So, your kid wants a skateboard, a BMX bike, a snowboard, or the opportunity to take their horseback riding lessons to the next level and give jumping a try. Maybe they’re more interested in trying motocross or riding ATVs. Should you let your child do sports that venture into “extreme” territory?
As it turns out, we parents are full of opinions. Here, five got together to exchange views on the topic of dangerous sports instead of less extreme options like tennis or basketball. Here’s the low-down.
Jeffrey P. “Extreme sports teach kids skills they can use later.”
Let’s face it: I was a little bit shocked when I found out that Jeffrey and his wife, Alice, decided that 5 years old was the ideal age to get their son his own ATV. As it turns out, kids ATVs are a thing – and as extreme sports equipment goes, they’re at the very mild end of the spectrum. They hit top speeds of five or maybe ten miles per hour – nothing like the insanity I was envisioning.
Jeffrey explained that he and his family love outdoor adventures and these pint-sized ATVs are the perfect introduction to extreme sports for kids. They’re safe enough for a little kid to handle, but they teach important skills like balance and eye-hand coordination, so once it’s time to introduce a real ATV, kids feel more confident as they already have some important foundational skills in place. Jeffrey says his young children always wear helmets when riding, even when they’re only going 5 miles per hour. OK, Jeffrey, you sold me on this one.
Ellie P. “My son was badly hurt snowboarding.”
Ellie, takes a cautious stance on the subject of kids and extreme sports. She had reservations when her son wanted to take snowboarding lessons but all went well and pretty soon, he was performing complicated tricks and flying down mogul-covered black-diamond hills. One day her son was hit from behind by another snowboarder. The two were moving at a high rate of speed and after they tangled up, they slid into a pine tree. Ellie’s son broke his left leg in two places. He needed extensive surgery to repair a compound fracture in his femur, and he spent months recovering.
These days he’s begging to get back on his board but Ellie is reluctant. “We’ll see,” she told me. “We’re probably going to let him go back to snowboarding but we’re definitely going to put limits on which slopes he rides and how fast he goes.”
Monica K. “I am who I am because I was allowed to take risks.”
Monica lets her older kids ride motocross and one of her daughters is into show jumping. When I asked her about her level of concern over the risks associated with extreme sports, she said that in her opinion, life itself is risky. “We take extreme risks every time we get into our cars and get on the freeway,” she says. “Yet most of us don’t even think twice about strapping our infants into car seats and heading down the road.”
Monica went on to explain that as a girl, she was allowed to ride her horse at top speed in rodeo barrel racing. She hunted and fished with her dad, she rode her bicycle on a rural road that was a main route for cars and trucks, and she participated in team sports. Her parents taught her to be safe, but they allowed her to take risks, too. Because she has never been timid, Monica says she has enjoyed a high level of success in business and in life altogether. “I have no doubt that I’d be a different person today if my parents hadn’t encouraged me to be bold within reason. I take reasonable risks and I think that’s a big part of why I’m so successful.” Point taken.
John F. “My son wants to play tackle football. I’m not sure if I’m OK with that.”
John is a huge football fan so I was stunned to hear that he had reservations about allowing his 13-year old son try out for tackle football. “When he was born, I thought he’d be a football star,” John says. But recent research shows that people who play tackle football are prone to serious brain injuries that can negatively impact their quality of life later. That’s not all, John tells me. Kids who play competitive sports are often stressed by grueling practice schedules, and early in the season, heat injuries are common.
Reading this article on kids and extreme sports, I was surprised to learn that “tamer” activities like basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, and gymnastics join football in causing the most injuries including chronic overuse injuries and acute injuries like fractures and dislocations.
Patti L. “I started my kids surfing when they were little. I have no regrets.”
Living in a beach town means kids get to learn how to swim early – and Patti, a self-described beach bum and interior designer, got her kids into surfing as soon as they felt ready. “My kids are healthy, confident, and environmentally aware,” says Patti. “I’m proud of the people they are – and at the same time, I’m concerned about the risks that come with surfing; for example, I’ve been hit by a loose board more than once and that hurts!”
I ask Patti if she’s worried about sharks. “They’re out there,” she says, “and some people get bitten. But we’re watchful and we don’t go into the water when there are a lot of shark sightings. In the end, everything comes with risks – even going to school or just traveling to a place where natural disasters like earthquakes tend to occur frequently. Bottom line, I think it’s better to enjoy life than to live in fear.”
Ultimately, the choice about whether to let children participate in extreme sports is up to each parent. After talking to these five parents, it’s easier to understand both sides of the debate. We want our kids to be safe, but we don’t want them to grow up in a bubble. Where do you draw the line?