If you’ve ever raised a kid, you’ll recognize this scenario:
When my son was 16 and we lived in New York, he asked if he could spend winter vacation at someone’s ski condo in Vermont with five or six of his skateboarding friends, all his age.
Let’s see: A 200-mile journey with no fully licensed driver. Unchaperoned. He would need a credit card or lots of cash for food, rentals, lifts, gear, whatever. [It was the whatever that I worried about the most.]
I gave this request a full half-second of consideration, looked him in the eye and replied, “No, a thousand times no.”
I’m sure I don’t have to describe the response, but it wasn’t pretty.
Pressed to explain my decision, I mentioned the fact that 1/neither one of us could afford this little junket, 2/none of the boys in the group had full driver’s privileges or any experience driving in Vermont snow, 3/if one got hurt snowboarding, no emergency room would treat him without a parent’s permission, and most of all 4/if I let him travel to another state without an adult, I could be arrested for failure to supervise my child.
He still didn’t get it.
The other boys went and, sure enough, one broke a bone going downhill on a snowboard. One of that boy’s parents had to drop everything and race 200 miles in the dead of winter to get the kid admitted to an ER a full 20 miles from the slopes. Oh well.
Thinking back, I wonder if I would have responded differently had my son said, “No worry, Mom, I’ve raised $3,000 for this trip through tee-shirt sales, corporate sponsorships and donations to my website, AND, two different military rescue units have promised to swoop in, if anything goes wrong.”
You probably see where this is headed.
I’ve been fascinated by the story of Abby Sunderland, the teenaged sailor rescued off the coast of India a few weeks ago. She lost her boat when 30-foot waves pummeled it, leaving the mast standing at a height of 2 inches and the hull full of water.
To finish this story, click on Read More, below right.
According to news reports and their own blog, her parents did not appear to be fazed when they heard of her distress, saying she was an experienced sailor and they were sure she could handle the situation. Apparently, US, British and Australian navies thought differently, and took off to find her.
I guess she was all right, since she was alive when they found her.
Not to take away from their daughter’s skill and accomplishments, I wonder about these parents, don’t you? Aside from the risk of death every single day for the length of the trip, what was this great experience they were allowing her to have? Abject loneliness? The loss of two years of high school? Relentless overexposure to UV?
Maybe my son just wasn’t very imaginative, but I don’t think many kids ask their parents if they can sail around the world. That idea had to start somewhere else. And to make it happen, this trip must have been planned down to the last droplet of drinking water, years in advance.
First, there were the expenses. The boat alone must have cost at least $250,000, then there were the fittings, gear, special equipment and supplies. Apparently Abby did fundraising before, during and after the trip, as you can see on her website.
Rescue was important, and we saw how that went down, with the whole world watching. According to news reports, the family was not charged a penny.
Then there’s the ethical – and maybe legal – issue. When does a parent cross the line from being open-minded and generous to being neglectful?
All kids are risk takers, by nature, but how much of this trip was a publicity stunt and how much an expression of a child’s developmental need to test her strength?
Assuming she finished her trip, got her name in the Guinness Book of World Records, and returned to southern California, then what?
How would she have fit back into her high school crowd, after skipping a couple of years of emotional and social development – not to mention fads and youth culture phenomena – plus an important component of her education?
If you’ve proven you can outdo every other person your age on the planet at an extreme sport, how do you make friends with anyone but superheroes? Who would go out with her? Who would hire her for a job commensurate with her (incomplete) education and (amazing but specialized) skills? Even colleges might be hesitant to accept a proven risk-taker like her, if and when she finishes high school. How would she feel being the oldest person in the class? These aren’t big things to adults, but they ARE to adolescents.
Looking ahead, if she had finished, how could she ever top that feat? What would she do for the next 60 years to prove she was better than everyone else? Isn’t that what this trip was all about? If not, what’s the point of a world record?
I’m surprised her parents didn’t encourage her to wait until she was out of school before making this trip. The ocean will still be there five years from now with the same waves, same storms, same risk, same great experience, but no world record.
Maybe I just don't get it. Must run in the family.
All I know is it’s not always easy to remember that kids are not simply small adults, but people-in-progress, human beings who need to take small risks, one at a time, until they’re able to handle the big ones. If they skip ahead too fast, kids may miss important steps to maturity, and have a very difficult time catching up, especially if they’re famous. (Think Lindsay Lohan, Michael Jackson)
Aside from that, all I can say is thanks a lot, Mr. and Mrs. Sunderland, for making it almost impossible for any parent to now say no to an outlandish request from their precocious teen.
To read Abby’s tale, go to her blog here .
Her parents blog here.