How young is too young?
This can be one of those questions with many answers. Although there are programs out there that do allow children to start some kind of Scuba as early as 8, we recommend 12 years of age is the earliest. Parents should keep in mind that 12 may be the minimum age many factors should be addressed before deciding if your child is ready for Scuba.
Physically: Children need to pass the same health questionnaire as adults and may need approval by a doctor before diving. Physical size and fitness is a major factor as the dive equipment is heavy and cumbersome even for adults. It can be difficult for smaller children to find gear that fits them and more difficult to handle that gear in and out of the water.
Mentally: Every Scuba diver of every age needs the mental capabilities to act responsibly underwater, make reasonable decisions and show the ability to take care of themselves and their buddy. I often compare this responsible to getting a learners permit for driving. An irresponsible diver like drivers can be a danger not only to themselves but to the people around them.
Academically: The academic portion of SCUBA is another factor to consider with our younger divers. Many of the basic concepts of diving are not new to many adults however they can be completely new to a 12 year old. Some extra help or attention may be needed both at home and in the classroom to ensure all subjects are understood.
Should you get your child into Scuba?
This needs to be decided on a case by case basis. Does your child really want to Scuba dive or do you want them to Scuba dive? Deciding to take up any sport should be the participants choice. Think about who is going to be diving with your child. Junior Dive certification requires an adult diver with them at all times. This can be great bonding time between parents but if there is no family members able or willing to dive, it can be difficult to find a dive buddy.
A great way to get your child interested in the idea of scuba diving and excited about the underwater world, is to get them involved with snorkeling. Snorkeling is a great activity for all ages, even as young as 3 years old, and will not only pique your child's interest, but will get them comfortable in the water and using a mask, snorkel, and fins. Start them off in a pool or even the tub at home, and progress to more challenging environments once the child is comfortable and confident.
For further information on children and diving please check this great article from the Dive Alert Network