Teen sailor Laura Dekker's mother has given her the go-ahead for a round-the-world trip. But the state still says no — so why is this news? I think it has something to do with the allure of the Adventure Teen.
The "newsworthy" item is this: Laura Dekker, 14-year-old Dutch sailor, has been railroaded in her dreams of circumnavigating the globe by the Dutch courts, who ruled she is "too inexperienced." Dekker's parents have been behind the plan since day one, but recently her mother, Bab Mueller, wrote a letter to a local paper that reasserted her support. "I know she can do it, she's a strong girl who does not give up easily," she said. "Of course no mother on earth likes it if her daughter goes to sea alone. I will have sleepless nights from the worry, but this is about Laura and how I can help her." However, this letter brings Dekker no closer to her goal; she still needs to meet 14 conditions mandated by the court before she can sail free. So, as you can see, there is very little that new news here. Yet the story - and the newest addition to the Sailor Girl group - reveals something interesting about our obsession with the First. And The Youngest. And teenagers in general.
I don't think these teens are doing anything that shockingly new - after all, kids often feel invincible, and this, coupled with a desire to make your mark on the world, can lead to some rather risky undertakings - but our dedicated following of the adventure teen-trend seems like a relatively new phenomenon. This could be related to our obsession with youth in general, to the idea that we must stay forever young, and teens have some sort of vital energy that we desperately want to tap into (while simultaneously lamenting their courageous stupidity). This could also have something to do with a sort of retroactive envy, a desire to go back to a time where anything seemed possible. Maybe we consume these stories because we want to root for the kids, to support dreams we only dimly remember now. Or, on the flip-side, maybe we enjoy the controversy, the sense that we can justly criticize these parents for being too permissive or too fame-hungry.
But more importantly, I think that as the world narrows - and the space of the known becomes greater than the unknown - youth itself becomes the final frontier. Who will be the first? is simply no longer applicable for many things (space travel, round-the-world sails, etc) but who will be the youngest? opens up far more possibilities. Furthermore, I think these Adventure Teens allow for a return to a time when the physical world was at once more manageable and more mysterious. Most of the highly-publicized progress these days is tech-oriented - and as such, it is often incomprehensible to vast portions of the population. Kids like Laura Dekker and Abby Sunderland offer an alternative to this; they bring us back to a time when explorer felt like a viable career. Instead of fearing/praising kids for being so tech-savvy, the Adventure Teen allows adults to revel in something else, something rather old-fashioned: the pure energy of youth, untainted by hysterics about ADD culture, MTV, the Internet and porn.