Raising children is perhaps one of the most challenging undertakings. Nine months of gestation hardly seems enough time to prepare. After more than twenty five years of parenting, we are about to become empty nesters as our youngest heads off to college in the fall.
Those with multiple children know that each child is different, and not always ready to take on responsibility at the same age as the others did. As parents, we tire of diaper duty, and we wonder "is he or she ready to be toilet trained?"
Our child wants to walk to his or her friend's house to play, and we debate "is he or she equal to the challenge of navigating those blocks alone?" We warn them not to talk to strangers along the way and order them to call us the minute they arrive.
Some parents don't believe their child is ready to drive at 16. I know I will never forget the three times I slid into the passenger seat, buckled my seat belt and braced myself for each of my daughter's first whirl around the high school parking lot.
We are also called upon to gauge whether our offspring are equipped for first sleepovers, week-long camps and dating.
But what about more dangerous, uncommon challenges?
I recently read an Associated Press article about a thirteen year old who hopes to become the youngest climber to gain the 29,035 foot summit of Mt. Everest. According to the article, the teen hopes to eventually tackle the seven summits - the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. He was the youngest American at age ten to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, and has successfully summitted three other mountains including Mt. McKinley.
My first, cynical reaction was "well, he will get into any college he wants," but then I wondered about the wisdom of his parents. Obviously, they know their child better than I do. But how much can a thirteen year old understand the risks of climbing a mountain that has killed many?
There is a reason the legal system defines those eighteen and older as adults, requiring hearings to determine whether younger teens should stand trial as adults. Recent studies have postulated that our brains are not fully developed until twenty five, and, as parents, we have been warned our children won't grow out of adolescence until their mid-to-late twenties.
Although I would never allow my children to climb Mt. Everest at such a young age, parents might be appalled to discover my youngest was SCUBA certified as a PADI diver when she was eleven. PADI will certify divers as young as ten.
SCUBA diving can be an extremely dangerous sport. Did my youngest always follow the rules? No. Did she understand the dangers of SCUBA diving? Probably not.
On our first dive trip, we got separated on a shallow night dive. Other young divers bounced off the sandy bottom and shot to the surface. A rapid ascent from a deep dive can be fatal.
I guess we all need to make the judgment call for our own children, and teach them to be responsible risk takers if there is such a thing. I know I don't want my daughters to be scared of life.
I hope the young climber survives Mt. Everest.