Abby Sunderland: Teen Sailor's Disappearance Scares Moms Everywhere


Abby Sunderland
Photo from
Abby Sunderland's parents' decision to let her try to sail around the world had many parents shaking their heads even before she disappeared.

But none of us wanted to be put in the "I told you so" position.

No matter what you thought (admit it, you thought it) about the 16-year-old Sunderland's circumnavigation of the globe, you wanted it to turn out alright.

So what are parents thinking today, as MaryAnne Sunderland announced to ABC News that her daughter sent out two emergency beacons in the Pacific and the crew thinks she's lost at sea?

That the hard knock we get for being overbearing, overinvolved helicopter parents who stunt our children's growth may just be better than not having a child at all.


That's my job. I'm the parent. Not my daughter's best friend or her cheerleader. I tell her to put down the Zhu Zhu Pet and get in bed. I tell her to brush her teeth so they don't rot out of her head and to eat her broccoli or there's no dessert.

I hate playing the heavy. But that's how I keep her from burning her hand on the stove, walking into traffic, eating dirt.

I'm here, as the old proverb says, to give her roots and wings. Roots first. Because without them, there is no chance to fly -- or to float in this instance.

Circumnavigating the globe solo is dangerous. And it proves what, exactly? That one can beat the elements? That one can "do it"?

As my father said when I was a kid, that and 50 cents would get you a cup of coffee (what can I say -- there's been some inflation).

At best she gains from it a great story for her college admission essays. But millions of kids get into college without them.

So what, again, did she gain? A selfish accomplishment, a fool's journey. 

It's OK to support our kids as they strive to better themselves. But it's just as important to provide them with a sense of priorities.

If helicopter parents aren't providing their kids with enough sense of responsibility, neither are the free-wheeling parents who allow their children to think their whims carry real weight in the world.

I feel for the Sunderlands today. This is not the time for I told you sos -- we are all making mistakes in parenting. But here's hoping our mistakes are righted in the end.

Here's hoping that Abby Sunderland is OK.


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nonmember avatar Larry

But these aren't merely inadvertent mistakes. This is knowingly putting the life of your child at risk. As to the previous poster, we should embrace every experience regardless how stupid, dangerous or foolhardy as we might only end up doing it once in life. Circumnavigating the globe at 16 adds nothing to the betterment of man, it's simply an arrogant display.

nonmember avatar Andras

It is funny that you call her journey selfish. I think it would be selfish not to let her follow her dreams. Parents like you may think your doing a great job raising your children safely, but at the same time you are killing their ambitions and dreams. I applaud her family and I admire her courage and I hope she is OK. I would much rather to be a child in her family than in yours.

nonmember avatar SAM

She is proving alot by what she is doing, being the youngest person ever to circumnavigate the world is an amazing accomplishment. I think what she is doing is extreemly brave and wonderful.  She is following her dreams....dreams are not selfish! And it sounded like she had all the training required to do what she was doing.  Im so proud of what she is doing and im proud of her parents that the didnt stop her from attempting to achieve her dreams!! And i pray that she is ok and can complete her voyage.

nonmember avatar Mike

My kids's dreams may be to drive a Mack TRuck around the world solo through winter snow and dark nights at age 10 but that does not mean that I would let her do it.  Minors need and rely on parental support and control and decision making for best interest.  Single handing a ship round the world solo, particularly the foolish decision to traverse the Southern Ocean in the winter when it is at its worst, demands experience and seasoning and a crew bigger than one as expert sailors told her.  She had none of that.  Her parents played russian rhoulette with their kids.  FIrst their son, now their daughter.  Sad really. 

nonmember avatar luke

First and foremost, I want to send out my hopes and prayers to the Sunderland family.  Second, the Jeanne Sager, you should be ashamed of yourself.  If you don't want to say "I told you so" as you put it, then why did you just write a story saying just that before the facts are even out.  How about a little support for the family and Abby?  People like you are the reason so many foreign countries hold such a dislike for Americans in general, and you disgust me.  My dad also had a saying growing up - if you don't have anything nice to say, shut the hell up.  Maybe you should take his advice.

nonmember avatar Lauren Fithian

At least Abby's parents understand that they and Abby are not one and the same person. Helicopter parents are unable to let go of their overbearing control because they see their kids as mere extensions of themselves. Abby's parents were able to see her as a separate individual. 

I think it is shameful to have published this "I told you so" piece when Abby's parents and family and friends are no doubt worried sick for her well-being. And make no mistake--it is definitely an ":I told you so" regardless of the fact that you said it was not the time for I told you sos. If it wasn't the time then why the piece? It shows a terrible lack of empathy and compassion--apparently based solely on parenting differences! By the way--unfortunately, horrible and tragic things happen to kids whether their parents are control freaks or overly permissive or in between. I wonder if the grief of the over-bearing, over-involved parent is the same as that of Abby's parents. 

This piece comes off as disingenuous. It almost seems as if the author wants the worst outcome in order to vindicate her own decisions about parenting style. Small.

nonmember avatar Sally Zamora

I agree with Luke, how about some support for the Sunderland family.   Jeanne Sager you are pointing fingers to Abby's parents without coming out and saying it.  You are shallow and judgemental.  I hope you are never in a situation where other people are judging you for your parental skills.  I pray for the safety of Abby and I have followed her blogs every week.  

nonmember avatar me

When my child wanted to walk to school all be herself, I let her.


I ALSO FOLLOWED BEHIND HER to make sure she arrived safely!  It is possible to do both you know, give your child some room AND still be a responsible parent.

nonmember avatar Elliott Evans



As my father said when I was a kid, "You can teach a person to sail. But you can't teach her why."

Unless you have experienced the sea, you cannot understand what it means to love it, to have saltwater flowing in your veins. There are risks associated with all of the activities of adolescence, driving, sports, sexual development. Abby grew up in a sailing environment that is quite foreign, and seemingly perilous, to the vast majority of us. But she has been extensively trained and indoctrinated in sail handling, navigation, and safety procedures.

The accomplishment of a voyage like this is an immense achievement; for the sailor it engenders extreme courage and self-sufficiency, vastly more than the average American will experience in a lifetime. Also a sailor must master skills in diverse fields including mechanics, meteorology, and logic. Finally voyaging (especially solo) is an introspective journey, one that forces the sailor to confront the content of her own identity.

Abby demonstrated a willingness to reject fear and experience life. Abby was never on a fool's journey; it just looked that way from the safe and languid perspective of the middle class.

mistr... mistressScorpio

Thankfully, it seems Abby Sunderland is okay. See the update on her blog, linked at her photo in the article.

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