Teen sailor Abby Sunderland found, but are quests like hers wise?
Rescue boats are on their way to the 16-year-old who was attempting to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe solo. Sports and child development experts see red flags in stories like hers.
As a French fishing vessel crosses the Indian Ocean to rescue 16-year-old Abby Sunderland stranded in her quest to circumnavigate the globe, debate has been sparked worldwide: Was this a sound project in the first place?Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
With more and more teenagers attempting record feats such as circumnavigating the globe alone and climbing Mt. Everest, the questions pour out: How young is too young? What are the roles of society and parents in this growing phenomenon? Are kids making their own decisions? When are they mature enough? Who says?
Sports psychologists and development experts say Ms. Sunderland's case is a welcome opportunity to wrestle with these questions and raise consciousness.
Abby is the younger sister of 17-year-old Zac Sunderland, who made history last year by becoming the youngest person to complete a solo global circumnavigation, setting sail at just 16 years old. Starting from Marina Del Rey June 14, 2008, he sailed a 36-ft. sloop 28,000 miles, braving storms, equipment failures, close calls with freighters, and a run-in with suspected pirates. He arrived back in Marina Del Rey July 16, 2009 to worldwide acclaim.
Abby set sail in January in a 40-ft. boat to best her brother’s record.
Sports development experts see red flags in stories like the Sunderlands'.
“I don’t think that record breaking is a bad idea in and of itself,” says Dave Czesniuk, director of operations at the Center for the Study of Sports in Society at Northeastern University. “What must be asked is whether or not this achievement is coming at the expense of normal development in other endeavors, academically, emotionally, socially. The entire context of the youth in question needs to be weighed.”
Mr. Czesniuk and others say one key issue is whether or not a child is making up his or her own mind.
“I am more interested in what the adults are thinking than the kids,” says Dr. Ben Agger, director of the Center for Theory at the University of Texas, Arlington's Sociology department. He says the younger a person is, the more the danger that it is the parent running the show and not any motivation of the child.
Many parents put their young children in sports with dreams not just of college scholarships, but major-league careers the moment the child shows the slightest aptitude.