs.

"Floaties don't provide that tool to be able to teach your child how to actually swim, or adding that life-saving skill of being able to float on their back," Gaines adds. "That's end-all for me — teaching the child how to float on the back."

Additionally, Livingston says parents shouldn't assume a child who knows how to swim isn't in danger of drowning.

"We see drownings happen to people who knew how to swim all the time," she says. "People can have medical events, can get a cramp, can get tired and can have someone else pull them under."

Knowing what drowning looks like, Spiers adds, is also important.

"Drowning is silent. It's quiet. It also does not look like a panic," he says. "Drowning does not look like the movies. It's not actually yelling and screaming 'help' or arms flailing. If a child or person has submerged in the water, they're having trouble to get their breath."

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