Why I Let My Kids Do Extreme Sports And Other Dangerous Things

Why I Let My Kids Do Extreme Sports And Other Dangerous Things
Credit: www.news.com.au

On May 15, 2015, the New York Times published John Lackman’s piece titled “Is It Wrong To Let Children Do Extreme Sports?”, a piece in which I’d have given anything to add my thoughts.

As the mother of a former downhill longboarder, I wrote and published a 3-part series of posts in 2014 following my son’s accident and head injury due to longboarding. The response from the longboarding community itself was extreme. Many parents of downhill longboarders identified with my conflicted emotions. Not surprisingly, longboarding professionals commended me for supporting my son’s passions (many sent messages of encouragement and some even sent get-well gifts). Still, as a parent, I felt like an anomaly — often misunderstood by contemporaries, frequently judged as irresponsible, and unquestionably doubted for permitting my child’s participation in a sport known for danger and controversy.

To this day, I still experience PTSD over my son’s accident. When I see pictures from that day, every emotion comes rushing back to me, like the pre-accident anxiety, the sick-to-my-stomach feeling watching and helping others when they were injured, the sheer panic trying to reach my son after his crash, the helplessness communicating consistently with people back home, the loneliness and uncertainty of being thousands of miles from home with an injured child, the self-doubt over why I’d ever allowed this to happen, and the frustration that my son remembers almost nothing of the experience.

After my teenager’s accident, my younger son, then 11, began a local summer football camp. As I sat on in the bleachers during his second practice, I watched as other, bigger kids charged toward my little guy at full speed. At one point, his hands went up as his head snapped back from the force of another player. I grabbed the edge of the cold, metal bleacher, sucking in my breath as I watched him shake off the hit.

It didn’t take long for my 11-year-old to decide football wasn’t for him — but it was his decision. The hit he took might have been the final straw — or just the icing on the cake. I didn’t press, I was just relieved. We were still reeling from his brother’s recent accident, so it didn’t surprise me when he said he didn’t feel comfortable doing something like football. Instead, we spent the summer swimming, playing baseball and encouraging his passion for cooking.

Since the longboarding accident on June 14, 2014, my teenager seems to have — on his own accord — stopped downhill racing altogether. In the year since the accident, I’ve watched his focus shift toward his passions for music (composing and performing), toward his studies and toward his friends. And to my great relief, I’ve watched him sell off pieces of his longboarding equipment. These have been his choices, as we’ve never insisted he “quit” doing the sport to which he felt so connected.

What we have instilled is a sense of personal responsibility, letting our kids know the risks, then opening the door. It’s that simple, but it hasn’t been easy. It’s often absolutely terrifying.

So why have I let my kids engage in extreme sports and dangerous activities that also put me through such agony? Because I am their mother and I love them, and because I know my love cannot, should not and will not control someone’s behavior. Kids and danger have always existed. And they always will. I’m far less interested in what activities our kids choose — just that they do them with integrity and a sense of commitment. That and that they’re legal. I also believe it’s more productive for families to encourage the things our kids do right than to dwell on poor choices or mistakes.

Ultimately, though, my children’s lives are their own to experience, whether I agree with their choices or not. While I can and do establish rules for behavior and enforce punishments for those not observed, I cannot watch them at every moment of every day and night.  If I forbid my children to do anything risky or questionable, I might as well lock them in a room forever, denying them opportunities to drive a car, sit under the branch of a tree, eat processed food, breathe outside during high pollen counts, pet a stranger’s dog, take a standardized test, touch a railing in a public place, cross a street, go to college, use anything but organic matter, go sailing, read controversial subject matter, send a text, search for anything on the Internet, ride a roller coaster, use a ladder, take a shower, change a lightbulb, board an Amtrak train, rely on an alarm clock for an important event,  get a job, or love another human being. Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 5.30.27 PMIf you ever read Flowers in the Attic, you’re already aware this approach doesn’t end well — for anyone.

How do you handle your kids’ requests to do things that are dangerous? What are the things you say and do that work — or don’t work — to keep them out of harm’s way?
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Christine Wolf is a freelance columnist for the Chicago Tribune Media Group’s Pioneer Press. As a community activist, Christine creates platforms allowing others to share their voices. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband, their three children and two very vocal dogs.

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    I tend to cover life's ups and downs. I don't shy away from the tougher, more emotional stories. While I'm always willing to voice an opinion, it sometimes contradicts my innate desire to please everyone at all times. Such is this crazy life, I suppose. Ultimately, I search for meaning in the human experience, and openly share how I (try to) keep my head above water. Thanks so much for dropping by. I really appreciate hearing your thoughts.

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