Krysta Meyer is a 27-year-old mom of two boys in Colorado Springs who started a TikTok account in February. Before this past weekend, her videos drew a couple thousand views each, if she was lucky.
But in just three days, one of her videos featuring her youngest son, 8-month-old Oliver, has gone incredibly viral, being viewed more than 51 million times on TikTok and another 20 million times on Twitter.
The clip shows the baby being tossed into a pool by a swim instructor.
"Oliver amazes me every week!" she captioned it. "I can’t believe he is barely 2 months in and is catching on so fast. He is a little fish."
More than 100,000 people commented on the TikTok, with some making jokes and others expressing alarm for young Oliver.
The video also became something of a meme on Twitter.
First year medical post-grad student's orientation class during COVID19 -
Me dipping my wings in ranch
Me to my Lush bathbomb:
Meyer, who filmed the video on Saturday at the Little Fins Swim School where she has long taken her two boys for classes, told BuzzFeed News she knows the clip is controversial and shocking to many people.
"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!" she said. "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 traumatizing them."
But Meyer wants people to know this isn't your average swim class. It's what's called an infant survival class.
"The whole premise behind what we do is safety," said Little Fins co-owner Lauri Armstrong. "We teach 8-month-olds to assess their situation and find an exit strategy [in water]. I know it seems crazy."
Armstrong has had her swim school for more than seven years and trains her instructors for months to teach this specialized class designed for children as young as 6 months. 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.
Such programs, which rely on infants' muscle memory from being in the womb, have been around for decades, but are not without their critics. One 2017 report from the UK argued the practice was traumatic to young brains, while the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said in 2000 there was no data to show whether such programs affected the risk of drowning. The AAP did say last year, though, that any child over 1 should learn to swim.
But anti-drowning campaigners in the US say classes with young children can save lives. The nonprofit Water Smart Tots says children should be taught "water safety and swimming skills as early as possible."
Jenny Bennett, who cofounded Parents Preventing Childhood Drowning after her 18-month-old son drowned in a backyard pool in 2016, told BuzzFeed News that children should start working with instructors as soon as they are mobile.
"In some kids, that's as young as 6 months," she said. "If they're able to crawl, they're able to crawl to a body of water."
One prominent group, the Infant Swimming Resource, says they've taught more than 300,000 children since their method was developed more than 50 years ago and have documented some 800 cases where their taught skills have saved lives.
Armstrong, the Little Fins owner, insisted her instructors are highly trained and work with each infant at their own pace and in a safe, controlled environment. She conceded there's a bit of "shock factor" for people watching Meyer's video and seeing a baby get tossed into water, but she said there's an important reason why her instructors use this method.
"When kids fall into bodies of water, it's often not pretty. It's often very disorientating," she added. "They have to learn to come up and recover on their own."
Armstrong's 18-year-old niece, Jill, was the instructor working with little Oliver in the viral TikTok and said the infant loves his lessons.
"This definitely isn't something that just happens on the first lesson," she said of the toss, noting she first works with infants on floating and rolling to their backs. "We never know how a kiddo will fall into the water, so we want them to be ready however they fall in."
But Bennett, the Parents Preventing Childhood Drowning cofounder, said she isn't comfortable with some of the tossing going on at Little Fins, saying they're being done from "unrealistic heights."
"The first time I saw [the TikTok], I thought it was shocking," she said. "It's not too high where the child is dropped into the water, but I've seen some at this facility where the child is held upside down and dropped in. That's very unrealistic and could potentially cause harm."
Indeed, a video that Meyer posted of her older son, Jayce, back in March shows such a method at the Little Fins facility. (This video also attracted millions of views in recent days from people scrolling back through Meyer's account.)
"This is an example of an unrealistic scenario," Bennett said. "If a child is in this position, it would not be an accident, it would be considered a homicide."
Liz Huber, founder and director of the CAST Water Safety Foundation, an Illinois group that teaches infant swimming, told BuzzFeed News her classes involved infants "scooting" into the pool as if reaching for a toy or stepping off steps, but that they did not feature throws.
"I can't think of a situation where it would naturally include force like that," she said of the TikTok video. "We have a much more gentle approach."
Ashleigh Bullivant, executive director of the Infant Swimming Resource, also told BuzzFeed News her group's "technique does not ever condone throwing a child into the water."
Another chain of schools, Infant Aquatics, also makes clear on their website, "Be assured, we do not throw children into the water! "
Armstrong, the Little Fins owner, said her group's techniques are intentionally designed to disorientate the child as if they were falling off a boat. The idea, she stressed, is to prepare for the worst.
"But we don't throw babies in until we know they're ready," she added.
Huber, the Illinois instructor, said she was still wary of the method.
"We absolutely want to prepare them for as many situations we can think of," she said. "However, I don't think that kind of force and momentum is needed to simulate the disorientation. I can see where they're coming from, but it’s just too much for me."
But Armstrong said parents interested in having their children learn the skills need to work with instructors, not take matters into their own hands.
"Please don't throw your baby in and try to get your baby to do this untrained!" she said.
For her part, Meyer says she's completely comfortable with the classes.
"I have them in swim classes in a controlled environment and with certified instructors," she said. "I feel so much more comfortable about my kids being around water and they can have that fighting chance to survive.
"I have my kids' best interests in mind."