Adolescents and adventure: How much is too much?
June 11th, 2010
02:12 PM ET

Adolescents and adventure: How much is too much?

The fact that Sutherland has been located is cause for celebration, but the concern and activity surrounding the search for a teenager allowed to sail alone across oceans brought this question to many people’s minds: Is this a good idea?

The answer: well, it depends
"Adolescents vary tremendously in regards to their judgment, maturity and the risks that they face in life," says Frederic Reamer, a professor of social work at Rhode Island College and a member of the National Association of Social Workers. "There are circumstances in parenting where virtually everyone would agree… and then there are circumstances like this where reasonable, thoughtful minds can differ tremendously," he says.

Abby Sunderland is not the first adolescent to embark on such a quest. And Reamer says children who complete these tasks can benefit from “a strong sense of accomplishment, competence and remarkable satisfaction,” and parents should not stifle their teen if they feel their child is mature and demonstrates good judgment.

In an interview with CNN shortly before her daughter set off on the around-the-world adventure, Sutherland’s mother, Marianne, did express concern over how her daughter would handle loneliness, but also said she felt Abby could handle the challenge. "The critics don't know Abby and what a good sailor she is. We know it's a risk, but also that with the right equipment and preparation, it's a very calculated risk”, she told CNN’s Anouk Lorie.

Others say hold on a minute
“I think its wonderful she wanted to take this on, but when you're responsible for helping a child to develop, you are gradually increasing the risk in their life,” says Jill Weber, a clinical psychologist in the Washington, D.C.,  area, and a member of the American Psychological Association. “In this case, it sounds a lot like allowing a toddler to walk himself to school.” Weber encourages parents to consider everything their children come to them with, but only within boundaries.

Dr. Suniya Luthar, a professor of psychology whose research at the Teachers College of Columbia University focuses on children of privilege, says the cultural context of American society often encourages parents to say “yes” to situations that could lead to harmful outcomes for their child. “There is this feeling that more is always better, and the more you can do and accomplish the better. But there needs to be limits,” she said in a phone conversation. “Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you necessarily should.”

Studies looking at the teenage brain show that adolescent brains are different from adults, and that certain areas impacting judgment may not be fully developed until they are in their twenties. Weber says the fact that the teenage brain is not developed, can put childredn at increased risk of being traumatized in dangerous situations. “If you're suddenly flooded by fear, that's when the frontal lobe needs to kick in, but for adolescents, it may not.”

A spokesperson from US Sail, the national governing body of sailing, says there are no age limits on an when a person is too young or too old to sail, but the most important thing is to be aware of safety requirements . "We’re happy that Abby is safe, and the fact that she was able to maintain herself in these conditions demonstrates she had a firm grasp of the guidelines."

In comments to CNN before her departure, Sutherland demonstrated a keen awareness of the challenges she could face.

“I know there is a possibility I could die. People die at sea all the time,” she admitted in the interview, adding “It's kind of terrifying to think about. But it is those thoughts that will keep me safe as they'll make me very careful.”

soundoff (277 Responses)
  1. Ron P

    I find the argument somewhat perplexing by the so called "experts". they chastise a young women and her family who hs prepared for this moment ALL of her life yet they condone sending adolesents to war where they are required to make split second decisions involving the potential of taking someone's life. I guess that real life is different that their college labs and study groups.

    June 13, 2010 at 21:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Jo

    Abby and her parents did a stupid thing, and the result was she was stuck in a remote part of the Indian Ocean, at the worst time of the year, 2,000 miles away from the nearest land. Does anyone know how far 2,000 miles is? It is the distance between Vancouver BC and DesMoines Iowa. That is how far their daughter was from any land, in distress. The problem is not that Abby made the journey, with her parents blessings. The problem is that she had to be rescued by people from another country, who had nothing to do with her venture. And someone else will be stuck for the bill for this expense.

    The conversations here would be very different if Abby had died before she could be rescued. Everyone would have recognized the foolishness of her stunt. Being the youngest person to sail solo around the world is an attention-getting stunt, and although she did not succeed, she did succeed in getting attention. And in the process, she forgot to say thank you.

    I was worried sick about her for two days, as were millions of other people. She needs to grow up before she attempts this again.

    I don't think Child Protection Services should be involved, but her parents should have to pay for her rescue. Instead, they are soliciting even more money from the public, asking us to donate to the salvage of her boat. I don't think so...

    June 13, 2010 at 22:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Hans

    If a sixteen year old girl can have an abortion without the parents' consent, then why shouldn't she be allowed to sail around the world with or without their consent? If she is a woman enough to have an abortion alone, then she is woman enough to sail alone. Isn't this what women's rights are all about?

    June 13, 2010 at 22:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Erin

    This kid showed good judgment all through this voyage, from the time when she chose to abandon the nonstop circumnavigation attempt near South Africa to the end, when she abandoned the voyage. We don't know this kid and a lot of us are judging her solely on her age. We don't know her and the fact is, she got herself out alive in circumstances that would have killed many an adult. It isn't her fault she ran into bad weather and lost her mast. Give her a break, and let people dare to push the envelope.

    June 13, 2010 at 23:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Don

    Abby has 2 websites, but the website they pushed on CNN TV (HLN) was abby16.com, which is devoted entirely to selling Abby's product line. It's all about making money – and exploitation of a 16 year old. And it had to be done before she's too 'old' to set a record and bring in heaps of cash with a product line, book and movie etc. Well, the family's greed and stupidity nearly cost Abby her life, and has certainly cost somebody an awful lot of money for the rescue operation. Rushing it was alwasy going to place her in the wrong ocean at the wrong time. I've sailed halfway round the world and, IMHO, there is no way on earth that a 16-year-old girl has the physical and mental strength to safely embark on such a trip. Gosselin, Octomom, Sunderland – all the same.

    June 14, 2010 at 00:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Protect the children

    Because we are all individuals with different capabilities and experiences, I think we should be more focused on Abby's abilities and experiences than her age. She already has logged more hours sailing than most avid sailors two or three times her age. She is therefore more equipped to handle an endeavor like this than most people. Her team planned a route that kept her away from exceedingly dangerous waters and had the vessel equipped with all necessary safety materials. I believe that her maturity exceeds her years and she's had more than enough training and ability to perform the task; therefore, I am okay with her circumnavigation attempt. My own children, at the same age range, don't have the same abilities, experiences, or the level of maturity, so I wouldn't permit them to go.

    June 14, 2010 at 00:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Bob

    If it took that long to get help when she had a mechanical issue, how long would it have been before help could have gotten to her empty boat if pirates or some other low life decided they wanted to add a ncie young Abby to their collection. Why not since her parents thought it would be ok for her to be out there all by herself.

    June 14, 2010 at 00:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Gabby

    All you disgusting nay-sayers need to STFU! You probably don't have any experience in something more life threatening than driving a car or swimming in the ocean. I dare you to tell Abby AND her parents, to their face how unfit they are. Just because you can't comprehend the fact that a teenager is capable of doing what 60 year olds WISH they could do, doesn't mean that you have to talk down at them like they're stupid. I only wish I could have done something like this. This forsaken society can never be pleased. ENCOURAGE YOUR KIDS but don't support them when they want to take on the world. GO TO PLANNED PARENTHOOD but don't sail around the world. Seriously, stick that in your prune juice and suck it or better yet, wait in the enema line.

    June 14, 2010 at 01:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Dave Douglas

    I've been following Abby's voyage and am a sailor. That was a boat built for racing. Abby had commented on the difficulty she had getting down the oversized mainsail, alone in heavy weather. She must have had too much sail on when the rig failed. It was probably not her fault. Sail on, Abby!

    June 14, 2010 at 01:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Serious

    Yeah, she should be sitting at home watching tv all the time and getting knocked up by the local drug dealers. Maybe getting an addiction, eating lots of junk food and ballooning in weight. Catching some stds and becoming very depressed. How dare her parents instill her with healthy confidence born of well learned life skills!

    Wake up America and stop worshiping the filth.

    This girl is a TRUE role model, not your Britney Spears knock offs...

    June 14, 2010 at 01:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. bill

    The main problem I have is that it was all about publicity from the start. She set sail simply to be the youngest person in the world to sail solo around the world. Regardless of age that would be an acomplishment. But it seems this family wanted it to be more, it had to be record breaking also.

    To make sure she finished on time, therefore being the youngest, there is potential training and consideration lost. The family seemed more interested in breaking a record they didn't stop to think if they should.

    She could have done this at age 20, and it still would be just as big an achievement. Not record breaking but impressive regardless.

    June 14, 2010 at 02:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. dev-null

    AlleyBarberz – the rampant piracy in the northern part of the Indian Ocean is precisely why it was decided to go south. From what I had read on her blog, it was not the preferred route due to weather, but was deemed less risky than waters infested with Somali pirates.

    June 14, 2010 at 03:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Kevin

    She made it half way around the world alone people! You can't do that if you're not "ready." Two things are true about her and her brother: They're both world class sailors, and they're both, yes, teenagers.
    Just let her enjoy her success and leave her and her parents alone.

    June 14, 2010 at 06:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. norm

    hello pirates! im an attractive 16 year old girl out here alone and unarmed. can you help me?

    June 14, 2010 at 08:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Suzanne

    What if some pirate ship had decided to take Abby? What if this encourages other kids who are not as mature as her to take trips like this. I think the parents should never have let this happen. I think it was very irresonsible and selfish. This goes to climbing dangerous mountain peeks too. I think it also opens up more ways for controlling parents who crave attention to push their children more, I believe it opens up a can of worms. This is not just about abby. Please parents STOP IT.

    18 or 21 has been set for a reason to when you are an adult for many things including health care so until then kids should not be doing these adult things.

    June 14, 2010 at 08:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. ljnag

    I wonder how much "concern for a minor" would be happening if there was never a distress call? Sure there is risk, I'm sure this young woman is a very mature individual and knew the risks at hand. I commend her parents for taking an active role in her life and allowing her to venture. How many parents are out there now wishing they gave their drug addict kid more support and encouragement and less closed minded restrictions. I think many of the adults making negative comments have forgotten what it was like to be a young adult ready for the world. Shoot 100 years ago she'd already be married with 3 kids.

    June 14, 2010 at 12:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. I know

    I agree with Gray above.
    When so many kid's cannot walk and text at the same time and many teen girls are into bullying and beating and showing boobs on the net this young lady and her brother did not. Who said above it was illegal ti leave teens alone. No it is not. 13 and below is illegal in most states.

    Once she left US territorial waters, 15 miles off the coast she is out of CPS hands. I became an emancipated adult at 16 myself. I am glad to see maturity has not died yet. She made it nearly half way around the world alone. Can you all navigate across your home state and not get lost?

    I hope other couch potatoe children and parents are inspired by her.

    June 14, 2010 at 12:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Lauri

    So at what age does 'maturity' suddenly kick in and a "kid" is suddenly an "adult"? I know 12 year olds that are more mature that some 30 year olds.

    Also, she has been sailing since she was very young and has logged thousands of miles at see. How much experience does one need before they can be considered "ready" to take on a challenge?

    Alex Kennedy is 14 and racing in the U.S. Late Model Association (USLMA) series. RACING – a sport that has much more potential for danger than sailing.

    Moshe Kai Cavalin completed college (with straight As), with a degree in astrophysics, at 11 years old.

    99% of the young people in the world today are sitting around, playing video games or watching TV. We should be PRAISING those few that have high aspirations and desires – not shooting them (or their parents) down.

    June 14, 2010 at 14:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Omit1

    This girl can't vote, drink, marry, serve in the military.....she can't even leave her school campus without a note from mommy and daddy. To send her off on an around the world solo trip is just plain silly.

    As for the comment comparing it to LL baseball....there is no comparison and here is why: There are about 50 million kids who have play LL baseball since it began in 1939. Of those, 3 kids are know to have died while playing. 3 in 50 million is a .00000006 chance of being killed. This girl should have died on the high seas making it a 1:1 chance of dying. Good comparison? I think not!

    June 14, 2010 at 16:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. HeynSight

    Wonder who was advising her to do the trip. In any case, parents should not have allowed her to make the voyage at that time. The Roaring 40s, during the Southern Winter, are treacherous and deadly. Was it a case of personal/family ego or sibling rivalry; to outdo her brother's similar voyage?

    June 14, 2010 at 17:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Nicole

    If you give your 16 year old the keys to the family car and they dissapear for whatever reason, do you have to pay for the search resucue? Find him/her yourself next time if you really think that Abby should have been left out there until her family could afford to find her.

    June 15, 2010 at 12:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Eva

    The girl is an experienced sailor. It could have happened to any sailor.

    Sure, she is young, but how many parents push their children of the same age in any given sport, sometimes to the point of detriment?

    The girl wanted to prove she could excel in what she does, and it wasn't forced. There are much worse parents imposing much worse on their children in every single city every day.

    June 16, 2010 at 02:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Pete

    All of us die, but very few of us will ever really live. At the age of 16, Abby has lived an adventure far beyond what the vast majority of us will ever experience. Kudos to Abby and her family for demonstrating courage and determination in a world steeped in fear and complacence.

    June 18, 2010 at 07:46 | Report abuse | Reply
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