It looked grim for a while yesterday, when the media was reporting that the sailboat carryingAbby Sunderland, the 16-year old seeking to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe solo by sea, had been lost. Now it looks like she may be safe after all, as a rescue of her crippled craft is underway in the Indian Ocean. That a tragedy may have been averted, however, doesn’t mitigate that unethical abdication of responsible parenting and trust by Abby’s parents that set the stage for a calamity.
Had the ill-conceived adventure ended fatally, it is certain that we would have heard her heart-broken parents eulogize their daughter as intrepid, courageous and mature beyond her appearance, who lived a full life in her sixteen years, and perished “living her dream.” All true, but those aren’t the facts that matter. What matters is that she is a dependent, trusting, sixteen-year old child who desperately needed her older and supposedly wiser parents to say “No. Being the youngest woman to sail around the world is good, living long enough to go to college, have a family, have a career and experience the joys of life over many decades is better. Sorry. It’s too dangerous. When you understand a little bit more about life, you may be capable of deciding when to risk it.”
They failed her, and the fact that she isn’t dead as a result is only luck.
The 13-year-old boy whose parents let him climb Mt. Everest—another useless record—survived. That doesn’t make his parents’ actions any less deplorable and irresponsible. He was probably was no more qualified for his dangerous quest than Abby Sunderland was for hers. Neither sets of parents should have allowed their young children to wager their remaining seventy years or so to set pointless records that they could lead wonderful lives without. The usual explanation by parents with precocious offspring (or, in other cases, talented offspring whose early entry into the workforce is too lucrative to pass up) is that children should be allowed to pursue their “dreams.” Sure they should—when their dreams aren’t likely to kill them, maim them, or rob them of their childhood.
Abby Sunderland, a 16-year-old girl with courage, skill and ambition, shouldn’t have been alone in a boat in the middle of the ocean. Her parents, and if not them, someone else in authority, should have made certain that she would have a chance to apply her courage, skill, and ambition to a lifetime of challenges and achievements, and not throw it all away on publicity-seeking stunt. Kids have lots of dreams, including some nightmares. It’s one of a parent’s jobs to teach their children the difference between dreams and reality, and the danger of not knowing the difference.