In January 2015, a 14-year-old snowboarder named Chloe Kim, from La Palma, California, became the youngest gold medalist at the Winter X Games, which showcase extreme sports such as freestyle skiing (doing aerial tricks on skis) and snowmobile long jump. As competitions like the X Games have gained popularity, more athletes at all levels have started doing these sports. That raises ethical questions about young people participating in such risky activities.
It's well known that physical activity has many health benefits. Unfortunately, many young people today have lost interest in traditional sports. But adventure sports--such as snowboarding, mountain biking, and motocross--are steadily becoming more popular, and we should encourage this.
Although some adventure sports are associated with a higher potential for injury, it may be this very risk that helps get--and keep-people involved. If young people believe they're inadequately challenged by an activity, they often lose interest. Risk-free activities deprive young people of the opportunity to test themselves while engaging in age-appropriate physical challenges that are motivating and stimulating.
Risk-taking is crucial to the development of risk-management skills and to the mental health of adolescents. It's the opportunity to escape boredom, test abilities, overcome fears, and achieve goals that motivates most adventure sport athletes, and teens are no different.
Risk is a fact of life. Consider something as simple as driving to work. Daily commuting is associated with a large number of car accidents. We accept that the risk of traffic can be reduced by learning and practicing good driving skills. A doctor wouldn't suggest that a person injured or killed in a car crash should have anticipated the accident because he or she was engaged in an inherently dangerous activity.
We regularly control our exposure to risk by taking preventive measures and gradually working toward our goals. Driving lessons start on empty roads, not on freeways. It's that slow progression that allows us to safely get better, and adventure sports are the same. More-dangerous activities should be avoided until skills are sufficiently mastered and the chance of success is high.
Children may lack the maturity or ability to judge risk and the consequences of failure. That's why they need guidance from a coach or parent. Nevertheless, adventure sports can still be part of a healthy, balanced life.