Dekker is the 14-year old Dutch tween who wants to sail around the world solo. Romero is the 14-year old who this week reached the summit of Mount Everest, the youngest person to do so. He is now one mountain away from reaching his goal of climbing the seven highest summits.
People tend to fall into two camps when discussing these tweens: the first supports their goals of world fame, Guinness Book of World Record superiority and earth domination. The second group just says WTF?
Guess what? I am fully in the WTF category.
It would take Laura Dekker two years to sail solo around the world. And while I do not underestimate her sailing prowess nor the incredible education that would happen on such a trip. I am not sure that sailing around the world alone is the best way to spend one’s formative years. Battling waves and intense loneliness may be an apt metaphor for high school but gabbing with your friends on a satellite phone is not going to bring on the social development that teenagers need.
The frontal lobe is the part of the brain that helps you regulate your emotions and make good decisions but it doesn’t even fully form until you are in your 20s. These kids’ brains are literally not ready to make life or death decisions. Not only that but what happens to you at 21, or 31 if you are in the media spotlight at 13 for doing something so technically dangerous that few people in the world have done it? Where do you get your thrills and your challenges? Is it all downhill from here or is it smooth sailing? (sorry, couldn’t resist the puns.)
Jordan Romero is enjoying the spotlight right now after ascending Mt. Everest along the northern side this week. Romero, along with his dad, dad’s girlfriend and three sherpas climbed the technically more difficult side of Mt. Everest because the southern side is accessed through Nepal, which requires climbers to be 16. Team Jordon is pretty cool, the 13-year old has funky wavy hair and a good grasp of the media. He said he hoped to inspire other kids all over the world to get off the couch and fight the obesity epidemic.
I heard Romero’s mother on the radio sounding reasonably calm, moments after she spoke to her son on the phone when he called from the “top of the world”. She wasn’t expecting his call because the satellite phone battery was running out. But she was tracking him on his GPS. I wonder if she how she what she would have said if something happened to her son while he was climbing through the “death zone”.
Think of this mother who was OK that her son’s phone had run out of batteries despite the fact that he was climbing Mt. Everest. Now think of yourself if your child’s phone ran out when they are out at a party and you don’t hear from them. Parents like these make me feel like I am some kind of failure for not encouraging my child to go out and chase some ridiculous dream that could cause them at the worst death, and at the least -- many months away from me. My neighbour won’t let her 12-year old son walk two blocks to school by himself and yet, these parents are OK with their single-minded tweens dong things that most adults can not do. The parenting world is certainly full of extremes.
I asked my 10-year old what he thought about these kids. He answered (and I quote): “If their parents are so devoted to train these kids and make them ready for anything then they should let their kids chase their dreams. No one has a right to stop them.”
What does he know? The only part of world domination that he is experiencing in his tween years is in a video game. But he is pretty good at it and he loves video games so maybe if I let him train for 12 hours a day on the Wii he can have an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records too.