Leave Abby Sunderland (and Her Parents) Alone

There has been an excessive amount of outcry over 16-year old Abby Sunderland’s recently failed attempt to sail solo around the world. The media, parents and media parents have weighed in from all over the world indicting Abby’s family for letting a teenager – a little baby in the critics’ collective eyes – attempt such a feat. I don’t understand why?

Abby was chasing a dream. Abby was going after a goal. A lofty goal, yes, but a goal. Isn’t that what we teach our kids? Set goals and do what you can to accomplish them? Just because this particular goal was well beyond a reality that most of can fathom doesn’t make it wrong. And, who the hell are we (well, YOU) to say that it’s a bad idea? Could she have died? Yes. But she knew that and her parents knew that. If you knew that you were going to die doing the thing you loved the most, but didn’t know when, would you stop doing it? Just like the rest of us, Abby could (heaven forbid) get in some random accident while crossing the street. What then?

I simply don’t understand the outcry. Is she any different from a prodigy pianist? Or one of those stud 16-year old athletes that we worship. Remember LeBron James in high school? He was the apple of everyone’s eye. Why? Because he played a sport we understand. What if he had suffered a spinal injury on a dunk during his rookie year in the NBA? Nobody would have been upset about his parents allowing him to chase his dream. Abby and her family have gotten blasted for doing it for the money. Okay. So? Why did LeBron enter the NBA after high school? Oh right…money. Really…what’s the difference other then the fact that we (more or less) understand and accept major sports and not some kid wanting to achieve some kind of greatness.

When I was in college, I took a cultural anthropology class. I don’t remember the theory, but we learned not to apply our own set of beliefs on those of other cultures. In short, we can’t say something is insane, because we don’t know all the factors that contributed to those actions. We might think a dance is nutty, but it might have all the meaning in the world to the people dancing. So, what gives us the right to criticize that dance? (This is a huge argument right now with the vuvuzelas and the World Cup. We’re basing our complaints on the way WE like to watch the game. Just stop complaining about a noise you don’t understand and watch the soccer.)

But I digress…

Lots of parents have said, “I would never let MY daughter do that.” Fine. No problem. And, if they end their comments there…all good. But to go on and condemn the Sunderlands for being bad parents, well…I do have a problem with that. Good luck, Abby. I think it’s an amazing thing you attempted and I hope that I have the courage to allow K-Man to chase his dreams as your parents have yours.

One thought on “Leave Abby Sunderland (and Her Parents) Alone

  1. hello,

    just thought i’d offer some additional thoughts. first of all, i absolutely agree with you about the fact that we have unfortunate double standards. no one called lebron james a “baby” or even insinuated that he was incapable of making a mature, adult decision in regards to his future. perhaps it’s because lebron james is male. perhaps it’s because lebron james theoretically wasn’t going to die by entering the nba. or perhaps it’s because of his height and size. but regardless, there are a myriad of reasons why lebron james and abby sunderland are different.

    i think, unfortunately, it’s hard to distinguish where a kid’s dream begins and a parent’s dream ends. i mean, it’s fairly certain at this point that lebron james does, in fact, love basketball to some degree. maybe he loves money, too, but it seems like you wouldn’t continue to play professional basketball if you absolutely despised every moment of it. that would eventually come through, and his level of play would no longer be excellent. so, if his parents were forcing him as a child to play basketball and he grew to love it, that’s not really anyone’s concern at this point. he seems content with his millions. and he seems fairly well-adjusted for an nba star.

    to me, it seems like abby sunderland AND her parents were both concocting this scheme to achieve some sort of reality show-type fame. well, not just to me. that’s actually a fact. they did have a reality show in the works. which is fine. a lot of families are on reality shows. but it becomes nutty when people, kids, anyone — are actually involved in real danger. to me, it makes more sense to compare abby sunderland with balloon boy. both were situations where children were in perceived danger for the sake of a reality show. one was staged, one was real. in both cases, authorities were involved and massive searches/rescue operations were undertaken. obviously one situation was illegal, being a hoax — but actually risking your life for reality show fame seems equally absurd.

    that being said, the problem isn’t abby sunderland or her parents or everyone’s judgment. the problem is the fact that we, as a culture, eat all of this up. that’s why a reality show was even on the table — because producers knew that we’d eat it up. i mean, the fact that a child in legitimate danger is entertainment to us, that’s a problem. it seems like we get some sort of sadistic pleasure out of it. even people like lindsay lohan or britney spears in her trainwreck days. it’s like we enjoy seeing people in utter distress. i think that’s what’s particularly screwed up about this case; not that her parents allowed her to chase a potentially dangerous goal.

    just my take 🙂 enjoy your day.


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