Ocean Explorers Society

When Your Kid Wants to SCUBA Dive

You're probably here because your child has expressed in interest in SCUBA diving. If you're a diver, congratulations, you've passed the addiction on to a new generation. If you're not a diver, you're probably full of questions. Hopefully, we should answer some of them here. If not, try posting a query in rec.scuba. or send e-mail.

Learning to SCUBA dive is a great thing for both you and your child They will be learning to perform according to adult standards. You will be learning to let them be themselves. Both my daughters got certified when they were 13. The experience and responsibility has been very good for them. We now have something special to do as a family. A rare enough find in this age of video games and computers.

First, the official line. The minimum age for scuba certification used to be 12. Now, some agencies will certify children as young as 10. The debate on this subject has been fierce and heated. I personally favor the 12 year limit. There are precious few 10 year olds with the necessary maturity to dive safely without direct supervision. This effectively puts the parent in a solo dive situation. Not a good idea under the circumstances.

If the diver is under 15, they will receive a junior certification. This certification requires them to dive with an adult. Once they turn 15, they may receive a regular certification. Check with the certifying agency for details.

Now, for the practical side. Just because they are old enough, doesn't mean they should get certified. SCUBA diving does have its hazards. Your child must be able to appreciate the risks and take steps to manage them. They must also be capable of performing all the tasks required for them to get certified.

First, you need to ask whether they swim well and are comfortable in the water. Most certifying agencies require a 200 yard swim without stopping in under 10 minutes; followed by 10 minutes of treading water. You can do this test yourself in a local pool.

Can they handle SCUBA gear? Even the most basic set of gear weighs 45 pounds. They need to be able to carry this stuff 100 yards, wade into the surf, and still be able to swim to the diving area. Most kids are reasonably fit, thanks to PE in school. If you're in doubt, talk to their PE teacher. They will have a better idea of their general fitness level.

Do they have enough emotional maturity? Do they keep a cool head when faced with problems? Do you have to nag them to get their homework done? Can they follow instructions well? Can they tackle moderately complex problems and solve them? They need to be able to do these things before they take the class. I insisted on real performance before I let my kids enroll in the class. I believe it worked out well for us.

Now for the real critical question: Where are you going to fit in? If you're already a diver, you will have a new buddy!

If you're not a diver, where, how, and with whom are they going to dive? The best answer I've seen is that they dive with you. Get certified yourself, either with them, or in a separate class. Check out my comments below about a parent's role in a SCUBA class before deciding whether you'll certify with them, or separately.

If you've decided to let them take the class, you have some important decisions to make. Most critically, how do you pick an instructor? A good instructor can make all the difference between a good learning experience, and sheer terror. The process of picking an instructor is straightforward, but evaluation is very subjective.

It's vital that the instructor's style and personality mesh well with your child's. This is one area where you need to include them in the decision process. They should be comfortable talking to them about SCUBA, the skills they need, and the things which make them nervous.

Your SCUBA diving friends can get you pointed in the right direction, if you don't know anyone, try the local SCUBA club. Find out which instructors are good, and which should be avoided. Ask the same questions about shops. This will give you some background information for the next step.

Go visit some local scuba shops. Ask to speak to their course director, or head instructor.
Explain your situation to them, then sit back and listen. Do you understand what they're saying? Do they talk down to you or your child? Prepare a list of questions and information you want to have. Here is my starting list:

By the time they finish answering this barrage of questions, you will know a lot about them and their instructional program. You may not know a lot about your actual instructor, but you will know the expectations of their boss, and that counts for a lot.

Next, if the director recommends an instructor, ask to talk to them. Repeat most of the above list. You need to decide whether you are comfortable with this person, and your child needs to decide whether they are comfortable with them too. Both of you need to agree that this instructor is OK.

You'll probably get a list of people you like. Presumably you've also crossed off the bad apples you collected earlier. Now you get to decide. All else being equal, I'd take more experience over less. But don't let that turn you away from the less experienced instructor who really connects with your youngster.

Now it's time to get ready for the class. You'll probably be purchasing their basic gear. A good sales person can really help you out. You need to be aware of a few things yourself.

Their mask is probably the most important part of their equipment. It needs to fit comfortably and seal well. You will find the masks without side windows have more variety and will usually cost a little bit less. The extra windows aren't nearly as useful as the manufacturers would have you believe. The are good for watching your buddy, so you may want to have side windows for yourself.

Fins are the second most important piece of gear. You need to match the size and stiffness of the fin to your child's leg strength. If the fins are too large, or too stiff, they will not have the strength or endurance to drive themselves. Too soft or small, and they will generate too little thrust. Good shops will let you try them and exchange them if they don't work out.

Booties and gloves just need to fit well. This is not a good place to allow for growing room. If either of these items are too large, they will allow excess water in and your child will get cold. This is no fun whatsoever. I prefer booties with zippers, especially when they are wet. However, non-zippered ones work too.

You will find a zillion other accessories in the dive store. Refrain from buying more than a few thousand of them until you get some idea of your personal style and preferences. :-)

Starting the class

Now the big days have arrived and your offspring is starting their class. Here are a few guidelines which have worked very well for us.

Give the kid some space. My kids and I agreed in advance that I wouldn't intervene to help them unless they asked, or I thought they were in grave danger. I've seen a few kids get so much "guidance" from their parents that they gave up in frustration. Give them room to struggle and learn the necessary skills on their own. Remember, they're learning to be responsible and independent.

Don't berate them if they have a hard time with one of the skills. Everyone stumbles on something in the class. Be supportive and they will succeed.

If you're already certified, go along if you can. This is a special dive. Ask the instructor for permission first. However, if they say no, respect that and go diving afterwards.

One more note for the diving parents: If you haven't taken the rescue course, now is a great time to take it. it's a great course. You will be less anxious in the water, and much better able to handle any situations which may arise.

If you're a non-diver, it's OK to be worried, but keep it to yourself. The instructor and divemaster will look after your child. When they get their C-card, celebrate. They've done something worthwhile.

For more information, check out this article on the Rodale's Scuba Diving site.

Copyright 1998, David Ambrose All rights reserved.


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