All parents want their kids to be healthy and that means getting healthy exercise. Sometimes it can be tricky to get kids off the couch- there are so many tempting
games consoles and internet enabled goodies around these days- but every now and again the parents of teenagers run into the opposite problem. What happens when your kids want to try a sport that looks dangerous?
Extreme sports have always been attractive to young people and they are now heavily marketed towards teens. You only have to look at huge-scale events like the X Games or the ads put out by energy drink manufacturers to see just how fashionable extreme sports are.
The first thing to do is look at the activity involved. There are extreme sports that are quite safe for kids to get involved with (as long as you make sure they have a qualified instructor and the right safety equipment) and then there are extreme sports that inevitably involve a high degree of risk. Take rock climbing and BASE jumping as examples.
BASE jumping is undeniably dangerous. It involves jumping off a building, an aerial, a bridge, or a cliff with a parachute on your back, and is far more dangerous than regular skydiving. In many places it’s banned altogether. You won’t find a properly accredited outdoor instructor who is willing to take a child BASE jumping, so if your teens have seen this on TV and want to have a go they’ll just have to wait. The same is true of most of the really dangerous extreme sports.
One the other hand, kids can try rock climbing with an instructor and a special full-body safety harness from about five years up. With the right set-up the chance of a fall is minimal and the risks of anything more than a scraped knee (at worst) are tiny. A beginner will always have a rope above them, ready to take their weight, and modern climbing ropes are a little bit elastic so there is no sudden shock involved.
As a novice climber learns the ropes and moves beyond the beginner level, there are some risks involved. The same is true of white water rafting, caving, snowboarding, hill running, and kayaking, all of which are pretty safe for first timers with approp
riate instruction. But a small amount of risk isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Learning to assess risks sensibly is an important part of growing up. Young extreme sports enthusiasts learn tenacity and gain confidence but they also learn to be aware of their environment and the hazards it might pose, and how to reduce those risks. They learn to make checks, to organize a strategy for dealing with a difficult situation, and not to panic when a day doesn’t go as planned.
If you’re nervous about letting your kids get involved in any outdoor sport, whether it’s surfing, climbing, or mountain biking, the best solution is to try it with them. This will give you a family activity teenagers can get excited about. Don’t be afraid to let them know you’re nervous either. Taking on a shared challenge will mean a valuable bonding experience for you and your teens, and for younger and older siblings who might not interact as much as you would like.
Find Jess on Twitter at @Jess_Spate
Jess is former outdoor instructor, a rock climber, a kayaker, and a lover of almost all outdoor sports. She writes for Appalachian Outdoors, a US outdoor retailer carrying everything from casual Keen shoes to Alpine ski accessories and rock climbing gear.