This topic is something us Dive Bunnies are intrigued by. You can find many blogs on the subject of children diving - the age restrictions, depth limits etc. but what about from the parental perspective? How does it actually feel to dive with your babies and let’s be honest, can we recommend it?
We’ve decided to organise this article into a series of hypothetical questions. It’s not in any order of priority but it’s definitely a list that’s been put together by parents’ observations and would love to hear of your own experiences diving with your OWOFFs (Open Water Offspring).
Can I trust my child to be a dive buddy?
This question could also be rephrased as ‘Can I trust myself to trust my child to be a dive buddy?’. The answer is an overwhelming yes. The fact that their instructor has deemed them perfectly capable should be enough for you too but that’s sometimes easier said than done.
In our experience, we would recommend you leave the instruction to the professional and do not, however much tempted, tag along as they learn. It’s confusing for the youngster and in some cases, stressful having a parent watching every skill being performed for the first time (we all remember learning to drive right? How much worse would it have been had Mum or Dad been sat in the back of the car?).
Also think of the poor instructor - if the child becomes a bit anxious or worried under the water the instructor needs that child focused on him or her. The natural default of looking to mum and dad for support and comfort is not helpful. If you do want to get in the water, we suggest you join the final certification dive and enjoy the celebration.
Once certified, organise a family dive that everyone is comfortable with. Ask your child if there’s a particular dive site they want to dive. Usually it will be one they’ve already enjoyed and so will feel relaxed and happy. Ensure all the usual protocols are followed and you’ll have a great dive. Just make sure that every dive adheres to standards so your child appreciates that you’re their dive buddy - not their parent. You’ll be amazed at how comfortable this now makes you feel. As you feel reassured that everything learned is not forgotten, you’ll almost forget that the kid next to you is even yours!
What if my child doesn’t want to dive with me?
Don’t push this - this is about them not you! It could be down to many reasons and if you can’t coax out of them the reason, don’t revisit. The chances are they feel a little intimidated which is perfectly natural. Arrange for them to have dives with others and soon enough, they’ll be asking to come along with you too. They just need to grow in confidence and perhaps have a few dives under their belt.
As one Dive Bunny remarked, "My own stepdaughter certified at the age of 12 and whilst I was desperate to get under the waves with her - she wanted a day at the beach!"
Another important factor is that in the early stages they may well enjoy diving with others simply because they are not subject to the Mum and Dad version of a buddy check which can be a little, errr, intense?
What can I expect when I scuba dive with my children?
First things first, expect to be a little nervous. That first giant stride or boat entry you witness will put you on tenterhooks. Equally, be prepared to have a physical reaction yourself as you enter the water or follow them as they descend down into the blue. We’ve compared notes and you’ll find breathing a little more difficult and air usage a big casualty. It’s nothing to worry about; just be aware that you may find your diving affected despite your OWOFFS being completely oblivious and happily finning and waving to you constantly.
This is when you realise the sacrifice we make as parents - our dives become shorter! Dives that would usually last 45 minutes could literally have 10 minutes shaved off purely by diving with our kids. Dive sites that you’re familiar with start to look different as you ascend to manage your dive time. It sounds crazy but it’s true. Be reassured that this only lasts for several dives (and for some only once) but it’s worth being aware in case it happens to you.
So does that mean I should avoid scuba diving with my kids?
Absolutely not! Some of the best, most enjoyable dives have been with our children. There is nothing quite like experiencing diving through the eyes of a child. They embrace it with a natural instinct that we, as adults tend not to. Yes, we’re all blown away with the ocean’s beauty and feel the sense of privilege but kids tend not to see it from that perspective. They become sea explorers and will often spot things that we don’t pick up on - we’re too busy trying to get the best picture or herding them together (as Master Bunny Phil will attest).
When do I think about buying them their own scuba diving kit?
How much cash have you got?!!
The decision we made when buying scuba diving equipment came down to budget and practicality. There really is no point buying gear that they will grow out of in 6 months flat (Ed - unless they want to spend their own money of course!). However, if you have a youngster with a real passion for the sport, they may challenge you on this. All you can do is point out that perhaps a wetsuit can wait but regs come first or to save for a BCD which realistically, could take them years, at which point they’ve stopped growing anyway!
The kids we know who have their own equipment, are by no means spoilt - they’ve saved and saved and waited for birthdays and Christmases. We can guarantee that their dive kit is more valuable to them than an Xbox or jewellery.
What’s the main benefit of scuba diving with my family?
This is an easy question to answer. As the kids get older, they don’t want to spend time with Mum and Dad all day. Holidays become ‘boring’ and monotonous and conversations dry up. Diving brings everyone together.
If you all scuba dive, it’s something to talk about over dinner, where to dive tomorrow or enjoy breakfast filling out logbooks. We tend to bicker amongst ourselves as to who saw the best thing or who managed to miss everything - too intent on that one tiny cuttlefish that made an appearance.
It’s quite amazing to witness the change in the family dynamic, and it’s all about being aware of each others’ strengths and weaknesses and respecting the roles we play on a dive.
So many families we’ve spoken to feel the same way - it’s a shared experience that is pretty unique. We saw a maturity in our children that perhaps wasn’t so obvious above the waves but was 100% there below them.
Please join in the debate on Facebook if you have any experiences to share. Equally, if you’re just starting your scuba adventure and have any concerns, we’ll be happy to help. Obviously no medical advice but we can put to bed some worries you might have - leaving you to get on with enjoying your diving!