As Fatherâ€™s Day 2010 approaches and my daughter nears her 7th birthday, Iâ€™ve been thinking about the story of Abby Sunderland, the 16-year-old California teenager who recently tried to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world. She didn’t make it (a storm broke her mast and she had to be rescued in the Indian Ocean). Today, much of what Iâ€™d been thinking about around her was well summed perfectly up in an editorial in the Chicago Tribune, which asks, in essence, how old is old enough to do so many things as a child.
I watched with excitement over the last few months as my daughter has reached several milestones of independence. She can swim without an adult right next to her in the water. She learned how to ride a bicycle on two wheels. Of course, as is mandatory these days, sheâ€™s not allowed to ride that bike without a helmet. And even though she and one of her good pals five houses down can now both ride without training wheels, the â€œruleâ€ is that she cannot ride out of side of either our house or her friendâ€™s house. Cross the street? Absolutely not. Ride around the block? Even though sheâ€™d always be on the sidewalk never have to cross the street â€“ still a no-no. And yet as I think back to when I learned how to ride a bike, ironically in the same town where we live now, I never had a helmet and as soon as I could go on two wheelsâ€¦I was gone. I had to stay within a small radius of our houseâ€¦but I could go around the block (without the benefit of a sidewalk) or to a small field down at the end of our street.
I don’t feel that my wife and I are overprotective, but I do feel that we exert a much tighter â€œbubbleâ€ around our daughter than our parents did around us. It seems we’re more frequently looking for a detailed “checklist” of qualifications and a level of readiness to â€œpassâ€ certain tests that will make us feel comfortable to loosen our parental grip ever so slightly.
So as you head towards Fatherâ€™s Day, please give this some thought: how old is old enough to do all the things your children want to do? Whether itâ€™s go to the mall and a movie alone, ride a bicycle out of your sight, walk alone to schoolâ€¦or sail around the world. After all, as the Chicago Tribune aptly points out, if you were the parent of one of Abby Sunderlandâ€™s teenage friends, as you negotiate a curfew, you could find yourself in the uncomfortable and unenviable position of a child who says, â€œBut why not?!? Abbyâ€™s parents let her sail around the world alone!â€