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Should children be coddled in bubble wrap and protected from every bump and scrape? Or, should children be allowed to climb Mt. Everest or sail around the world solo?
Jordan Romero was 13-years-old when he climbed to the top of Mt. Everest. Jessica Watson was 16-years-old when she sailed around the world by herself. Peter Lenz was 13-years-old when he fell of his motorcycle at the U.S. Grand Prix Racers Union, and was run over and killed by another 12-year-old driver.
Children are no longer satisfied with riding their skateboards and bikes down the steep hill in front of their house. They're doing extreme sports, skateboarding down nine story ramps or diving off of 10-meter high platforms.
Is it legal to allow children to do extreme sports?
The Fourteenth Amendment
Courts have repeatedly recognized parents' Fourteenth Amendment rights to make decisions regarding their children's care without undue interference from the state.
Parents have the right to consent or object to their children's medical treatments. Parents have a right to decide whether their kids attend public or private school. Parents have a right to discipline their children.
However, this right is not absolute. A parents' right to control a child's care and upbringing must be balanced with the state's interest to protect the child.
Child Endangerment Laws
Parents' right to make child rearing decisions are limited by a states' child abuse and child endangerment laws. While the laws may vary, most states criminalize child endangerment.
In New York, the law states, "A person is guilty of endangering the welfare of a child when 1. He knowingly acts in a manner likely to be injurious ... or directs or authorizes such child to engage in an occupation involving a substantial risk of danger to his life or health." In California, "any person who, under circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death ... willfully causes or permits that child to be placed in a situation where his or her person or health is endangered shall be punished by imprisonment."
Does allowing your child to play extreme sports fit the definition of child endangerment?
In one case, 13-year-old Jett Eaton, while attempting to skateboard down a nine story high ramp and spin 900 degrees while airborne, crashed into the side of the ramp. He suffered a fractured skull, bruised frontal lobes, a seizure and a concussion.
Is his father guilty of child endangerment? The father allowed Jett to perform this stunt which eventually did cause him great bodily harm. Does the fact that Jett was especially skilled and qualified to do so matter? Jett's father did require him to wear proper protective gear. Is this enough of a defense to a criminal child endangerment charge?
Whether or not a situation is dangerous can be a very subjective determination, so a clear yes or no answer to these questions is hard to give. If it came to the legal system, a case before a "free-range parenting" judge may result in a lenient or no jail sentence, while a "helicopter parent" judge might impose a harsher sentence.
If your child is injured in an extreme sport accident, and you are charged with child endangerment, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney for guidance.