World Records from Teenage Wasteland

June 15th, 2010

I’ve noticed a strange dichotomy in the United States around how we collectively treat teenagers. On the one hand, we seem to coddle them — shielding our precious youngsters from adult responsibilities. But then we have American parents who apparently encourage their teenagers to take incredible risks, like in the case of Abby Sunderland, the 16 year old girl who attempted to sail solo around the world or Jordan Romero, the 13 year old boy who climbed Mt Everest last month. Both of these undertakings were extremely risky. Would these parents let their children spend a summer running a log skidder on the side of a mountain here in the Pacific Northwest? Because their chances of getting permanently maimed or killed is probably about the same (timber industry jobs are the second most dangerous in the US after fishing). I’m sure these parent would respond that their children had the training and equipment reducing the danger involved in either of these endeavors, but whether you’re crossing the Pacific Ocean by yourself or struggling up the Hilary Step, there is a lot one can’t control. Weather of course comes to mind. At the top of Everest or the middle of the Pacific, a sudden and unexpected change in the weather can be deadly. And one’s body can become the enemy as well. You never know how your body will react to being at 29,000 feet above sea level or how long you can survive acute appendicitis 1,200 miles from land.

This makes me wonder if parents often justify putting their children in peril if it could lead to a certain level of notoriety. This might not even be a trend isolated to the US — parents in other countries could be just as eager to let their kids engage in risky activities if they thought the payoff would be mega big, like a line in the record books. Of course this could just lead to a race among to parents to see who can push their kid to be the youngest to summit K2 or fly solo by balloon around the globe. Where would it all stop? At some point, I would hope we would all collectively stigmatize this trend as overly reckless, rather than encourage it but publicizing it so much.

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