I recently met Helen Denton, the personal secretary who typed up General Eisenhower's orders for D-Day. What a fascinating and intelligent woman she is! Helen's grandfather moved with his 12 year old son (Helen's father, eventually) from New York to North Dakota and built a sod house on the prairie. He left the 12 year old there by himself and returned to New York to retrieve the rest of the family. The boy spent the long lonely nights playing his violin while the local Sioux population listened outside. In the dead of winter, the native Sioux would leave meat and wood for him, and one time, a buffalo robe. After more than five months, the family arrived to join the 12 year old boy. Years later, when Helen asked her father how he had survived 5 months of winter alone as a 12 year old, he replied, “I was a man.”
A 12-year old man? Unheard of these days. Compare the story of Laura Dekker, the 13-year old Dutch girl who wants to become the youngest person ever to sail around the globe solo. Laura has grown up on the water, having already sailed around the world with her parents, and having spent the first four years of her life at sea. Laura is able, accomplished, and courageous. Her parents have nervously, but proudly, approved her venture.
Laura has been sailing solo since the age of six. She has been planning this trip around the globe for over three years. For now, however, the trip has been put on hold.
What's the problem? The government. Dutch officials have stepped in to prohibit Laura from making the journey, citing her age and the potential dangers that might await her on the high seas. Government trumps parents; government trumps accomplished, courageous, risk-taking teen. Government knows all but knows no boundaries.
Caroline Vink, a social worker at the Netherlands Youth Institute in Utrecht, a research organization that advises the government on youth policy, said ultimately, “the state and society had a moral obligation to intervene when the safety of a child was at risk.” Laura Dekker is now under supervision by the state. She will be evaluated by a state-approved child psychologist. A “moral obligation” in spite of the girl's obvious skills? In spite of her parents' approval and blessing? To what end?