So this started as a simple blog that shouldn't take much time to write but the more I researched the more arguments I found about children and diving so while I've tried to compile as many facts and opinions as I could into this blog there is more, ever changing, information out there. This is going to start more of an informational blog about guidelines and then we'll move onto the debate that you can join in below.
We often get asked 'when can my child start to dive?' and it is great activity to do together as a family but there are some age restrictions. I've primarily been a PADI Instructor so much of this blog will be PADI's recommendations but there may be other training agencies requirements out there. Also while these age ranges are minimum requirements for courses but there are more factors than just age you need to consider and there is debate if these ages are conservative enough.
PADI consider any diver qualifications under the age of 15 years old to be 'Junior', meaning they will have special guidelines and depth limits until they turn 15. So under 15 you'll get a Junior Open Water qualification or Junior Advanced Open Water. The curriculum and requirements are much the same just with different depth limits. Once qualified Junior divers must dive with a qualified adult.
8-9 YEARS OLD
This is the youngest your kid can start to learn how to scuba dive with an Instructor and it should really be done with a qualified professional as there's more to teaching than just knowing how the equipment works. From what I was taught the age limit is mainly to do with lung development and a lack of research on the effects diving can have on a child's body. Little is known exactly how scuba diving affects children compared to adults, as of course there is little experimentation in the area, so it's best to err on the side of caution.
The child's size is a big factor too as finding kit small enough for them can be hard, there is dedicated childrens kit out there that will make their first dive comfortable and encourage them to want to continue. At eight they are limited to the pool with a maximum depth of 4m for their safety but it's a great way for them to get used to the gear and how it works in a controlled environment with a professional diver. Saying that the most important thing is that you never force your child into a hobby that they don't want to, they have to want to learn and pushing them into it too early can backfire.
10-11 YEARS OLD
At ten years old kids can enrol in their first official qualification which is the same course as adults but with shallower depth limits and they must dive with an adult even after qualified. Once qualified their qualification will stay with them forever and is recognised all over the world with them just needing to top up their skills from time to time.
12-14 YEARS OLD
At this age kids have greater depth limits but must still dive with an adult certified diver even when qualified but the adult diver doesn't need to be a professional level diver.
There are of course exclusions for children for certain courses like Ice Diver and Cavern Diver Specialities mainly because of the responsibilities and requirements of each diver. But for basic recreational diving your child can come along and go diving with you on holiday but bear in mind that children can lose body heat faster than adults so take their exposure protection into consideration.
Diving in certain environments that require extra consideration, planning and problem solving like caves and wrecks require students to be older before they can enrol.
While your child may be the right age, every diver needs to be sensible and take the activity seriously because as fun and safe as we make diving it can be dangerous if you don't follow the rules or panic. We always dive in buddy pairs for redundancy in the water so if your child is your buddy and you get into trouble then you have to rely on them to know what to do and act appropriately to help you out.
If your child is uncomfortable in the water or can't concentrate or follow instruction then it will be worth waiting until they mature. As an Instructor we are taught to "apply prudent judgement to determine whether or not a particular 10-year old is ready for the course or program." so if your Instructor isn't comfortable with a child's competency they will end their program there. You will be the best judge if a child is ready to go diving though and you have to spend some serious time considering this objectively.
In my experience you can tell pretty quickly if a kid wants to dive and has the ability to dive but it's not so simple when an Instructor isn't present or nearby. Each diver has to be able to manage a problem in the water so if an adult and child diver pair are on a dive and the adult has an incident, could the child act appropriately if they require adult supervision?
There is also very little confirmed knowledge on the medical risks of juvenile divers and there aren't really any specific treatment plans for juvenile divers if they do have a decompression issue.
The pros for early learning are definitely there as it will build a child's confidence in the water and exploring new places. Diving will increase their awareness of the ecosystem and how to help the natural world. As well as spending time with you diving will teach kids responsibility and real-world applications of physics, biology and maths if done correctly.
The cons are however also there with various medical developments that don't happen to all kids at the same time that can affect their susceptibility of DCI such as slow developing PFO and growing bones and tissues. With both physiological and psychological problems for kids to go scuba diving a bit of a question mark, it stays a very grey area for debate.
There are far more qualified individuals out there online so keep looking and let me know in the comments below what your views on kids scuba diving are and how we should decide when someone is ready to start learning...