When the New York Times takes a look at our little adventure sports culture, one pays attention. Recently, the Grey Lady posed the question, “Is It Wrong to Let Children Do Extreme Sports?,” and that, rather obviously, is the issue we’re tackling today.
The story, which I encourage you to read, is not as reactionary and simplistic as one might think when the mainstream media visits a subculture it often doesn’t understand. The author has thrill-seeking daughters who’ve broken bones and continue to push their limits; their favorite new playground, Jon Lackman writes, is the roof of the family house.
The Times pieces raises important questions, both practical and ethical. Unfortunately, its argument that “what were once simple pastimes, like riding bicycles and skateboards, have evolved into thrill-seeking pursuits and intense competitions whose goals include new tricks and surpassing what’s thought to be possible” is a little spurious. Kids have always competed with one another to go bigger, higher, farther; using anecdotal evidence of ever-more-youthful X-Games winners isn’t necessarily representative of kid culture overall.
Sports have also evolved dramatically and what the Times calls “extreme” is really just the new normal. I first took my son to the rock gym when he was seven and my daughter when she was four. My son got on skis are two, and they’ve been mountain biking since they could ride bikes. Climbing, skiing, and surfing are not as exotic as the Times would suggest; granted, we live on the coast, but my kids’ high school has a surf team and offers SUP as a gym class. Qu’est-ce que c’est “extreme”?
Despite these concerns with the Times’ viewpoint, the issue of what we allow our children to do is a critical one, as is our cultural attitude toward it. It’s one thing to take your kids climbing; it’s another to do so if all your friends think it’s foolhardy and negligent. (Interesting, the Times did not bring up youth football, which probably is more insidiously dangerous on a daily basis than any “extreme” sport.) Kids are always going to want to explore, to push their limits; they are the original adventurers. The question is how much we allow.
Do we restrict them to sports or levels of sport where broken bones are the worst case? Do we only let them do soccer, where they probably won’t die but have higher odds of blowing out a knee? Do we let them in the halfpipe but not get inverted? Do we take them skiing but not in the backcountry?
These are highly personal questions, with ever-evolving dynamics – not just weather, terrain, and objective conditions, but also the age, fitness level, and maturity of the kid involved come into play. Sweeping statements of yes or no are tough to make, so in addition to answering the rather binary nature of the poll, please dive into the comments to discuss your take on the things further.
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Photo by Jeffrey Schwartz