I have heard people refer to diving with children as “herding cats.” My professional mentor told me that this would happen, so I was not surprised when it eventually did. However, experiencing it for the first time was an eye-opening event.
Having the knowledge ahead of time did not make it less terrifying or stressful, I can assure you. Certainly, if I felt this way what are parents diving with children feeling? There is so much to see that in some cases they are simply overwhelmed. These incredible moments in their lives make them wander off in search of more. I know this firsthand myself, having dove with my son when he first started. When I became an instructor, I experienced this in the pool. Yes, the pool. Despite there only being the occasional “band-aid eel” or “hairball urchin,” children become super enthusiastic. It’s new, fresh and cool. Scuba is thrilling to say the least and seeing the look on their faces for the first time when they breathe underwater is priceless.
“The key to developing a safe young diver is training and experience, period.”
Children have no fear! Put more simply, children do not have the same life experiences as adults and therefore have not developed inhibitions or concerns when it comes to the mechanics or “what ifs” of scuba diving. After all, video games can be reset and you can “do over,” right? Having no fear and being less likely to overthink situations is fantastic, but also one that can create moments of panic or anxiety for parents. Whether your pre-teen or teen is interested in a summer camp or a full open water certification course, you and your child need to be prepared. You need to ask the right questions, evaluate whether or not your child is ready to scuba dive, and choose a solid program and instructor to train and guide them. Proper training and supervision of children at this early stage makes them better divers and will reward them with eye-popping moments just as it does for us.
The key to developing a safe young diver is training and experience, period. It is important to enroll your child in a course that is taught by instructors and assistants who have experience working with children; those who take their time not only to explain the fundamentals of the skills but also to assist them in developing muscle memory. Completing the skills circuit is one thing. However, being able to repeat these skills, in the pool and open water, is the key to each child’s success as a diver. Many instructors take students through the skills, see them complete a task and move on. Remember that comfort through repetition is a mainstay. We certainly would not want our athlete children to only practice once and then compete in a sport. As a seasoned instructor I focus on ensuring that children do not feel the need to mimic exactly the way I perform the skills. I’ve done these thousands of times. No, a solid instructor will help them overcome any challenges and assist them in developing techniques that complement their abilities. Don’t get me wrong, the skills are not difficult. But children are still developing their motor functions up through their teen years. Therefore, we need to work with them and instill confidence to become solid dive buddies and underwater adventurers. Practice makes perfect and repeating the skills in all conditions and situations is important.
How is the curriculum delivered
How many children have your instructors trained
What are the class ratios used when training children
Do you have children only or family only classes
No matter which certifying agency you use, your child needs to have a solid foundational understanding of the subject matter. Do they need to be experts? No. But the concepts and fundamentals of scuba diving are essential to becoming a well-rounded diver. Today, the big-name agencies all have digital learning as part of their course catalog of offerings. This is a huge benefit in the long run for us all. The mixed media environment makes breaking down the foundational elements easier. Some agencies offer lifetime access to the programs for which you enroll, and any future updates are incorporated into the course, while others do not. I have found it reassuring to some parents that their children can go back and review the materials at any time (some longtime scuba parents probably even review the materials themselves). Do not be afraid to ask any prospective dive center about their agency affiliations, the curriculum, the numbers of children they have trained, and class ratios they use while training children. Do they have pre-teen and teen classes or family-only class offerings? You will quickly discover whether the business is simply looking to pack a class with the maximum number allowed, or if they are passionate about creating good divers.
Diving is very safe. It is a wonderful way to uniquely explore the planet. If your pre-teen or teen is interested in diving, definitely check it out. Your local dive center is a great place to start your investigation. However, be careful researching on the web. There is a lot of false information on the subject floating around. Ask the tough questions of dive centers and instructors. For those of us who have either trained young people or had our own children trained to dive, we can assure you that the avenues of adventure will last a lifetime.
Doug Carlson – SSI and PADI Master Instructor, DAN Examiner, Business Owner