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It's elementary about Watson

By Nina Funnell - posted Thursday, 20 May 2010

When Justin Jones announced to his parents that he and his best mate, James Castrission, planned to kayak from Australia to New Zealand in 2007, his mother burst into tears, pleading with him to reconsider. In contrast, his father stood up, walked to the couch and fell asleep.

Many months later when Jones snr reunited with his triumphant son on the other side of the Tasman Sea, he explained his earlier, rather oddly timed nap. "Well, son," he began, "I knew your mother wasn't going to let me get much sleep over the next few months so I figured I'd better take every opportunity I could get".

When young people such as Jones and, more recently, Jessica Watson defy the odds and prove their critics wrong, they capture the national imagination. They also remind us of the resourcefulness and strength of youth.


There is no doubt that learning to set goals and take calculated risks is one of the best ways in which young people experiment and gain personal confidence and (to a certain extent) this should be encouraged.

But it is no secret that young risk-takers cause an inordinate degree of stress and heartache to those close to them - particularly their parents.

Teaching young people to differentiate between calculated, controlled risks and those that are left to chance is no easy task. And all of us would do well to remember that both Jones and Watson undertook many months of careful planning, physical training and preparation with expert mentors before embarking.

Similarly (and without wanting to detract from her incredible achievement), it is fair to say Watson was by no means solo or unassisted in her voyage around the world; a team of advisors and experts meticulously guided her through that process.

Watson's mission was a controlled risk but it was still a risk and I have often felt for her parents. There must have been many restless nights.

Young people seldom realise that when they take risks their parents take on all of the concern and worry, only occasionally sharing in the rewards. From climbing trees and exploring the natural world, to experimenting with drugs and casual sex, young people get to enjoy the thrill of taking risks while parents sit by, white-knuckled, hoping that nothing bad happens.


Of course individual parents and children are not the only stakeholders in these debates. The public also has a voice and a right of reply in such matters.

Many people are celebrating Watson's extraordinary tenacity and bravery. And rightly so. But there are also many individuals who view her expedition as little more than an expensive, dangerous act of self-gratification.

A significant proportion of the public also resents risk takers who arrogantly expect the public to foot the bill for any rescue missions.

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First published in the Sydney Morning Herald on May 19, 2010.

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About the Author

Nina Funnell is a freelance opinion writer and a researcher in the Journalism and Media Research Centre at the University of New South Wales. In the past she has had work published in the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Age, The Brisbane Times and in the Sydney Star Observer. Nina often writes on gender and sexuality related issues and also sits on the management committee of the NSW Rape Crisis Centre.

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