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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Raising Generations of Wimps

Listening to the radio last evening on the way home I was incredibly frustrated. The topic was Abby Sunderland, the 16 year old girl who was attempted to follow in her older brother's wake and sail around the world, solo. Reflecting the incredibly over protective society and culture that we have created, mother's were calling in chastising Sunderland's parents, ascribing motives, stating as fact the level of intelligence and maturity the sixteen year old Sunderland must have because they have a sixteen year old girl.

Thank goodness for the Abby Sunderland's of the world. Young people who have a dream, have acquired skills and who are fortunate to have parents who support their dreams and help build their skills. The Abby Sunderland's of our nation are getting to be fewer and farther between as our Nanny State culture and sociology not only prevent the ability of an Abby to develop, but if and when she does descends on the parents of such a remarkable young women with threats of taking away other children and prosecution for child endangerment.

To recap, Sunderland set off from Marina Del Rey with the goal of sailing around the world in her boat "Wild Eyes." Her brother had accomplished the feat a few years ago and at the time set the record for youngest solo circumnavigator, since broken. She grew up on the water and sailing in small and big boats. Earlier this month a rescue signal was sent from her boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Having survived a big storm, Abby was below deck repairing her engine (yes a sixteen year old girl repairing a marine engine) when a rogue wave rolled her boat. It rolled completely, broke her mast, damaged much of her electronic gear and also knocked Abby out for a time according to her account. A few days after her disabling she was rescued by a French ship that was a few hundred miles away--close in the Indian Ocean. Yesterday Abby's mother gave birth to either her seventh or eighth child, a boy named after the captain of the French vessel that rescued Abby.

Before she took off the Helicopter Moms and Dads were out in force trying to get the State of California from preventing Abby from setting sail. Because their own children are coddled, wrapped and taken everywhere in their Navigators or Escalades they feel every child must be like their own. Unfortunately more and more are becoming unable to fend for themselves, or even make breakfast, as parents tend to more and more of their needs. On the other end of the spectrum are more and more children who are ignored by their young parent(s) and raised by grandparents. A gulf is forming between the entitled and pampered and the destitute and ignored among our children. Abby, who is neither, provides hope that once again our nation can raise children who are able to learn skills, focus and apply them to create adventure, conquer goals and challenge themselves and others.

I have a friend who works in a Southern California high school in an urban setting. She is an administrator and over the years her job has evolved so that her primary duties are to work with pregnant students. Keep them in school through their pregnancies and then after delivery getting them back to school. Special classes have to be set up, there are enough pregnancies to have their own teachers. Should not this situation, in just one high school but no doubt reflective of many in our region, be of greater concern than another sixteen year old girl sailing a boat by herself?

This weekend another teenager, a fifteen year old, was shot and killed in Long Beach. Police say he was a gang member, one of tens of thousands of fifteen year olds in the region in gangs. One of hundreds of young teenagers killed in gang violence of the past several years, his murder merits a column on the front page and soon will be forgotten by all but a few. Shouldn't the condition that allows families to raise multiple generations of gang bangers be a bigger concern and issue than parents who have given their children the skills, physical, emotional and intellectual, to sail a high tech boat with the goal of circumnavigation?

On the one end of the spectrum we have the throw-away children the state and local governments feel can be treated with more and more money and programs that have proven do not work as they try not to caste judgement on the parents, but rather want to feel good about how they are trying to tackle the problem. They may feel good about the programs they have developed that continue to fail, but their failure is costing lives and creating future failures as the problems grow. Afraid to look judgemental they cannot come to castigate young, unemployed or still in high school, poor women having babies with absent dads (often thankfully), often more than one baby with more than one dad. These children are on the road to gang membership because there is no family to raise them, but rather a public sector that employs no consequences for the mother, or the father, or the grandmother or grandfather who enabled their teenage children to become parents. But ask their opinion of Abby Sunderland and her parents and the judgements are easy to come by.

Go by any elementary school on a school day and count how many children are walking or riding their bikes to school compared to how many are being dropped off by moms in huge SUVs slurping on a Starbucks or Big Gulp as they drop off their kids then speed off at 35 MPH in the school zone talking on the phone. Go to any sports practice and see how many kids from the neighborhood have walked or rode their bike to the practice compared to how many are not only driven but their parents are sit and watch everything Salem or Montana do.

Our school has a Talent Show and some parents are upset because the kids are judged and winners are announced. Uh-oh! You know what that means? If there is a winner their must be a loser. Yes, I'm sorry but Jennifer or Jose did not sing or dance as well as the other kid--evidently you are the only who could not see it. Do you think Abby Sunderland's parents lamented awards being handed out in school for performance, achievement, success? Probably not, but then their kids probably were and are kicking every other kid's butt.

Drive around neighborhoods on weekends or after school, how many kids do you see out playing in the yards and streets? Was it like this when you were growing up? Our kids are padded from knees, to wrists, to elbows to heads to ride a push scooter. The state has mandated that they be strapped into special car seats until they are practically having their first periods or "night time discharges" and my guess is that by the time my kids reach sixteen the minimum driving age will have moved to eighteen, or maybe twenty-one.

I am not sure what is worse for the future of current generations, the single moms having kids in gang infested communities destined to repopulate the gangs, or the Helicopter Parents who hover over every little move and activity of precious Tonya or Austin. These parents never leave their children, at birthday parties you need food and beverage for each kid and at least one parent, at rehearsals or practices, at school field trips, one wonders if the kids must leave the door open when using the bathroom.

We are raising two types of children, those with no hope because they are born into the high crime, low parental touch, community or they are born into the high touch, afraid to let you fail and learn community. In the meantime Abby Sunderland and her family is criticized because she is neither. God forbid some more children in our society are raised to achieve success on their own, or learn how to cope with failure when they don't.

Ask the mom of the fifteen year old shot down this weekend if she would rather her son met the fate he met, or had the chance to sail around the world with the risk he may die that way. Abby knows the answer.

Abby Sunderland's news conference, does this sound like teenagers you encounter?

Abby Sunderland's web page



Anonymous said...

Hi Dennis,

Nice job on the wimpy kids article. You are accurate when you say "generations" of kids. Few people our age, let alone younger generations, understand or realize that after December 7, 1941 millions of 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 year olds flocked to join the various services to go fight. Although 18 was enlistment age, most of us who follow that generation know that many kids lied about their age to join up with their parents blessing. Many of the younger ones who were denied enlistment because of age joined the merchant marine as cabin boys, messmen, etc. to be a part of the action known as World War 2. We live in a different culture now for sure. Keep up the good work.

Bob Schilling said...

I have to say that in most respects you're right on point. Having sailed offshore a couple of times, I feel that I have grounds for an opinion on this. Abby Sunderland voluntarily, and with full knowledge of the risks, set off on a solo circumnavigation. She is an experienced sailor, with the requisite skills. She should be applauded for her courage and her willingness to set high goals for herself. It's heady stuff. At sea, if she saw another ship, she would be addressed on the radio as "Captain," with all of the respect any captain commands. What a great experience for a 16-year-old.

For those who ask, "Why would she do this?" - it's BEAUTIFUL out there, wild and free. When you're sailing, YOU'RE free, without the restrictions and taboos and prissy interference of land-based society. Now, it's an adult sport - the ocean is indifferent to your survival, and you are completely responsible for yourself. Some of us LIKE that.

We can quibble with the decision to make the attempt at a time that would put her in the Southern Ocean in winter. But it was her choice, and she was qualified to make it. That she was rolled and dismasted tells us more about that forbidding part of the world than about Abby's judgment. As far as Abby is concerned, she had the presence of mind to take the appropriate emergency steps, and has been safely returned.

If you watch the videos on her website, you can see her grow up before your eyes as she faces the joys and challenges of her voyage. She was repairing her engine because it had failed, and there was no one else to fix it. I imagine that this was one of many things that permanently taught her self-reliance. I expect that she has returned to her family not as a young girl, but as an young adult woman. Good for her, and quite possibly, good for all of us.

As for throwaway kids, they're both a tragedy and a terrible threat. Their hurt and confusion are viscerally evident. They desperately want a family, or even a friend who believes in them and is willing to offer them some kind of stability. Our best answers so far have been foster homes and group homes, neither of which is terribly satisfactory. There are certainly foster parents who do their best and provide love and care to their kids - but their aren't anywhere near enough of them. Group homes try to fill the gap, but in too many cases they're more like lockups than anything else. And, sadly, the throwaway kids too often grow up to be gang members or career criminals or worse, allowing us to pay the price for our inability to care for them as children.

But back to happier news. Good for Abby. A big raspberry for the hand-wringing social critics - most of whom have never been in so much as a rowboat, and none, I suspect, who have ever been out of sight of land - who think she shouldn't have tried for her dream.

Alan said...


Re: "Do you think Abby Sunderland's parents lamented awards being handed out in school for performance, achievement, success?"

Unlikely. The Sunderlands home school their children. Moreover, like most home schooled children, they were probably kicking their peers' butts.

Further, I bet that Abby's parents limited her exposure to television. I wonder if there have been studies correlating academic performance and televisions in kids' bedrooms.