Brave Parenting?

One of the contributing editors at Outdoors magazine wrote this op-ed piece that touched a nerve with me.

Remember Abby Sunderland, the 16-year-old girl from California who attempted to sail solo around the world, only to be rescued by a French fishing vessel? Not surprisingly, her parents have received a lot of flak for allowing their daughter to sail alone in the first place. Bruce Barcott, editor at Outdoors, said the opposite. The Sunderlands were simply exhibiting a rare virtuous trait: “brave parenting.”

Read on:

Now that Abby’s OK, the inevitable storm of criticism is raining down on her parents, Laurence and Marianne, who wished their daughter bon voyage when she cast off from Marina del Rey, Calif., in January. Allowing a 16-year-old girl to sail alone around the world — were they insane?

Not at all. Unusual, yes. But hardly “the worst parents in the world,” as I’ve heard them called recently. In fact, they may be the opposite. Like Paul Romero, the father of Jordan Romero, the  13-year-old Big Bear Lake teenager who climbed Mount Everest last month, the Sunderlands are practicing something bold and rare these days: brave parenting.

Raising kids today (I have an 11-year-old and an 8-year-old) is like working on a construction site with an overzealous risk manager. Everywhere you look there are signs reminding parents that Safety Is Job One. We’re told to cut up hot dogs and grapes to prevent choking, to lash the kids into car seats, to never let them out of sight at the park. A certain amount of this is progress, of course. I’d rather my kids not launch through the windshield like human missiles in a head-on, thank you.

But in our obsession with safety, we’ve lost sight of the upside of risk, danger and even injury: raising bold children prepared for adventure and eager to embrace the unfamiliar.

Okay, I will stop right there. First of all, Abby Sunderland’s parents were also reluctant to allow their daughter to sail around the world solo. But she insisted so they caved. “Brave” parenting? I don’t think so.

But I digress. My main beef with this article is the way Barcott equated prohibiting your kid to sail solo around the world to never letting them play outside.

It’s true that child obesity rates in this country are up, partly due to the lack of outdoor activity. Barcott listed some disturbing statistics such as how children today are less likely than previous generations to ride their bike or walk to school, or even play in their neighborhood parks alone. But I really do not believe this is emblematic of helicopter parenting — but the opposite.

With more parents working outside the home and for longer hours, sadly for many children in this country, there isn’t an adult to make sure that kids engage in healthy and safe afterschool activities. In many urban centers, traffic and crime are legitimate concerns.

But rules and regulations such as the choking label on hot dogs are emblematic of another sad reality in our country, that of our lawsuit culture. Unfortunately, there are parents out there that if their child did choke on a hot dog, or fly out of the windshield of a car, they would sue for not having been told this information in the first place. I think in some of these instances the parents simply do not have insurance to cover medical bills and/or funeral expenses, so they lash out at the companies instead.

But you can’t blame corporations, the government, or even parents, for this reality.