On Saturday, 16 Year Old Laura Dekker completed her solo round-the-world sailing adventure. The Dutch teenager started her record breaking voyage at just 14 years old – but only after winning a court case that allowed her to go.
Although Laura was born on a boat off the coast of New Zealand (and holds citizenship there), she lives in Holland where schooling is compulsory until 16. As a result when she made plans aged 13 to do a round the world solo voyage, the Dutch authorities stepped in with a court order and she was almost taken into care as it was felt she was too young to look after herself at sea. She eventually won the court battle on the conditions that she complete a first aid course and continue with her education via an internet-based distance learning scheme. The BBC have a good piece covering the full story surrounding her voyage.
However, the youth work aspect I’m interested in with this story is in finding the balance between encouraging young people to fulfil their dreams, and taking necessary precautions around their safety and wellbeing.
My initial reaction to hearing that Laura had completed the voyage was pride. Here was a young girl who has followed her dreams, achieved something amazing, and proved her critics wrong. But then I thought: what if I had been responsible for her? Would I have encouraged her to go, or maybe suggested she wait a year or two?
It’s actually the Social Workers in the story who I feel a bit sorry for. I understand their dilemma. As the BBC quotes:
“We have a duty to investigate. The law says you must stay in school until you are 16,” says Caroline Vink from the Netherlands Youth Institute.
“We also had to make sure that Laura was able to cope with the demands of such a massive challenge when she was so young; things like the lack of sleep and being on her own all the time.”
“It’s so difficult to judge a case like this and when you’re dealing with such a determined young woman.
“We never meant to make her life difficult, only to look out for her safety. I hope she doesn’t hold a grudge.
“In the end she has shown extreme strength of character both before and of course during her adventure.”
Apparently, Laura doesn’t think much of the Dutch authorities due to her experiences and is considering moving to New Zealand as a result!
Most of us aren’t involved in such a high profile scenario, but we do face similar dilemmas in our work. How do we best encourage young people to fulfil their potential while being realistic about their, and our, safety?
What do you think? Were the Dutch authorities right to try and stop the voyage initially? Should we allow young people to do risky and dangerous things, or do we have a duty to stop them? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!