This photo probably wouldn’t catch your attention unless you knew that the rider is a 13-year-old kid, a boy who was killed this past week racing his motorcycle at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He was killed when he fell from his motorcycle and was struck by another biker–a 12-year-old. Naturally, a bulk of the cyber-comments on this story seem to be along the lines of “How could any parent let their child take on this kind of risk?” I can’t say I disagree with those comments. This seems like a highly risky activity not appropriate for children.
But kids do risky things quite regularly. Yesterday evening I went to our local high school football game. It was an enjoyable game, but there were injuries, as there usually are at football games. I wondered to myself what kind of society allows its children to play games that require an ambulance to be parked near the end zone, with paramedics on hand? What kind of parents allow this? Apparently parents like me, since my boys have played tackle football.
This past summer my two oldest boys (18 and 16) went on a river rafting trip with a church youth group. Apparently the water was high, and it was quite a harrowing experience for some of the boys. I wasn’t really enthusiastic about my boys going on the trip. I have to say I don’t see a lot of difference between dodging bolders in white water and dodging cars on the freeway, but we usually don’t approve of youth activities to dodge cars on the freeway. I’m not sure why we approve of river rafting. Yes, it’s fun and exciting, and there is something to be said for facing fear and risk. But is that sufficient?
I think this is a really tricky question from a political perspective. I really don’t want the state telling me whether or not I can let me kids play football or go on river trips. On the other hand, if there were a law prohibiting children from motorcycle racing, I would support it. I don’t have any idea what kind of principle can be applied that would tell us when the state can appropriately step in and prohibit children from taking certain risks. It does seem to be a weird outcome that pre-teens are allowed to race motorcycles at over 120 miles per hour, but required to wear a seat belt in a car they are not allowed to drive.
Young underdeveloped minds are not very good at making decisions about risk. I used to live on a hill where young men would race their long boards down the hill in front of my house without helmets, demonstrating the human brain’s lack of capacity to protect itself. Some of these same people never grow up, turning into adults who are constantly craving something dangerous to do. I can understand enjoying the adrenaline rush that comes from undertaking active, risky activities (I have on many occasions gone downhill skiing faster than I should and without a helmet), but doesn’t maturity mean we realize there are other ways to find happiness in life than by putting one’s life at risk just for enjoyment? Doesn’t allowing one’s children to take on these types of risks constitute a particularly harmful type of immaturity, and doesn’t it make sense for the state to play an active role in protecting children from the immaturity of their parents?
But to what extent? Anyone have an answer?