Monday, November 9, 2009

Teenage Adventures Gone Too Far?

How far would you let your child go in following their dreams and desires? Would you let them go camping with friends? Take a missionary trip to South America? How about sail around the world alone? The reason I ask is because on July 16, 2009, 17-year-old Zac Sunderland became the youngest person to sail around the world solo. The journey took 13 months, and was riddled with problems. Yet he completed it safely and earned himself a place in the record books as one of the youngest persons to ever complete the journey.

He's got competition. 16-year-old Jessica Watson, From Sidney, Australia, just left in early October attempting the same feat. She planned on taking a more difficult, nonstop version of the journey, with the intention of shattering Sunderland's record in the process. But what really takes the cake is that a 13-year-old Dutch girl, Sailor Laura Dekker, also is planning to embark on the trip and put her name-in the record books. She had planned to launch earlier this year, that is, until Holland's child-protection services took custody of her for two months to block her voyage. She's back with her family, and still planning the trip. Now 14, she plans to wait until the school year ends to complete her voyage, assuming an Amsterdam court allows it. "Before I made the plan, I didn't expect (so much publicity), but now I'm trying to make the best of it," she said in a television interview. Laura has been sailing solo since she was six and says she began dreaming of a quest around the world when she was 10.

Sailing around the world is a daunting task, and accomplishing such a feat puts one in an elite club. Since Joshua Slocum became the first to do it in 1898, fewer than 250 people have solo-sailed around the globe. To put this in perspective, more than 3,000 people have reached the top of Mount Everest in only 56 years of climbing it.

Hearing such stories sorta gives you a new perspective about teen freedoms, doesn't it? Just think about this the next time your teen wants to go out with friends. I can almost hear it now: "But mom...Zac's parents let him sail all the way around the world, and you won't even let me spend the night at Jessy's house? Man you suck!" Whatever you do, be sure not to tell them about this article, because you'll never hear the end of it.

All in all, I'm not sure exactly how I feel about this. If it were my child, my tendency would be to say "You'll do such things over my dead body, because as soon as you leave, I would drop dead of a worry-induced heart attack anyway, so I might as well go down fighting." But there's also a part of me that wants to say "way to follow your dreams, kids." Often times I think society gets way too over-protective of children and adolescents in a way that hinders rather than helps them. After all, it wasn't all that long ago that 13-year-olds would be building their own huts, hunting wilder beast on the plains, and having children of their own. And if a child is really hell-bent on completing such a task, there may be little qualitative difference between letting them do it now versus waiting two to five years until they are eighteen. A lot would also depend on what safety measures could be put into place, and I'm afraid I don't know a lot about sailing. After all, you put your child at risk every time they get in the car to go somewhere. Still, it begs the question: Is this pushing the boundaries too far?

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