A young woman of 16, who was determined to circumnavigate the globe--alone, (a trip her brother also took successfully a couple of years ago) has been all over the news this week. Abby Sunderland
has been on the water her entire life and is a well trained sailor. So confident in her ability her parents obliged her dreams to sail the world and let her go. However, as all adventures are not without peril, she suffered some damage to her mast and was, for a time, lost at sea. Thankfully she was found, but now there are a few loud voices in the world calling for charges of " criminal endangerment of a child" to be brought against her parents.The leading mantra sounds like "her parents were irresponsible and criminally so to let their 16 year old child sail alone" This seems ridiculous to me when we obviously let 16 year old people hurl down the roads in 2 ton vehicles at speeds that are horribly dangerous -especially when you realize that everyone else is also hurling along at the same speeds or faster in metal boxes with wheels right along with them. We let them participate in sports that could result in broken bones and possible permanent paralysis. We even allow our sons and daughters to join the military knowing fully that they could be killed as a result. Yet, when the worst happens no one calls for parents to be charged with neglect, abuse or criminal endangerment. When did it become honorable to die for your country at 19, but "wrong" to set sail around the world at 16? When did we underestimate young adults to the degree that we established a society that needs to coddle, feed, and insure them until they are 26 years old? What is so terrible about giving our kids the skills and the knowledge to make life all it can be even if they are not of the legal age to go to war, or to buy a cigarette, or a beer? After all, history is filled with a few teenagers that will forever be remembered for what they accomplished. For example...At age 16, Barbara Johns
made the most dramatic contribution to the American Civil Rights Movement. She took over her black high school and shut it down, leading to the legal crisis that wound up in the U.S. Supreme Court as Brown v. Board of Education
, the case that ended legal segregation in America.
Teachers told you endlessly about the midnight ride of Paul Revere, but did they ever tell you of the similar ride by Sybil Ludington? At 16, Ms. Ludington rode twice the distance Revere did
— through a rainstorm no less — charging her horse over roads of mud to warn the countryside that Red Coats were sacking Danbury, Connecticut, seizing the foothold they would need to retake the colonies. Ludington alerted militia men, and the militia was able to stop the invasion, chasing the Red Coats back to their ships. Eliza Lucas
(later Eliza Lucas Pinckney
) was 16 when she took over her father's South Carolina plantation and made such brilliant decisions, she soon became one of the wealthiest business leaders in the American colonies. Her leadership enriched the colonies by boosting trade, and she later put her support behind the American Revolution. So great was her importance to our nation that when she died, no less than George Washington asked to be a pallbearer at her funeral.
Alexander the Great
was one of the most successful military commanders in history. He was best known for conquering pretty much of the world known to the Ancient Greeks including Syria, part of India, Egypt and even more around 300 BC. By the time he was 16 he had founded his first colony and named it Alexandroupolis.
Pope John XII ~ While modern-day popes are well known for being oldies, John XII was only 18 when his papacy began in the year 955.
Mary Shelley is the acclaimed British author who wrote Frankenstein in 1818 when she was only 19 years old. Joan of Arc ~ It wasn't easy being a girl in the 1400s, but Joan of Arc didn't let that stop her from becoming a national heroine in France (and, later, a saint). Joan was a peasant girl who led the French army to several important victories during the Hundred Years' War after claiming to have visions from God. She was later captured by the English and executed for heresy, all before the age of 20. About 500 years later she was made a saint by Pope Benedict XV.
There is also the story of the Virgin mother of Jesus, Mary
. While it is not known with exact certainty how old Mary was when the Messiah was born, some biblical scholars have assigned to her the age of 14 which is not inconsistent with Jewish tradition at the time for marriage
Most recently, there is also Jessica Watson
. An Australian
sailor, who was unofficially hailed as the youngest individual to sail non-stop and unassisted around the world despite her route not meeting World Sailing Speed Record criteria
She departed from Sydney
on 18 October 2009, heading eastbound over the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean
and the Indian Ocean.
She returned to Sydney on 15 May 2010, three days before her 17th birthday.
Last, but certainly not least--While it's no longer common or advisable, my great grandmother (and many other women of the time) married at a very young age. She was only 13 when she married my great grandpa who was 17. She gave birth to her first child at 15, and had six more in the years that followed. They owned and operated a family farm for the entirety of their lives, and were never divorced. Thanks to young love and to their parents who were insane enough to think it was fine for young teens to marry and carry on with the business of life, the story of me
got a chance to happen. How cool is that?
It bothers me greatly when society urges and celebrates women like Brittany Spears to use their gifts and parade their sexuality to sell themselves as Pop Icons at the tender age of 15, but calls for the punishment of parents who allow their daughter use her master skills to attempt something dangerous--a daughter bold enough to set sail around the world alone to make history and her dream a reality. I've told my kids their entire lives to dream big. Setting the largest imaginations afire in their hearts and minds for the adventure life should be, means that their footing is strong and sure when they leap for their goals and desires. I'm proud of Abby Sunderland and wish her every moment of success. I'm also proud of her parents for not giving way to often held nonsense that kids are incompetent and not capable. I understand as a parent the instinct to cocoon my little ones from what might hurt them--but there is a time to give them wings to soar. For some, that may come at 18...for others it'll be younger, and still for some it will be much older. In my opinion, parents allowing their daughters to conquer the world in the ways that they are able too is not
a crime. We would do well to strengthen the courageous hearts in our children. Stifling them for a need to protect and coddle might seem natural, but it also may kill the next Alexander the Great or Joan of Arc. That
would be the ultimate crime.