Ask an Expert: Should kids under 12 dive? | Scuba Diving

Ask an Expert: Should kids under 12 dive?

Kid divers

Karen Doody

If a child shows maturity, physical ability and desire - yes.

By Tracy Myer

If a child under the age of 12 is physically, mentally and emotionally able to handle the skills and understand the knowledge needed to scuba dive and wants to learn, he or she should be able to get certified. In my experience, children today are learning concepts crucial to understanding the risks involved in scuba at a younger age than previous generations.

Often, I find children are more eager to learn than their parents are. In some cases, they are better able to comprehend the content and have better study habits than many adults. Children have a natural curiosity about the ocean and its marine life, and during school, even as young as 10, they study many of the principles that apply to diving, such as mathematical problem-solving, and the laws that apply to buoyancy and gravity. Learning to dive affords them the chance to apply some of these principles in real-world situations while they’re underwater.

Of course, parents need to ask some questions of themselves and their children. In Children and Scuba Diving: A Resource Guide for Instructors and Parents, PADI suggests that if the following questions can be answered in the affirmative, a child might be ready to enroll in a scuba-diving-certification course:

• Does the child want to learn to dive? (This should not be merely the desire of his parents and friends.)

• Is the child medically fit to dive?

• Is the child comfortable in the water, and can he swim?

• Does the child have a sufficient attention span to listen to and learn from class discussions, pool and open-water briefings and debriefings and other interactions with an instructor?

• Can the child learn, remember, and apply multiple safety rules and principles?

• Are the child's reading skills sufficient to learn from adult-level material (allowing for extra reading time, and help the child might request) ?

• Can the child feel comfortable telling an unfamiliar adult (instructor or divemaster) about any discomfort or not understanding something?

The earlier a child can be introduced to diving, the more comfortable he or she will be with demonstrating skills, learning new concepts, and gaining confidence.

If a child under 12 is physically, mentally and emotionally able to handle the skills and understand the knowledge needed to scuva dive, he or she should be able to get certified.

This confidence, in turn, can translate positively to all aspects of his life.

Diving is a great activity for the family to do together — it involves exercise, exploration and shared experiences. Given the desire, everyone in the family can participate — this is not a sport rooted in competition; rather, it encourages discovery.

Allowing children to dive will hopefully spark a greater respect for the marine environment and a sense of awe that will become the foundation for a lifelong commitment to protecting our oceans.

As dive instructors, we should be assisting in their growth and allowing them to find a passion in scuba. I believe that if children can show maturity, a willingness to learn and the ability to pass all requirements, why are we standing in their way of something that is truly rewarding and life-changing?

Let’s help our children grow to love this sport as much as we do, rather than hinder them.

Tracy Myer is a PADI IDC Staff Instructor with Northwest Scuba Ltd., in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She has been diving for 15 years and is passionate about shark conservation.

For every 10-year old who's wise beyond his years, there's a strap-snapping 11-year-old who's just not ready to dive.

By David Harmon

Children under 12 should not be allowed to dive. I know, you're going to tell me about your incredibly mature 10-year-old who drinks lattes and reads The Wall Street Journal. For every mature 10-year-old out there, I can find you an immature 12-year-old, and therein lies the crux: The line must be drawn somewhere, even if it feels arbitrary, and the age of 12 is a good minimum, for psychological and physiological reasons.

A certain level of maturity should be expected of certified scuba divers. By maturity, I don't just mean not goofing off, but having overall sound judgment and decision-making skills. Of course, age does not automatically qualify for these, but research has shown that maturity levels with respect to these measurements differ significantly from early to late adolescence. So even though an 11-year-old may not walk around the boat snapping mask straps, the difference of a few years can be huge when it comes to critical, even life-threatening decisions.

We are still attempting to understand the effects of diving on human physiology. Few studies have been performed on children, although those that have show negligible difference in bubble formation (a leading indicator of decompression sickness) compared with adults. However, many questions remain, in particular the effect on key developmental processes at this tender age. Unfortunately, unless the U.S. Navy starts shoving kids in hyperbaric chambers, we may never know the answers to these questions.

The usual approach in all things scuba is to err on the conservative side, with consideration for an “acceptable” amount of risk. With adults this risk has been quantified, but it remains a question mark with young children. Usually a few daring souls volunteer themselves as the experimental group, paving the way to turn that question into a hard number. We shudder at the involuntary methods used to obtain good data (military personnel, immigrant workers, etc.), yet does a child, who must have informed legal consent made by you, the parent, truly count as a volunteer?

Diving with your kids is wonderful, but we shouldn't be hasty. No matter how cool diving is, kids have a tendency to avoid those things forced on them by their parents.

Why do we want 12-year-olds to dive? Diving with your children can be a wonderful bonding experience, and one many parents look forward to, particularly after many years of being “grounded.” But we shouldn't be hasty. No matter how cool diving is, kids have a tendency to avoid those things forced on them by their parents. Besides, the restrictions set by most agencies on what they (and you) can do may make diving with children less exciting than you envisioned. I say, let the interest grow naturally, lest we risk turning them off from one of the most thrilling hobbies on earth.

The short fact is, limits must be set somewhere. Certifying organizations cannot leave it to their instructors to determine these limits ad hoc; such interpretation would open both instructor and agency to significant legal risk. Just as an age limit has been set for driving, an age limit must be chosen for diving -- I consider 12 a generous bare minimum.

David Harmon is a research scientist in New York City. Nights and weekends, he’s an open-water scuba instructor and makes frequent hops down to warm Caribbean waters. In his spare time, he discusses diver-related issues at the blog he hosts,