Cowabunga, Baby: Sports Are Getting Extreme.
In fact, it seems extreme sports are nearly mainstream, nearly where soccer was a decade ago. "It's reaching the saturation point," says Schleser. "Everybody has become aware of it. Kids are exposed to it on a regular basis. When that happens, the trend toward younger kids getting involved kicks in. We see kids as young as eight, nine, or 10 involved in skateboarding, bikes, doing bike tricks, advanced skateboarding-type things. They're the first generation to fall into this tradition."
Whereas traditional sports are said to build character and team spirit, many parents wonder if extreme sports promote antisocial behaviors. "Antisocial -- I don't think that particular term is appropriate," William F. Gayton, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Southern Maine, tells WebMD. "Even in gymnastics, girls are competing individually. A swimmer is going to swim as fast as they can to beat a team member. Sure, there's team competition, when you talk about your team beating another team. But those members are definitely competing against each other. You see the same thing in extreme sports."
He sees lots of positives in extreme sports. "Clearly these people are getting pleasure out of what they're doing. Last time I checked, that was a legitimate value in our society. Participating in any sport is about maintaining and raising self-esteem. The interesting thing about extreme sports is their uniqueness. In our society, we have ignored that quality, the need to be unique, to be different."
Extreme sports could indeed have a positive impact on kids, says Schleser, "I don't see adults, parents, coaches screaming at young kids because they're not performing as well as they should. From a psychological point of view, that's devastating for a kid. So you've got these kids out there, they're skilled athletes, they appear to be having fun, and they're purely self-paced on this. Kids are working their problems out by themselves. I'm thinking they have a greater degree of commitment to it. In some respects, it could turn out to be healthier than traditional team sports."
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."