It’s certainly no secret that I love to scuba dive, and plan to spend plenty of my time here in Alaska doing it. I’m an SSI Divemaster (although I did the course just for fun) and I’ll go diving just about anywhere, anytime.
There are few things in my life that I am as passionate about and one of the very few indulgences I’ll spend money on myself for. Naturally, it’s also something that I want to and do share with my family.
When people find out that I’m an avid diver, one of the first things I’m asked (especially if I’m trolling the dive shop with my kids) is “Do your kids scuba dive?”.
My oldest daughters Candace and Haley were both certified at 15. My son Bridger, who’s 16, has been on scuba experiences in Hawaii, but only now has been cleared by a doctor to certify because he has a history of asthma. And my youngest daughters Saige and Summer have had age appropriate scuba experiences in the pool starting at ages 5 and 9.
Summer, who is now 12, is begging me to certify this summer. I’m excited about the prospects of her doing this because I always welcome the opportunity to share my passions and love for diving with my kids. I also do it with some degree of wariness and caution. It’s something to think about.
Should Kids Scuba Dive?…
Of course my spirit of adventure leads me to automatically say “YES!!!!”, but it’s actually not that simple. It is a very individual answer that should be based on the child, the family diving environment, and access to qualified dive facilities who are experienced in certifying children.
First, the child. All kids are very different in their physical capabilities, mental maturity, impulsiveness, intelligence and courage. My daughter Summer at 12 is an example of a kid who is ready to certify. She has a high degree of comfort in the water, she’s experienced scuba before in an appropriate environment, she is not impulsive and follows directions, she’s aware a lot of study will go into it and very important…she wants to do it.
The converse side of this I saw while accompanying my friend, who is a PADI Dive Instructor, on the open water dives for two 14 year old boys certifying in Hawaii. Prior to the dives, they did not pay attention, they were messing around with their gear and not setting it up properly, and were generally rowdy with disruptive behavior. Not a great combination to have for a sport that when you make a mistake, it can be fatal.
That’s where you need to take a good hard look at the situation and ask yourself, “Is my child truly ready?” or am I massaging my own ego to certify them before they are ready. (I believe that’s actually a big part of the debate all together.)
Second, the family diving environment. One simple question: Does your family dive enough to justify certifying a young child? Scuba diving is a sport that works best when it is done regularly. It ensures that dive gear is regularly maintained and used, parents are comfortable with their diving skills, and kids maintain their skills in an appropriate environment.
Over the years, we’ve been able to dive a lot, especially when we lived in Hawaii. When we didn’t have direct ocean access and I took my girls on dive trips, I’d always make sure they had a refresher course if they hadn’t been diving in 6 months. Overly cautious? Maybe, but much better safe than sorry.
Diving with my children changes the experience dramatically. I put off selfish desires for my dive profile to ensure that they are safe. I don’t take my camera down, (unless they are partnered with another reliable diver), I don’t force them to stay down for longer than they’d like, and I never force them to do a dive they don’t want to do. We all have an amazing, safe experience and they want to come back and do it again!
Third, access to qualified facilities experienced with children. Kids are not miniature adults and all dive shops/facilities/instructors are not created equal. That sums it up. Do some research, make some calls, ask for referrals and select an appropriate place to certify your child.
If you have the resources, consider a family trip like Kids Sea Camp designed specifically for kids and family diving. Mom and Dad dive, kids certify and have their own classes. Then you can join them for some diving.
Some places like Jack’s Diving Locker in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii have a full fledged kid’s program with all sorts of classes and camps. Saige and Summer took 4 classes each there! (Their favorite was Dolphin/Whale camp). They had life changing experiences!
Do your homework, and make the certification process a safe and fun experience. Chances are, you’ll get a life long dive buddy out of it!
There’s a great article at Scuba Diving.com “Ask An Expert: Should kids under 12 dive?” I highly suggest you read it to get a couple of professional opinions that may aid you in making a decision.
Tips For Success
When you ask yourself, should kids scuba dive, part of your answer should include some preperatory legwork prior to considering it.
There are a few things I’ve done that helped my kids prepare to dive and contributed to their success.
- Get kids comfortable in the water early. I believe that swimming is a life skill, and my kids were in lessons from age 2. We had a pool in Hawaii and a pool in Arizona so learning to swim was essential. It has also prepped them for scuba diving with confidence.
- Try snorkeling, even in a pool. Helping kids breathe while their face is in the water is half the battle. Get them good equipment that fits well and is comfortable.
- Never force kids to scuba dive. I did not force my older girls to certify and I don’t force them to dive every dive on trips. If they want to dive in the morning and beach in the afternoon, ok by me. If we have ear clearing issues and the dive’s aborted, fine. But they have kept up diving on their terms. My oldest daughter who’s now 22 is planning our next Mom/Daughter dive trip. Pretty cool!
- Physical fitness. Be active, keep your kids active. Diving is a sport that demands physical exertion.
- Consider medical issues. My son has asthma and hasn’t been able to certify. He loves to snorkel and I applaud and support him in this. He is medically cleared now, but we are still evaluating if it’s something he really wants to do. Always be upfront with kids medical issues when considering diving.
- Always keep it fun and positive.
I’m grateful for my love of diving and the fact I have been able to share this with my kids on levels appropriate for them. It’s a great family experience and one that I will enjoy over and over again for a lifetime!