Is 14 too young for a girl to sail solo around the world? A Dutch court finally let 14-year-old Laura Dekker loose this month on the open seas, where the teen will try to set the record as the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe. This summer a 16-year-old California girl attempted a similar ambitious trip and had to be rescued from the stormy south Indian Ocean after high waves rolled her 40-foot boat.
As a mom who had a hard time leaving her 11-year-old daughter alone on her first public middle school campus this week, I struggle to understand the parental logic behind these solo voyages. Is this child endangerment or one helluva adventure? We set height and age limits on roller coasters. Should there be limits on thrill-seeking quests?
Do we applaud or cringe at kids like Jordan Romero, a 13-year-old from California who became the youngest to climb Mount Everest earlier this year? Or Tiger Brewer, 8, who set the world record for the youngest wing-walker last year, when he flew standing on the wing of his grandfather's biplane traveling at 100 miles per hour 1,000 feet above England?
Faced with mounting complaints and safety concerns – not too mention a disturbing downward trend of kids trying to set records at younger and younger ages – Guinness World Records and the World Sailing Speed Record Council have stopped recognizing record-setters in a "youngest" category. So what's the motivation? Is it the sense of accomplishment? The allure of media attention? The big bucks of sponsorships? As Laura set sail, news reports claim a reality TV show is filming her voyage.
By all accounts, this is a headstrong young lady who was born on a boat and is a skilled sailor motivated by bluewater passion and youthful ambition. I have to admit, I got goosebumps watching the video of her pushing off http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baRwvEorvGU. Is it wrong of us to dismiss this young woman because of her age?Are we so busy hovering over our kids that we're squelching the next Amelia Earhart?
I don't like the idea of the government or anybody else overriding the authority of parents when it comes to deciding a child's capabilities. But should parents be held responsible if they approve, or even encourage, a kid's daredevil attempts? And what about the poor schmucks the kid puts in danger, especially if a rescue mission has to be launched in treacherous waters as they were with the California teen last month? (The captain of the boat that rescued her fell into the ocean and had to be fished out.)
In 1996, a 7-year-old girl died attempting to become the youngest to pilot a plane across America. Soon after, Congress passed the Child Pilot Safety Act, which bans record-setting attempts by unlicensed pilots. I think most people would agree that 7 is a little too young to be piloting a plane or any other vessel. But what age isn't?