Is your child ready to scuba dive? This is a question most diving parents have asked themselves at one point or another. My husband and I are both avid divers, so it’s no surprise that our son, Joseph, has wanted to dive since he was old enough to understand what diving is. In his mind, he was ready by age five.
As his 10th birthday approached, his wish list consisted of an iPod, a variety of monster trucks…and the Junior Open Water course. We knew that he would be eligible to learn based on his age, but felt that there was more to the decision than that. Following are a few of the factors you should consider, as we did, when it comes to answering the question: is your child ready to scuba dive?
Engage the dive shop and dive instructor in the decision-making process.
Maturity levels vary considerably among kids, and confidence levels in new situations can affect behaviors. If your dive instructor doesn’t already know your child well enough to help in the assessment, ask if the dive shop offers a Bubblemaker, Seal Team or Discover Scuba Diving program that your child can take before beginning open-water training. Keep in mind that for the Discover Scuba course, the textbook and materials are the same for children and adults, so you must assess whether your child can read, understand and retain the information.
Understand the shop’s teaching methods for children to assess how your child will respond.
Programs vary greatly. Some shops offer child-specific classes with lower instructor/student ratios; others add kids to the regular class and assign a divemaster to the child. Our dive shop offered private instruction for children, which allowed Joseph to move at his pace versus that of a group of kids or adults.
Think about the timing of classes and trips.
Don’t sign your child up for classes just in time for an upcoming scuba trip, as that will put pressure on him or her to meet a timeline that may be too short. No one, especially kids, should learn scuba in a hurry. Summer is the best time to undertake scuba classes, as there’s no pressure from school or homework, and there may be fewer activities overall. Warm weather and warm water is also best when it comes to training, as kids will surely be less excited if they have to perform their skills in a 7 mm wetsuit.
Gear, sizes and cost are important.
It’s stating the obvious, but worth mentioning anyway: kids are typically much smaller than adults and have very different bodies. There’s a lot of equipment involved in diving and it can seem overwhelming to a small child, and if they try to use your gear, they are not going to be as comfortable. Ask if your dive shop has smaller masks available for purchase and junior-sized BCs.
Our local shop carried a small number of junior BCs for rent and, at the end of the season, sold them for a fraction of the cost of a new BCD. This helped ease the pain of growing out of gear, as well. If a child has spent time snorkeling, he may already be used to his own mask, snorkel and fins when he begins diving. Additionally, just because you may not need a wetsuit doesn’t mean your child won’t need one. Kids get cold faster and stay cold, due to their smaller size and lower body fat, especially on repetitive dives.
Don’t push it.
We want our kids to experience the joy of diving and to love it as much as we do, but it just may not be their thing. While our son loves it, our daughter does not. At age 8, she participated in the Seal Team program since she was an excellent swimmer and loved the water. Although she finished the program and enjoys snorkeling, she didn’t want to pursue diving beyond that. We can still go on family vacations where clear water and shallow reefs allow us to dive while she snorkels above, so be prepared if your child decides that diving is not for them. And remember that kids should express as much, if not more, interest in diving in the first place.
Parental patience and readiness is a must.
Kids are kids. There’s a lot to learn and they may need more explanation, time, or review. They are slower to get their gear on and will likely need help for some time once certified. You must watch kids closely, as things they see underwater will distract them easily. Kids can quickly get too shallow or too deep, forget to check for their buddy as often as they should, or may even follow a fish versus the dive group. You’ll likely spend your dives watching your kids instead of the reef.
Joseph is 13 now and has logged nearly 100 dives in three years. He achieved his Junior Advanced Open Water certification last year. He loves diving and continually improves his skills as he matures and logs more dives. To be clear, he is still slow to put on his gear, can be distracted easily, and performs occasional mid-water back flips for no apparent reason. But we have never regretted our decision to allow him to learn to dive.