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For the record

Yesterday, I was wandering through my RSS feed and I saw a post that pissed me off to the point I felt the need to write about it.

The post:
No one could have predicted:
A 16-year-old girl trying to sail solo around the world was missing in the Indian Ocean some 2,000 miles east of Madagascar, according to her family, who said Thursday that she had encountered treacherous seas.

The girl, Abby Sunderland of Thousand Oaks, Calif., departed alone Jan. 23 in her sailboat Wild Eyes. On Thursday, she lost satellite phone contact with her family and set off emergency beacons, triggering a rescue effort by United States, Australian and French authorities. Ms. Sunderland was trying to break the record for the youngest sailor to circumnavigate the globe, a title held briefly by her older brother Zac, who completed his sail last year at 17.

If these assholes have any other kids, TAKE THEM AWAY NOW.
I had a viceral, angry reaction to this when I read it, well before the news came that the kid was located and seemed to be fine.

It's hard to articulate, but I think that it comes from a real dislike of making vast generalized statements about individuals. Yes, by and large sixteen year olds are unlikely to have the maturity and skill level to make a voyage of this type. MOST ADULTS don't have the maturity and skill level to do something like this. But that doesn't mean ALL sixteen year olds are incapable. By all accounts, this particular kid has been sailing since she was crawling. Her family is very much seagoing, and she's been preparing for something like this her whole life. She trained, she studied (believe me, sailing requires a LOT of book knowledge), and she spent thousands upon thousands of hours in boats. Because her brother did it the year before, she (and her family) knew exactly what she was getting herself into and she was as prepared as anyone yelling for her parents' head could have been.

I don't remember hearing "take the kids away" chants last year when her brother did this. Maybe if something went wrong, they would have. But, I also think that there's probably a lot of sexism entwined here. They let a GIRL do this? How could they!!!

Another aspect that pisses me off is this notion that kids are kids until they're not. There's this sudden bolt of lightning that hits at 18 or something that magically makes them human beings. There's a development curve there, and each kid is different. And each kid has to be given a level of trust over time, let loose on the reins, or else they're not going to have a clue how to be a responsible adult when they are bestowed with that title. Not all kids mature at the same rate, and part of parenting is knowing what the kid's limits are and accommodating expectations based on those limits. Yes, having a net to catch them when they fall is imparative, but let them at least try to reach out a little.

The very weekend after I turned 16 and got my driver's license, my parents left me in charge of my three younger siblings and went to the ranch by themselves. I'd demonstrated over the years a certain level of maturity and responsibility that allowed them to trust me to take care of everyone. I'd been babysitting everyone since I was nine, and I was (and continue to be) a naturally responsible person. That first weekend, I took my siblings to a restaurant that was three blocks from our house. We had a lovely dinner and then went home. A few hours later, a person was killed and two others were shot in a restaurant in the same shopping center. Had we still been in that shopping area at the time, who knows what would have happened? I'm not terribly convinced that my parents being there would have made things better or worse, but I do know that there would have been a lot of criticism if we'd been caught up in that thing without them there.

I'm also pissed off at the ultimate solution offered by the blogger to parents who don't make the right decision when it comes to judgement calls on their kids. These parents, even if they were wrong in allowing their daughter to do this, aren't intrinsically bad parents based off of this one decision. They've made this particular decision before with another child, to no apparent ill effect. They apparently were in constant contact with their daughter, and if they failed in guiding her and keeping her out of harms way, many thousands more have done worse, with malicious intent.

At any rate, part of parenting (I say as a non-parent) is knowing when to hold on and when to let your kids go. And sometimes you may miscalculate. It seems like this particular girl did exactly what she was supposed to do under the circumstance she found herself. She was able to recognize that she was in trouble, signal for help, secure her vessel as best she could under the circumstances (keeping it relatively seaworthy if not for the broken mast) and waiting for help. She was even able to communicate everything that was going on to her rescuers. I'm hard pressed to see what she did that an adult could have done better.

This isn't to say that I would have made the same choices with my kid. It's a ridiculously fact dependent scenario. When Graham and I talked about it last night, his response was, well, they can do whatever they want when they're 18. And I said, but what if they want to do something when they're not quite 18? The decision would be up to us. And that's where parenting would come in. Our kid would have to have demonstrated to us a ton of things in order to do something like this, and we'd have to weigh the pros and cons based off what we know about our kid, know about what they're doing, and then assess the risk. Maybe the kid will be convincing, maybe not. I don't see us as the type of parents that would be particularly interested in the demands of a professional child, whether it's an athlete or some other sort of activity that becomes a life obsession, but if our kid showed particular promise and interest, maybe we'd look into the time, money and effort that comes with being that sort of parent.

The blog that irritated me yesterday did follow up with a post today updating on the girl's condition now.

I'm not 100% ok with this particular decision, because I'm not wildly thrilled about going for records for their own sake, and it sounds like the time of year wasn't really all that great for this type of trip. But it does sound like this particular girl was very capable, and she was able to handle herself in a crisis. And I think those characteristics are a very good reflection on her parents.

ETA: Discussion on Broadsheet about this.

Another at Shakesville


( 12 comments — Say something )
Jun. 11th, 2010 09:13 pm (UTC)
I don't much care for the idea of letting your 16-year-old sail around the world solo, but I can understand why these parents made this decision for this particular 16-year-old. And I'm very glad that it didn't end badly.

The one that did piss me off, and still does to this day, was the case of Jessica Dubroff, the 7-year-old girl who was killed in a plane crash along with her father and flight instructor while trying to set a record for "youngest female pilot". (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jessica_Dubroff) A 16-year-old doing stuff like that, I can see. A 7-year-old (she was almost 8, but still)? That's just crazy. (For the record, my elder daughter just turned 6.)

Having said that, I also understand the "What were they thinking?" attitude. The vast majority of 16-year-olds aren't that responsible or capable. Hell, most adults couldn't do what she tried to do. I agree with your perspective, and I say that as a fan of the blog in question, but I definitely get where he's coming from.

-- Kuff
Jun. 11th, 2010 09:24 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's why I don't like this sort of record seeking, though it's definitely a fact driven analysis on both the age and the activity. Record for youngest performance at Carnagie Hall? MAYBE that's something that's ok for kids to shoot for (though that's a whole other set of issues involving performance pressure on really young kids that may not be able to handle things). Youngest to drop out of an airplane solo at 10,000 feet? Not so interested in seeing little little kids go for this.

I think I probably wouldn't have been as irritated with the blog post if it had been less punative in tone.
Jun. 19th, 2010 06:08 am (UTC)
I like to think of these moments as insights to why it took George W Bush for John Cole to reject the GOP
Jun. 11th, 2010 10:53 pm (UTC)

I agree - people jumping around looking for parental heads to roll seem a bit off in this case. I honestly don't think the parents did anything wrong and that the family and the almost adult child in question knew exactly what they were doing and took the proper safety and training into consideration. This was not just some crackpot lark ...
Jun. 11th, 2010 11:34 pm (UTC)
after mostly-raising my two kids, i can see why the parents may have said "ok". my daughter at 16 was AGES beyond my son at 16 in maturity, and ability to keep her head when stuff went wrong.

my son...i wonder about sending him to check the mail sometimes. (ok, i did when he was 13, now ROTC is helping him a lot in the maturity department at nearly-17.)

the *average* coddled, spoiled, never made to hold a responsibility, regular kid probably wouldnt be able to sail around the world. personally, i wouldnt let an 8 year old pilot a plane, but then again, i'm counting by MY kids.

take the kids away? no. have a discussion with the parents and children to see if the risks and responsibilities were really understood? i can see that.

(oh, and forget the fact you dont have kids, sweetie. common sense and parenting dont always go together, and you show LOTS of common sense.)
Jun. 11th, 2010 11:37 pm (UTC)
I remember reading The Dove in middle school, and thinking the same thing, "wow, how risky on the part of his parents!" But they knew he was ready. We have to trust parents when they trust their kids. If we second-guess everyone .... well, there'd be no time for anything else.
Jun. 12th, 2010 03:28 am (UTC)
While I highly doubt that I'd allow my child to do something like this (helicopter mother? me?), I feel compelled to point out that this kid made it from Los Angeles to somewhere near Australia, around both Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope, on her own, through storms, mechanical problems, long periods of solitude, and whatever else the sea has thrown at her since January. She's clearly very capable. Have you read her blog? A lot of it is pretty technical sailing talk, but she strikes me as more than trustworthy and capable of this trip.
Jun. 12th, 2010 03:35 am (UTC)
Her dad was interviewed and made a good point - we let our teenagers drive. Where they will not just be a danger to themselves but to others.

I think kids are often really ready to do some serious things at that age and suffer from being prevented from doing so because of safety reasons. The situation certainly depends on a lot of factors, but we as a society have become much more safety-oriented... though our particular community embraces a more risk embracing attitude.
Jun. 12th, 2010 09:19 am (UTC)
I posted a rant about Sunderland (#16, here http://hawaiithreads.com/showthread.php?t=18443)and other high risk takers and it had nothing to do with her being female and not particularly so much that she was 16 other than that her age was a driving factor in her choosing to sail an extraordinarily dangerous route at a dangerous time for self-serving purposes. As I said, I don't mind competent people taking high risks voluntarily but I do mind if they expect others to risk their own lives and spend resources rescuing them if they are foolhardy and it goes badly. LikaNui, the person who started the thread in the link I posted, is a sailing expert. She posted this article as something that, according to her, most boating experts are saying: http://www.latitude38.com/lectronic/lectronicday.lasso?date=2010-06-11&dayid=438
Jun. 12th, 2010 09:27 am (UTC)
The part that particularly got me angry wasn't that, in general, a 16 year old or even a 16 year old female, was sailing the world alone but that she was sailing in winter seas in a place that even the most seasoned and expert sailors would wait a whole year to sail to avoid having to sail during the winter because sailing there during the winter is so dangerous and foolhardly and she did it for the Sole reason that if she waited any longer she would be too old to try to break a world record. and, as judgmental as it makes me, yes, I think her parents are irresponsible and bad parents to not just allow but encourage her to do that just to seek the chance of the brief fame and thrill that may result if she should succeed without apparent concern for the much higher risk that she'd be seriously harmed or die trying this stunt and that other people may be harmed or die in trying to rescue her.
Jun. 12th, 2010 02:59 pm (UTC)
Bigger Picture
and bigger issue is regarding all these slightly crazy individuals who set out on risky missions over water, mountain, jungle or desert and expect countries, agencies or in the case of the girl sailing around the world nearby fisherman who are ordered to drop what they are doing and sail to her rescue.
Every adventurer should have to post an international bond that covers the reasonable cost of rescue which at least 50% of them seem to require.
You or your parents if under age should be free to put their or your life at risk if you desire but the rest of the world should not have to pay for it.
Jun. 13th, 2010 09:27 pm (UTC)
For anyone who thinks this attempt to sail the world was solely Abby's dream and her wish to fulfill herself and that her parents were only being supportive of her dream, consider that her parents are trying to market their own reality show and that a large "hook" for the show was Abby's attempt.

( 12 comments — Say something )


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