This weekend, 16 year old Abby Sunderland of California was rescued from her stranded sailboat in the Indian Ocean, forcing her to abort the journey around the world she started almost 6 months ago. A wave had overtaken her tiny capsule and broke the mast on her cherished sailboat. For three days the teenage sailor was left to helplessly drift in the open sea until a French fishing boat located her and pulled her aboard.
Abby is just one of many teens who are venturing out from the safety of their parents’ homes to attract international attention as they attempt to accomplish feats beyond their years. Just the year before, Abby’s older brother completed the feat of sailing the world at age 17, becoming the youngest person ever to sail the globe. 13 year old Jordan Romero, also from California, recently became the youngest person to ever climb Mt. Everest. He has already scaled the world’s highest peaks in 6 different continents. And just recently, a 14 year old Petaluma teen contacted me regarding his planned walk from his hometown all the way to Los Angeles on his own to raise awareness about cancer.
I remember being a teen a long time ago (alright, not THAT long ago…). My visions were huge, the world was full of possibilities. Every feeling I experienced nearly grounded me in its sheer magnitude. If I was sad, there was no possible way anyone could be sadder than me. If I was excited about something, the passion mounting up inside was overwhelming. And if I believed in something, I believed in it to the very core of my being. I don’t believe I’ve ever been as enthusiastic about every aspect of my life as I was when I was a teenager. And I don’t believe I’ve ever felt more invincible. I had my whole life mapped out (even if that map changed from day to day), and didn’t even see the possibility that any of my plans or beliefs could ever fail. So I totally get why the teens of the latest news stories are out there attempting the hugely difficult tasks they have created for themselves.
But there’s a different side of the story, and that is the role of the parents. As a mother, I look at my 12 year old daughter and 9 year old son and couldn’t imagine letting them venture off on their own to face perilous circumstances just to create a name for themselves or the belief they are fighting for – no matter what their argument is for their cause. Even remembering my teenage jealousy over friends who traveled Europe or some other country with only their peers as companions has me now shaking in my boots should my own children request something along the same lines. I have spent the last 12 years (so far) protecting them from harm’s way, my whole life taking a 180 degree turn to become all about them. Although I know there will come a day when I will have no choice but to let them spread their wings and fly the coop, I can promise you that my children’s name will not be on that list of young adventurers going solo on their own risk-taking experience as long as they are under the legal age and in my care.
At 16 years old, most kids are not capable of staying in their own home for days at a time without a parent guardian there to take care of them. They are still too young to visit a foreign country on their own without someone there to ensure that all of their fundamental needs are being met and that they are kept safe. They are still kids, not even old enough to be trusted to vote for political leaders who will have a huge impact on their way of life in this country, or even their state. So I have a hard time understanding how Abby Sunderland’s parents could wish their daughter well and permit her to embark on this journey with only technology to keep in contact, allowing her to fend for herself when the dangers of the sea – pirates, sharks, and the tempestuous ocean, to name a few – would be threatening the very life of their daughter.
Am I alone here?