Cards on the table, I am not a very physically adventurous person. Whether that's because I fell off a one-foot-high stool when I was five just by turning around, breaking my right arm in two places and needing seven stitches above my left eye, or a result of nature, nuture, or something else entirely, we'll never know. (My dad always said I was not like other kids in that I didn't really run anywhere, so I suspect genetics plays a part.) Unfortunately, I know I'm in danger of passing this cautiousness on to my eight-year-old daughter. Luckily, her dad takes her to the climbing gym and scampering over rocks in Central Park, and her best friend is a rough-and-tumble boy who encourages her to test her limits.
My daughter, however, like me, is kind of prone to accidents while doing even the most benign things. About two weeks ago, in fact, she flew off her scooter after hitting a small crack in the sidewalk and broke her elbow. This only makes me feel justified in cringing, of course, when I see her doing something where she could get hurt, and cautioning her—in what I'm sure other parents see as an excessive way—when she climbs too high or balances too precariously.
So when I read about the increasing number of kids doing extreme sports, I pretty much had a panic attack. An 13-year-old skateboarding over a 70-foot gap in a MegaRamp? A seven-year-old motocross champ? A 10-year old rock climbing phenom? I'm close to hyperventilating. Yes, these kids are impressive and clearly talented, but aren't their parents afraid they are going to get hurt or even killed?
Yes and no, apparently. Jett Eaton, the 13-year-old skateboarder on the MegaRamp, fell trying to do a trick and had to be airlifted to a trauma center. He suffered a fractured skull, bruised frontal lobes, a seizure, and a concussion and spent three days in the hospital. His dad, however, who admits he thought he may have lost his son after this horrific accident, let him get back on the skateboard and attempt more big tricks, saying it's his son's choice. "I'll never tell him no," the dad is quoted as saying in the New York Times article.
I get that his son loves skateboarding and the dad wants to support his dreams, but I feel like something is going wrong here. Sometimes, we've got to say no. Kids aren't mature enough to decide what level of risk-taking is acceptable. Their brains are literally not developed enough, and adding on fractured skulls and frontal lobe injuries certainly isn't helping their brains develop. A study by Norwegian research psychologist Ellen Sandseter may have shown that letting kids engage in thrill-seeking activities makes them less prone to criminal and antisocial behaviors like speeding, stealing, drug use, and vandalism, because they have experiences with risk and assessing it, but I'm not sure that's enough proof for me that extreme sports are the answer. There are less dangerous and still thrilling activities kids can engage in to learn that lesson. My daughter finds it pretty exhilarating to walk to the corner mailbox by herself, so I don't think she needs to try a half-pipe just yet.
Plus, by the time these extreme kid athletes are in their 20s, their bodies may be totally wrecked, keeping them from enjoying even normal physical activities in adulthood. If you're used to an adrenaline rush from your extreme sports, and you can't do them anymore, what takes its place? And what happens when you peak in life at 16? Another 75 years reminiscing about the awesome feats you accomplished in your youth but never since sounds pretty depressing.
Of course, kids can get hurt doing even the most mundane activities, as evidenced by my daughter's lovely broken elbow, and while I may sometimes think about putting her in a bubble, I know that's not realistic. She does have to learn to take risks, try things that seem a little dangerous, push her boundaries, and even get hurt every once in a while. That's how she'll learn and grow inside and outside. It's my job as her mom, however, to make sure the risks she takes can't result in physical or emotional injuries that could ruin her life. Extreme sports don't make that list.
Related: Protecting Young Athletes' Arms
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