June 14, 2010
Quite a few people were worried for Abby Sunderland when her sailboat that she was taking around the world issued a distress signal. The boat faced rough waters in the Indian Ocean, and she was incommunicado for about a day. She’s been found, though, and the discussion over the general competence of her parents continues.
Some have questioned the responsibility and judgment of her parents: what kind of parent would encourage a child to circumnavigate by sail at such an age? Have their critics considered the commonsensical assumption her parents trained her in sailing, and that her circumnavigation is not the first long-distance sailing trip she’s done? I can’t be certain the assumption is true, but it’s very likely. Others wanted to debate whether her parents should be charged with negligence for “allowing” Abby to sail around the world. These same people, without the benefit of hindsight, wouldn’t even pass judgment on them if she completed her voyage safely. The question remains: how young is too young?
Legally, there are three age-related milestones: birth, adulthood, and retirement. There’s plenty worth discussing on these three topics, but important to understanding the Abby Sunderland issue is that adulthood is much fuzzier a concept than the other two. Children in Maryland can start working at age sixteen, and new adults can vote but still can’t buy alcohol. Young girls in some states can get an abortion without parental consent in some states.”Children” can now enjoy being on their parents’ insurance plans until the age of twenty-six.
Laws have adjusted the priveleges of adulthood beyond the legal, clear-cut definition mainly because some groups have gotten burned due to tragedy and would like to make adjustments for everyone else as a result. Abby Sunderland could have been yet another case that could have added yet another adjustment to the definition of adulthood.
What a lot of people miss is that people like Abby Sunderland, and the other children who’ve done this, are intrepid people. Not only do they have the potential to do great things, they are already on their way to realizing it. Let’s not let Abby Sunderland’s near-unfortunate outcome be another excuse for overbearing parenting. There’s plenty of that to go around as it is.