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Would you allow a 12 - 14 year old to:
fly an airplane?
drive a motor vehicle?
be legally responsible for decisions made?
make medical and health judgments?
make life threatening or life-saving decisions for his/her buddy?
Hmm... Some of the kids I know, I would have no problem giving the above types of responsibility. In fact there are a number of kids under the age of 16, that I've certified, that I would trust with the above responsibilities more than some of the adults I know.
There are several additional factors that a Scuba Instructor must consider when certifying a young person. The following factors are also considered for an adult diver, but not to the same degree as they are with children. These factors include, but are not limited to, psychological maturity, adult or parental dependency, physical maturity, and medical aspects of younger, growing people.
Psychological maturity: Certification implies that the diver can make informed judgment decisions about dive planning, environmental conditions, equipment use, emergency situations, and the interrelationships of each. For a dive to be safe, this judgment is essential and is directly related to maturity and experience, not just intelligence.
Most children have no difficulty handling the intellectual content of the diving course, but sometimes have difficulty with its application. Unfortunately, children do not have the understanding of mortality and the implications of morbidity as do most adults. That is what makes them children. They tend to be more immediate in their gratification needs, accompanied by a shorter attention span.
Materialistic factors also come into play. Kids are less likely to abort a dive if they have already committed themselves financially or logistically. Especially if Dad or Mom hasn't aborted the dive.
Psychological reactions are also different in children. Kids react with behavior that, in adults, would be abnormal. They are far more likely to display anxiety or hysterical reactions, and the control of these is part of the maturation process. The appropriate response to a life threatening situation is not to burst into tears. Unfortunately, this is a child's natural reaction, and is often very successful in obtaining assistance on the surface. But underwater, tears are not easily seen through a mask and tend to simply add to the ocean environment. Psychological endurance and perseverance are characteristics which develop with age. Imagination is a characteristic that is endearing, but makes kids susceptible to fear and terror.
Parental Dependency: Children are dependent. They slowly mature to become independent, and act responsibly. Thus they are more likely to rely on the statements and decisions of their parent, as opposed to deciding what they themselves are capable of doing. This might be all right on a trip to the zoo, but it is not good in open water diving. The Dad or Mom is likely to be experiencing stress in the open water environment as well.
In the underwater environment, divers have to be self reliant and to recognize their own limitations, but also have to be able to act accordingly. They are responsible for the safety and rescue of their companions. Children are vulnerable to suggestion and very easily impressed. They can be intimidated directly by their parents, and also by the encouragement and enthusiasm their parents give them. If the parent is an experienced, knowledgeable, and safe diver, then this can be helpful. If the parent is not, it can be fatal to one or both.
Physical Immaturity: The problems with equipment purchase for younger people include the need to upgrade regularly during the growing years. Unfortunately, sometimes the equipment that is provided for the child is of less quality and therefore less expensive. There is the very real problem with this type of thinking. Sooner or later, the child will have to swim against unexpected tides and currents to return to safety. Some children may not have the physical ability or psychological endurance in such an emergency. Lower quality equipment simply exacerbates the problem.
A child could have great difficulty in coping with the rescue of a larger "buddy". With physical immaturity, children are far more likely to abort the rescue, save themselves, and notify others of the emergency. Although this is the proper response to a situation that they cannot handle, it places the buddy in jeopardy.
Medical Aspects: The upper and lower respiratory passages are much narrower in comparison to the air cavities associated with them. Barotrauma is more common in children exposed to pressure changes than in adults. Pulmonary Barotrauma and arterial gas embolism are of major concern in children. There is still growth of organs, where a bubble can do more damage than it would in a full sized adult. Tissues that could be affected include the brain, inner ear, bone, coronary artery, and the like. The worry here is that for the same degree of bubble development, there would be greater ultimate damage.
OK, so when is it safe for people under the age
of 16 to dive?? In my opinion, kids under the age of
16 should only have diving experiences under the following,
moderately safe conditions:
1. The most important condition that has to exist, if all involved divers are going to be safe, is he/she has to want to dive, without parental or peer pressure! Nothing is more dangerous than a child that doesn't want to dive and is forced into it by Dad, because he's "already paid for training/dive trip".
2. They are physically, mentally, and medically fit to dive.
3. The depth exposure is limited to 40 feet. Although this won't prevent pulmonary barotrauma or a cerebral arterial gas embolism, it will help to prevent decompression sickness if the bottom time is not excessive.
4. They have demonstrated self confidence and self reliance.
5. Dives are in safe environmental conditions whereby the child plans the entire dive and is supervised by a certified adult.
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