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Many divers are keen to introduce their children and teenagers to the sport, but minimum age limits can mean a long wait. This is not just due to the small size and lack of maturity in younger children, but also the added risks of diving on their growing bodies.
Some training agencies have special programs for children, allowing them to undertake the open water scuba diving course from the age of 10, and introductions to scuba equipment from the age of 8. Despite being technically allowed to dive at these ages, young divers face additional risks not posed to adults.
Children can behave unpredictably, be overconfident and can be more likely to panic in difficult situations. The skills and capacity of children to deal with challenging situations is not fixed with age and is best assessed according to the individual. The experts generally agreed that depth and time limits should be adjusted accordingly along a gradient of preparedness and competency.
One of the most interesting comments came from David Wakely, who suggested the greatest concern for children divers may be inexperience or inattention on the part of their adult dive buddy. Enthusiasm and encouragement on the part of the adult is great, but could lead to a child being placed in a situation they are not capable of dealing with, and instructors should have experience in training children.
The experts generally agreed that there a several key factors to consider when determining a child’s suitability to be a diver, including: desire to dive, medical fitness, physical fitness, emotional maturity, and ability to be an independent learner. A proper assessment of a child’s preparedness by their parents and instructors is also important to avoid disappointment or embarrassment if they are later deemed not to be ready.
The original article ‘Children and Diving’ by Matías Nochetto, M.D. in Alert Diver is available here.