06/24/2013 18:09 EDT | Updated 08/24/2013 05:12 EDT

Swim safety program expands to target risk-seeking teens

The Lifesaving Society is expanding its Swim to Survive Program amid research that shows thrill-seeking teens who encounter swimming pools may be tempted to engage in risky behaviour because of the way their brains are hardwired.

In a bid to reduce drowning incidents, the program, which is offered in some Toronto schools, is broadening to include more age groups, with a special emphasis on giving young adults practical lifesaving skills for aquatic safety.

The 18-to-24-year-old group continues to have the highest incidence of water-related death compared to any other age group in the country.

There could be a scientific explanation.

Teen brains 'under construction'

The part of the brain responsible for managing impulse control and judgment isn't fully developed in adolescent brains, according to experts.

Dr. Jean Clinton, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioural neuroscience at McMaster University, said that as children develop into adults, "the teenage brain is under construction."

That means that development of the pleasure-seeking, thrill-seeking part of their brains is outpacing growth in the parts of their brains that control inhibitions.

Although he's not yet a teenager, 12-year-old Edward Gao, who is in Grade 6, says that when he gets into the pool with friends, peer pressure is floating around with them.

"They go into the deep end to see who can survive longest holding their breath, doing really dangerous stuff," he said.

Swim instructor Gergely Kapus says the Swim to Survive program teaches young people not to panic in moments of danger.

"If in the event you were pushed into deep water, you would be able to collect yourself calmly and swim to safety," Kapus said.