Other than youth wet suits that contain built-in flotation devices — or the odd, extremely expensive wet suit made for that tiny scuba diver or mini-athlete in the family — these swimsuits for kids are mostly about style.
Yes, they slow down heat loss from the swimmer’s body and yes, even without a built in flotation device, they provide some small measure of buoyancy; but they are mostly about having your little one look good at the beach or in the pool. Made from most of today’s popular swimsuit materials, these wetsuits come in a variety of flashy colors and even flashier designs that look like space age swimming devices.
You’ll see little ones trotting around the beaches in bright red and orange-colored wet suits that are so thin they barely provide protection from the sun, not to mention, the water. In fact, one mother told me she dresses her son in a youth wet suit predominately because she prefers not to slather on the sun goop every time he goes outdoors to swim and because he thinks he looks cool.
There are manufacturers that specialize in professionally made, expertly designed youth wet suits that are most definitely not simply a fashion statement or sun protection. Wet suits made for kids who scuba dive are actually more thermal heat loss resistant than the adult varieties for a few basic reasons.
One is that children’s hearts beat faster. Their body metabolism operates at a higher rate than adults simply because they are still growing. As a result, children will lose body heat faster in the same temperature of water as an adult. Therefore, youth wet suits have to be just a little better at preventing heat loss than the adult versions if a child is to stay submerged for the same time as the adult who is usually accompanying him on a dive.
The second reason is that because the body mass of a growing child is much smaller, and much less dense than an adult — even if the two metabolisms are somehow identical — the child will still lose body heat at a faster rate. And once again, the properly designed youth wet suit will have taken this into account.