Saturday, June 12, 2010

Brave Teen, Questionable Parents

The undated photo shows Abby Sunderland and her yacht, Wild Eyes, in Mexico. (Xinhua/AFP File photo)

First let me say that I'm really not in the habit of commenting on other people's parenting styles.

Now that it's apparent that Abby Sunderland is alive, rescued and on her way to some sort of reunion with her family, I feel more comfortable talking about this story. I have always been a great believer in the idea that you aren't raising a child, that you're raising an adult, meaning that you want to raise a confident, independent and self-sufficient child. At certain age milestones I've always encouraged our kids to step up and do things for themselves, on their own. Whether it's simple household stuff or figuring out if you really want that piercing how you can convince us that it's safe, healthy and where you would get it...  be sure to give us the actual research... oh look at that, it wasn't such a great idea after all. Anyway, as a believer in individuality, I can definitely understand fostering the passion of a child for something like sailing. Or art. Or cooking. Or reading. Or music. But at some point you have to make decisions that your child is still... a child and vulnerable in a way that children or young people are vulnerable.

I don't sail but we have good friends in Spain that do and who are very skilled and avid sailors for several decades at this point. They're engineers and have traveled all over the world working for a major Spanish engineering company. They've lived in some exotic places, sometimes for years at a time. When they were living in Indonesia on the island of Irian Jaya, sailing was so dangerous in the area, especially in the South China Sea, that they describe fellow sailors hooking them up with missile launchers. Why? Pirates who would take your boat, kill you and dump you in the water and that's the last of it. If you were lucky. Because let's face the facts in this lovely era of human sex slave trafficking. A lot of people would look at a nice, blonde 16 year old girl as an asset just as profitable as a cute little sailboat. You could get a handsome price for a nice little American girl. 

And so when I look at Abby Sunderland and think about her failed trip, I think that she's really one lucky girl that what found her was a rogue wave. Because there are a lot of things out there that are a lot more dangerous. Pirates and sex slave traffickers and maybe even parents who say you are "priceless" but allow you to take risks that can only make me think that when you look in the Webster's Illustrated Dictionary under the phrase responsible parenting, one photo you won't see will be that of Mr. and Mrs. Sunderland.

There's a difference between encouraging your child to follow her passion and muse and allowing your child to take insane risks. 

The Sunderlands could have lost their child forever in an instant. And she might not even have had to die for that to have happened.


Having already received an email about how sex trafficking of teenaged girls is 'overblown', readers are directed to :

One of my longterm commitments to supporting an organization (since 2003) is the Somaly Mam Foundation.

And for those of you naive enough to think it only happens in Asia and Eastern Europe:


  1. It's upsetting that people downplay the issue of trafficking.

  2. Thanks for the link CN! It is such a serious and frightening topic.