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But when kids get into extreme sports, they seem totally absorbed by it. Are these kids at risk of throwing away their best years, when they should be preparing for college -- and being in college?

"What's new?" Gayton says. "Video games, computers were supposed to ruin the last generation. I don't see that that happened. When it comes to extreme sports, if I were a parent, I would be far more concerned about safety than emotional health. I've seen nothing that triggers concern about emotional health."

"Certainly, any kind of extreme activity outside of the primary activity, which is getting oneself educated and grown up, poses a potential problem," Schleser tells WebMD. "I think parents need to monitor participation in extreme sports just as they would monitor participation in any activity."

Ulmer says she's been "wildly successful" making a living as a spokeswoman for the extreme sports industry. If extreme sports have a redeeming quality, she says, "They teach people what it feels like to follow your passion."

Safety is Schleser's biggest concern. "In traditional organized sports, that's less of a concern about safety because there is adult supervision. In extreme sports, kids are essentially supervising themselves and adults are relatively clueless about what exactly they're doing." However, he says, "I haven't seen a problem with that yet."

"There's tremendous skill involved to reduce risk," Schleser adds. "All things considered, we haven't had an epidemic of injuries coming out of extreme sports. But if you look at injury reports for football and overuse injuries from tennis ... it looks like there should be bodies lying all over the place, but from my perspective, it's been extremely low."

Parents' perception of extreme sports may need some work. "A lot of parents don't think of these as sports," Jack Raglin, PhD, sports psychology researcher and associate professor of kinesiology at Indiana University in Bloomington, tells WebMD. "I think they don't realize that people who are really good at those sports, the role models the kids aspire to, are highly trained athletes. It's a very challenging thing, just like any sport, but parents don't see it that way."

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