Jordan Romero, age 13, became the youngest person to climb to the top of Mount Everest.

Jessica Watson, age 16, became the youngest person to sail around world by herself, without stopping and without assistance.

Peter Lenz, age 13, became the youngest person to die at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he fell off his motorcycle and was run over by a 12 year old, Xavier Zaya. (see above video)

So…are extreme sports too extreme for teens?

I was interviewed on this topic late yesterday for the Associated Press and this morning on Fox News (you’ll see it’s a touchy topic based on well over 350 comments on yahoo news/AP coverage) I believe are the most important points to consider:

  • Physically, a teenager may be fully capable as their bodies might look like a young adult’s body.  However, they can’t magically step over the typical teenage brain development, something that is still in process like; impulse control, stress management, emotional development, and abstract thinking.
  • The decision lies in:
    • Family values
    • Education about the sport, dangers, etc
    • Strict rules on protective gear (which can go out the window for not looking cool for a teen)
    • Boundaries (Teens often want to “top that” and see what more they can do– always pushing the boundaries. Parents must reel them in)
    • Emotional Development and maturity of the teen
    • Experience/Competence in the sport or activity
  • Many sports carry risks. Even traditional sports.  Think of football or even cheerleading. Girls thrown up in the air, boys head on crashing on the field.  Extreme sports are more unknown so we don’t even know all the possibilities that can happen
  • In the AP article, zac and abby’s mother says that she makes sure that the children know that they can stop at any time.  In certain alternative sports, that may be an option, however, when driving a motorcycle at intense speeds, the decision has already been made in that race, you’re riding. You CAN’T just stop at anytime.
  • Children are not little adults.  They have unique needs as they are still developing. We must watch that they aren’t making decisions simply based on “the rush” they get, pleasing their parents, shocking their friends, being popular, and other things that truly matter (and are developmentally appropriate thoughts) to a teen.
  • As extreme all alternative sports are “newer” to the mainstream world, all the tweaks haven’t been worked out with regard to how to keep the participants as safe as possible. Of course, the only way to assess the safety, after all is said and done, is to have people participate. It’s hard to say; “should his parents’ have stopped him?” because while people might know the risks– they don’t know the actual results until after they happen. Hind sight is 20/20. Perhaps this incident will help other parents realize that there are very real risks attached to participating in these intense sports.
  • Remember; It’s easy for a teen to recover from a success– For example, Jordan Romero is an incredible teen BUT what would have happened if he failed? The question parents must ask, even if they aren’t pessimists, is “what if he doesn’t succeed, how will he recover? Is he ready? Are we willing to risk it?” Xavier Zayamust live with the fact that his vehicle killed another boy. It wasn’t his fault– but emotionally, can he handle that? Take it in? Only a parent would be able to know for sure, but it’s a lot for any PERSON to handle, let alone a teen.
  • We must weigh confidence-building with boundaries. We don’t want to shelter children and teens (be helicopter parents) from experiencing new and exciting challenges. But how far is too far for your family? What does s/he really love about the sport? Are there any other activities that can give them that same feeling without the risks you are unwilling to take? Sit down and talk with your kids and see what compromise you are willing to come to– but stay firm on your own values and criteria.

Your thoughts are welcome– I’d love to hear YOUR take. Are extreme sports too extreme for teens? Leave your comments here or come over to my fan page on Facebook.

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