June 11th, 2010

shoot me

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