My son did a tandem skydive on his sixth birthday. We were living in New Zealand at the time; a country that has no age restrictions. As long as you safely fit in the equipment, you can jump with a qualified instructor.
My son's instructor was his father and although I am completely confident in his skills and ability as a professional skydiver, I was a pacing and nervous mama on the ground as I waited for them to safely land.
And land safely they did. Next stop: birthday party complete with balloons, friends, lollies and cake. He was not overwhelmed, sick or scarred for life.
Nine year-old Brett, who recently completed his first skydive with his father, revelled in the experience.
His parents own Skydive Jurien Bay so, like my son, he is being raised in the skydiving community. Mum, Christine Sparrow says there was a positive change in him immediately after the jump.
“Everyone noticed a difference in him. He's not the most positive child; he sees the glass half empty but after that experience he was bullet proof. His confidence was sky high and there was a change in his demeanour,” she remembers.
Christine says she and partner Pete Lonnon let Brett decide when he wanted to do it and no pressure was ever put upon him.
“I would never have let him go until he was fully ready. We talked about waiting until his 10th birthday but he wanted to do it sooner so we put in the application,” says Christine.
Taking a child under the legal age of 12 is no easy feat. The sport is heavily regulated by the Australian Parachute Federation. In 2012, the minimum age was reduced from 14 to 12 due to participant and industry demand says APF Technical Officer Kim Hardwick.
Letting your child skydive is certainly not a decision to be made on a whim.
In order for anyone under 12 to do so, several forms and letters need to be approved by the chief instructor of the operation before submitting to the APF for permission.
They get roughly six applications per year and 90% of those come from skydiving families.
“One hundred percent of applications for children under 10 are from skydiving families; the youngest jumper was seven,” says Kim.
In 2010, licensed skydiver Yoko Yasui received permission for eight under age kids (including her own son, who is now 14 and has completed 15 tandem skydives with his father) from the Mission Beach Surf Life Saving Club's Nippers team to do tandem jumps as a demonstration into a local festival.
“I knew these were gutsy kids. The opportunity was open to the entire team but there were many parents who said no. That may have been for financial reasons but more likely it was due to fear. Before allowing your child to partake in any risky sport like rock climbing or skydiving, you have to assess them. And you have to ask, 'is this my fear or my child's',” says Yoko.
Sydney psychologist and fear specialist Anthony Gunn says that today's parents are more protective of their children and kids pick up their parents' emotions.
“If the parent is worried then it's likely the child will be too. If the parent is confident with a task like skydiving or motorbike riding, then the child will feed off this confidence. As motocross, skydiving, snowboarding and the like are naturally dangerous, it's tough for me to put a positive spin for parents to let their child try these activities,” he says.
When Penny Dobney agreed to let her son do a tandem on his twelfth birthday she thought she would be fine with it because she had already done three herself. But when the day came and the two of them were harnessed up waiting to get in the plane, anxiety kicked in.
“I was very nervous. He's so little and it's natural for a mum to be afraid that something horrible may happen. I went for my fourth jump at the same time so I was in the plane with him. I also made sure his tandem master was a father. I wanted someone who had that instinct and level of connection to look after my child up there,” she says.
Jumping out of an aeroplane is not going to be everyone's cuppa and many parents would never let their child do it. Now that Sydney has indoor skydiving, anyone can learn to fly and you don't even need a parachute.
The iFly Downunder Indoor Skydiving centre in Penrith have developed “taster” sessions especially for kids during school holidays and so far, the response has been fantastic says Chief Marketing Officer Brett Sheridan.
“We have been over-subscribed on all sessions during the holidays. It’s proving a fantastic alternative to mainstream sports and holiday activities,” he says.
Sheridan believes that parents find indoor skydiving a safer option for their adventurous child and says it also adds the opportunity for the entire family to be involved.
“Indoor skydiving is almost an exact simulation to the outdoor one. They are truly flying in the tunnel and not falling, therefore not only is it safe, but with our 360 degree glass chamber, family and friends can be part of the whole experience,” he explains.
My son, who is now eight, wants to be a skydiver someday. He has only done the one jump but if he wants to do another one before his twelfth birthday, we will apply to the APF and make that happen for him. But actually, he's keen to go to iFly so that may happen first.