It’s Friday night at Aquatic Realm and divers can be heard poolside assembling their gear, doing their buddy checks, preparing for the upcoming pool dive. Of course they are also talking about boys, girls, video games and school because these divers, many of whom have years of diving experience, range in age from 8 to 14 years old.
It has always be a topic of contention in the diving community about kids and diving and while the adults and experts continue to argue and debate it out, the kids are quietly becoming awesome divers and their numbers are growing worldwide. As someone who has dedicated over 15 years to teaching kids to dive I have put a lot of time and energy into researching and developing dive programs for children. For the sake of simplicity let’s assume that the RSTC and the majority of the training agencies have reviewed and covered the issues about ages for diving by issuing the recommended depth restrictions, supervision controls and general health and development guidelines and not get into that part of the argument.
Why do I think kids adapt to becoming divers as well if not better than some adults? Diving is all about rules and knowledge. Applying the knowledge and following the rules means diving should be a safe and enjoyable activity for all ages. Here is where kids have the advantage over adults…..
- Kids are natural born rule followers. Rules are how they live their lives. They have rules at home, at school and in the games and sports they play. Learning and accepting the rules associated with diving come second nature to them and they rarely vary from what they have learned even years after they are certified, I still see my kids (now adults) following safe diving rules unlike some of the adults I have trained that promptly threw the rules out the window.
- Kids expect to answer to and follow direction from an adult. They trust adults to provide guidance and hopefully they are being raised to respect and listen to an adult. They answer to a parent at home, a teacher at school and a coach in their hobbies and sports. Listening to and following the direction of a Scuba Instructor comes very natural to the kids and they are rarely a supervision problem.
- Kids have one job from birth to young adulthood – Learning. Going to school, doing homework and getting an education is their primary purpose for most of their waking hours. Along the way they are expected to become responsible, caring people and learn how to get along with others. The academics and training that comes with becoming a diver usually doesn’t present much problem for kids, they are natural students, (Assuming the parent did their due diligence ahead of time and verified the child was academically prepared for the course. More on this subject later.) Kids are prepared to read books, do homework, take tests and meet deadlines unlike some adults we train that haven’t seen a test or classroom in many years. The buddy systems are a core part of Scuba and they require kids to learn to become responsible to and for another person. This builds confidence and responsibility.
- Kids that become divers do so for different reasons than adults. They aren’t checking off a bucket list or looking for an adrenaline high. They aren’t doing it for their spouse, significant other or to get a great job in the Caribbean somewhere. They are doing it because they love the water or want to become a Marine Biologist. Lots of times they have a dream to dive with a parent, grand parent or sibling.
So, now that you might be thinking that maybe diving would be OK for your kids, how do you know if your child is ready for Scuba? Ask or review these questions……..
- Is the idea of becoming a diver yours or the child’s? The child has to do this alone so make sure he or she really wants to do this for themselves and not just to please you.
- When you talk about it are they engaged and full of positive questions or quiet and just listen to you talk about diving. Sometimes not saying anything speaks volumes. This is where a trained PADI professional with experience in kids can really be helpful.
- If you aren’t a diver (a large percentage of diving kids don’t have diving parents) are you knowledgeable enough to talk about the subject to them? Do you have any preconceived negative ideas or fears about diving that you might pass on to the child? Kids bring no perceived fears or ideas to the table. This makes training kids a double edge sword. Their trust is unwavering so please, again, seek out a professional you trust and learn all you can.
- Does the child ask questions about fearful things like sharks, drowning, running out of air, deep water? This would be a red flag that the child has some fears that would not be conducive to diving at this time.
- Is your child a very good swimmer with little or no fear of being in water over their head? Can they use a mask and snorkel? Surprisingly the number one misconception is that if your child is on the swim team he/she will be a natural for scuba. Trust me when I tell you it does not cross over. Swimming and diving are not that much alike.
- Have you looked at your child’s schedule and commitments before deciding to add the classroom, pool and open water training requirements for the class to their life? You can set them up to fail if you don’t take the amount of work required into consideration before starting the course.
I have actually written a few articles on this subject and a flow chart was reprinted in the April 2012 Issue of Sport Diver with more on the above suggestions.
OK, so now that you have decided that diving is right for your kids, what’s the next step?
- Find a dive professional that specializes in training kids. Meet with them, talk to them, put as much time into choosing this person as you would a babysitter, teacher or coach. At Aquatic Realm we not only teach kids to dive we specialize in it. The majority of our staff members have taken specialized Instructor Courses in training kids.
- Allow the instructor to introduce scuba to your child without you being involved. Enroll them in a PADI Bubblemaker (8 & 9 year old) or Discover Scuba (10 and up). Have the child evaluated without the pressures of pleasing or displeasing you the parent. Listen to the recommendations of the instructor. Even if your child is not quite ready the great thing about kids is that a few months can make a huge difference so they just get to come back and go diving again!
- Pick the right program for your child’s maturity level. PADI Seal team is perfect for 8, 9 and up if they just want the fun of pool diving with friends while they learn their dive skills. PADI Junior Open Water for 10 and up, if they are ready, is a nice transition from the Seal course to diver. See the link below for more information on all kids diving programs.
One of these days when I look back at my professional dive career I will look at all of the great people I have had the privledge of introducing to this magnificent activity but most of all I will remember all of the kids. They are my proudest accomplishment. I planted the seed of diving deep in their hearts and I watered and cared for it regularly. I watched them grow into the most wonderful lifelong divers in the world and my love of diving will live forever in their hearts. I would dive with any of them any time. What an awesome feeling to take away from any career.
For more information on programs available for Kids at Aquatic Realm Scuba Center click here.