Friday, June 11, 2010

The cult of safety

They're at it again, the cult of "we must keep our children safe!", today snarling about 16-year old round-the-world sailor Abby Sunderland, whose sailboat is adrift in the Indian Ocean today with a broken mast, saying "her parents should have stopped her!". Especially insulting are the people who bring up 7-year-old Jessica Dubroff, killed with her father and flight instructor at the wheel of a small aircraft that she didn't have the experience to take off in the bad weather she took off in. At which point I gotta say... are you fuckin' kidding me?!

Look. A 7 year old is just a baby. She mostly wants whatever Mommy and Daddy wants, and mostly does whatever Mommy and Daddy says to do and lacks the ability to think abstractly. A 16 year old, on the other hand, is a full-fledged person, with her own wants and desires and the ability to reason and think both concretely and abstractly. Stop a 16 year old from doing something dangerous? SNORT! No, you can't stop a 16 year old from doing something dangerous, all you can hope is that you damn well raised her well enough that when she does do something dangerous (which she will do), it's something that won't end up with her dead or permanently harmed.

I dealt with plenty of 16 year olds in my teaching career, and while they're prone to hormonal flights of fancy and bursts of irrational enthusiasm they're perfectly capable of being level-headed and resourceful in the face of adversity. From reading young Ms. Sunderland's blog, she seems pretty typical of the 16 year old that I'm describing here, she's a healthy level-headed resourceful young lady who is irrationally enthusiastic about sailing and has approached it with every bit of obsessiveness that 16 year olds are prone to when they get such an irrational enthusiasm. To compare a 16 year old like this who is her own person to a 7 year old is, frankly, insulting.

And if we're talking safety, if I was going to parent a 16 year old girl, I'd rather have one out in the middle of the Indian Ocean with all the proper safety equipment where I know she ain't gettin' pregnant or picking up a STD or getting date-raped or doing drugs or shit, than deal with raising a 16 year old in regular society. Being a 16 year old girl simply isn't safe regardless of where she is, so if she decides she wants to sail around the world and has the skill and you have the wherewithal to help her do it, WTF not?

But then, I'm not a member of the Cult of Safety that wants to coddle our kids in cocoons for the first 18 years of their lives to keep them "safe". Life is dangerous, and if you try to keep kids "safe" all the time, all you're doing is making it impossible for them to deal with life once they leave home and go out into the world. Which they *will* do, regardless of what you want -- unless you want to lock'em in your basement, they're going to go out eventually and do shit you'd rather they not do. Might as well equip'em with the tools to deal with the invariable shit that happens, rather than try to stop'em -- because eventually you won't be able to stop'em. Just sayin'. Trying to make the world "safe" just creates a prison for all of us, in the end.

-- Badtux the Practical Penguin


  1. Bravo! Your opinion may not be the popular and politically correct one, but it is the right one. I raised two kids myself and thankfully they turned out great. You can't dictate their lives for them. All you can do is teach them as well as you can and hope it is good enough to help them make good decisions for themselves.

  2. "No, you can't stop a 16 year old from doing something dangerous, all you can hope is that you damn well raised her well enough that when she does do something dangerous (which she will do), it's something that won't end up with her dead or permanently harmed."

    Absolutely! I figured that out when mine was 12. Yes, 12. By the time she was 16 she had already decided where she was going to college. They told her at 14 that her credits wouldn't allow her to graduate from high school. She just looked at the school counselor who didn't catch that "don't tell me I CAN'T do something" sparkle in her eye.

    She just finished her junior year of college.

  3. Bullcrap! A 16-year-old does NOT take possession of a sailboat provision it and take off around the world solo without tonnes of parental help. It's not like running away to join the circus in the 1880s.

    Stage parents don't just exist in Hollywood and beauty pageants for 5-year-old girls. Look at the fact that this girl's brother did the same thing. Her parents are in the same vein as the Balloon Boy family.

    Not that I give a rosy rat's ass whether these parents want to sacrifice their daughter at sea for whatever fame-craving reasons they have (as long as they're not forcing her into it.) There are too many humans on this planet already.

    I'm not part of your "Cult of Safety." I'm part of the cult of "Don't Waste a Shitload of Public Money Bailing Out Someone Who Made a Stupid Decision." What I object to is when the government of Australia has to send out a 737 to find her. I hope her parents have to pay for every cent of the rescue. Maybe they can get a reality TV series about how they've been driven into bankruptcy by their idiotic choices.

  4. Why my goodness, Mr. Bucko, I must agree. If my 16 year old comes to me and asks for some parental help doing something she loves and wants to do and which is not particularly unsafe compared to other things that 16 year olds routinely do, I should say know and urge her to go out on the streets to sell herself for the money to do what she wants to do, it's the only parental thing to do :).

    My point being that a 16 year old is going to do unsafe things regardless of what the parents do, and I'd rather have my kid somewhere that I know where she is and where I know she isn't on the streets selling herself for crack, than, well. Do you have the foggiest notion what 16 year olds are up to nowadays? I'd share some stories from my teaching days, but you'd shudder... 16 year old girls are *not* the virginal and pure beings that Hollywood depicts, and some of the situations they put themselves into are *not* pretty. Date rape, pregnancy, and STD's are just the start of the risks that 16 year old girls face in our society...

    - Badtux the Reality-based Penguin

  5. I imagine that her parents thought if Zac could make the trip, how hard could it be? Nevertheless I believe that whatever body recognizes the record she was trying to achieve were to set a minimum age of 21 to their recognition, the lure of the open sea would diminish greatly.

  6. A few people are always out there on the sea sailing single-handed. It's not really as dangerous as one would think; these "little" boats can handle some exceptionally rough seas.

    Would the mast not have broken if she'd had company? No. Did she raise an alarm because she was scared? No, she raised it because she was disabled.

    I've heard no evidence that the girl is anything but an exceptional sailor. Any vessel can be hit by a rogue wave, and they can tumble large ships as well as small ones. The fact that the pilot of this particular ship is 16 years old is irrelevant.

  7. Tux, my daughter was 16 four years ago. I know a bit about what they get up to.

    Aside from too many stupid tattoos and a nearly-complete university degree in the valueless major of anthropology, she hasn't done too many stupid things. (Mostly to the credit of my ex-wife, who did the bulk of teen-year parenting after thwarting me in a long visitation battle.)

    If lil' Bukkette had wanted to ride an alpaca across America or something similarly stupid, the answer would have been "No!" The chequebook would have stayed closed. Mrs. Bukko 1.0 and I are hip enough hippie-ish parents, but we also remember that we're the adults. Parents CAN control their kids, if the 'rents have enough backbone and righteousness with their decisions. I don't buy it that these sail-enablers had no choice.

    As far as sailing around the world being low-risk, aside from the dangers of sinking and dying, there are pirates on the high seas, robbers and rapists when she makes port calls, the loss of formal education from missing school, etc. Not a safe diversion. And Montag, there was a 15-year-old Aussie girl who embarked on her own round-the-world cruise when we still lived in Oz. She finished May 15, according to mentions I've seen in relation to this latest kerfuffle, so the dubious record's already out of this chickie's reach ennyhoo.

  8. Badtux is right. I've heard the phrase "my child's father" -- as opposed to "my husband" or "my boyfriend" coming from a young lady's lips too often for my liking. 16-year-olds can get into some serious trouble.

  9. Missing education? I started college at 16. I wouldn't assume she was missing out on her education just because of her age.

    Oh, and I didn't say sailing a small boat was "low-risk" because it isn't; but it's not necessarily high-risk, either.

  10. life is uncertain, eat dessert first.

    Of course dessert may be a penguin in a whales mind, hahahahahaha

  11. I raised two kids myself and thankfully they turned out great.

    My kids turned out to be shit that are helping destroy this planet.

  12. There are too many humans on this planet already.

    Yup, and we are some of them...

  13. Tux -

    You know I love you man, but you are wrong, wrong, wrong on this one.

    All risks are additive. When this ship-wrecked adolescent gets home, at great expense to whoever had to track her down and then rescue her her water-logged ass, she will still have to face every one of the risks you and others have mentioned, plus whatever else comes from being notorious. Her hiatus on the high seas eliminates none of that. Meanwhile, she's up against the god damned vast expanse of world-spanning oceans and all the stuff Bukko mentioned at 4:31.

    Further, the teenage brain is not sufficiently well developed to reliably render good judgment in difficult situations where a quick decision is required. You know as well as anyone. There is an enormous difference in mental maturity between 19 and 21. 16? No way in hell!

    This is an example of grotesque parental irresponsibility (they do have a track record), and her excellent skills as a sailor are pretty close to being irrelevant.

    And you are presenting a false choice between the "cult of safety" and exposing an immature kid, quite literally, to every known and unknown risk the entire fucking world has to offer.

    If she has this great drive to circumcise the globe, those oceans will still be there when she's 21.

    For now, mom and dad are damned lucky she isn't coming home in a rubber bag.


  14. I agree with all of you but moreso with JzB. :)

    I definitely wondered who in the hell would let a 16 year old, regardless of sex, do this "adventure" alone. I guess the parents are immune to ulcers, near terminal headaches, and nightmares. They are exceptionally lucky that their child is alive and able to return home.

    Jay in N.C.

  15. When my grandmother was 16 years old, she was running a household -- doing all the cleaning, cooking, sewing, seeing the younger children off to school, pretty much having adult responsibilities and accomplishing them because she had to. I guess being raised in a part of the country where girls are expected to take on large responsibilities at an early age might be warping my sensibilities here, but the modern notion that a 16 year old girl is just a baby is fairly recent -- until recent times, a girl that age was expected to handle adult responsibilities as a matter of course.

    Would I trust her to outfit her boat with all the correct gear? Not really, I'd double-check behind her. Would I make sure that she knew what to do in case of emergencies she couldn't handle herself, and make sure that I was a phone call away anytime she needed me? Absolutely. But almost 40,000 Americans died in auto accidents last year, of which at least a quarter were teenagers, while the number of people who have died in properly-equipped 'round the world sailing expeditions over the past ten years is pretty much, err, zero -- modern satphone and beacon technology and modern sailboat technology (which has rendered them pretty much unsinkable, they're self-righting even so you can't even really keep them capsized) has rendered it, while not absolutely safe, demonstrably safer than driving a car -- something which 16 year olds do all around the country.

    And finally, for the record -- the Aussie girl already beat the record, and Abby knew this. She was still sailing because she wanted to sail, not because she wanted to beat the record. I think wanting to duplicate her older brother's feat might have something to do with that. In any event, she is safe and sound today, whereas the bloody and mangled bodies of teenagers are regularly pulled out of cars all across the USA, so WTF with the second guessing? Just baffled, I guess.

    BTW: There is a *big* difference in maturity level between a 16 year old boy and a 16 year old girl. If you're male and judging this girl according to how immature you were at 16 -- uhm. No. 16 year old boys still think fart jokes are funny. But even today, around the nation, there are 16 year old girls running households, albeit typically households in the kind of neighborhoods that most of us pretend don't exist.

    - Badtux the way-older-than-16 Penguin


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