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Kids Should Not Be Extreme Adventurers
by Jon Heshka

This year has seen several instances of children doing extreme adventure or extreme sport and raises some interesting questions about the role their parents play in it.

Two months ago, Jordan Romero, 13, of Big Bear, became the youngest person to climb 8848 m Mt. Everest. He became a cause célèbre while also earning the enmity of some who believe the risks of climbing such a peak are too great for a child to take on.

It is a statistical fact that 8 climbers die for every 100 who summit Mt. Everest. Those celebrating Jordan's conquest of the mountain would likely be whistling a different tune if he had died in an avalanche, in a fall, of exposure, or a high altitude-related illness.

The next media darling was 16-year-old Abby Sunderland who was adrift for 20 hours in the southern Indian Ocean while attempting a solo sail around the world. Waves as tall as a three story building disabled her boat leaving it with a broken mast and sail dragging in the ocean.

Abby's dad appeared on NBC Today and the world watched with rapt attention that this child wunderkind should survive something so adventurous and dangerous.

Then the Dutch courts waded into the choppy waters of kids and extreme adventure. The Utrecht District Court had placed Laura Dekker, 13, into state care last year to stop her attempt to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world and held that it would have been irresponsible to permit her to undertake such a venture into extreme circumstances. The ruling was recently overturned and Laura is now preparing for her trip.

And this autumn 13-year-old Peter Lenz died in a warm-up to a motorcycle race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he came off his bike and was run over by a 12-year-old competitor.

The role luck plays in extreme sport should not be underestimated and we should not kid ourselves that skill alone can prevent death or injury in such circumstances.

All of this raises some interesting ethical and legal questions about minors and extreme sport. To what extent is a minor capable to make an informed decision and an uncoerced choice to either sail around the world, climb Mt. Everest, or motorcycle race at speeds of 120 mph?

What role do parents play in encouraging or discouraging their child in such circumstances? Are these instances of parents living vicariously (and dangerously) through their children?

We collectively stick our heads in the sand to the ethics of kids taking on extreme risk. A line has to be drawn somewhere saying enough is enough and that some risks are too great for a child to take on.

We are not talking about a nanny state here which prohibits people from pursuing activities which may be hazardous to their health. This is about parents being responsible for their children and — if they are incapable of doing so — the state stepping in and doing the right thing. Kids cannot and should not be expected to do extreme adventure.

These events ought to give us pause about children who feel impelled — or are coerced — to take on extreme risk, our society's celebration of these kids who somehow succeed in the face of such danger, and our reaction when the inevitable happens and a kid comes home from a failed adventure in a coffin.

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