Dear Straight Talk: If I could ask young people anything, I'd like to know what the fascination is with extreme sports. What is this fixation all about? -- Melody, Monterey, Calif.
Jesse, 18: I do downhill mountain biking, a very extreme sport. I love the adrenaline rush. Plus it gets you outside and releases your mind from stressful situations with family or school. Another reason I love it is because you don't think, you just do.
Elise, 19: I recently went skydiving and it was AMAZING! I have always wanted to do it, but never thought I actually would. I wish I had an intense, deep reason, but why I and many others do extreme sports is for the adrenaline rush. It is something young people enjoy.
Katelyn, 16: Extreme sports are exciting, exhilarating, and fill you with adrenaline. You can show off to your friends, have a thrill, and find release from darker emotions like anger or depression. A lot of times people face their fears or weaknesses through extreme sports.
Mark, 24: I love living and have done some really crazy stuff. And that's the point: extreme sports are crazy. But is crazy good? No. And here's even more honesty: This is not sport, this is business. Extreme sports are a byproduct of our teaching of hate. We are taught to hate Jews if we are Arabic, to hate blacks if we are Hispanic, to hate the "other" if the "other" hates us. If love were profitable, we would be taught to love. But it is not. And businesses operate on profits. Enter extreme sports. Witness two testosterone-driven males beating each other to a pulp. The community enjoys the entertainment. Owners love the money. Corporations lust for product placement. The corporate sponsors of skateboarders, snowboarders, skydivers, etc., all grow from the same grain.
Dear Melody: I hope the panel shed some light on your question. It's interesting that the same time frame that brought us hover-parenting brought us extreme sports. Apparently, the safer the world, the more we invented risk. But why?
I believe risk-attraction is driven by early childhood stress. For an athletic person, the more his childhood stress creates emotional logjams, the more likely he (or she) will engage in extreme sports. Extreme sports are one of the "stress Band-Aids" we talked about in a recent column. Extreme sports raise dopamine levels in the brain just like caffeine, nicotine, cocaine, meth, Adderal, Ritalin, promiscuity, and workaholism. Dopamine is the brain chemical involved in incentive and motivation. Dr. Gabor Mate's research with addicts shows that stress in infancy and early childhood causes the brain to develop a weak dopamine-endorphin system. These individuals then seek other ways to manufacture these chemicals -- one of these ways being extreme sports.
Like Mark says, extreme sports are "crazy." (Search "wingsuit flying" on the Internet and watch people jumping off cliffs like flying squirrels if you don't believe me.) Until we give infants and young children stress-free lives up until age 8 or 9 (which implies happy, nonstressed mothers, a rarer and rarer occurrence), risk-attraction will beckon.
Mark also has a point about the big business of extreme sports. They are crawling with sponsors like bodybuilding/energy supplement companies. Anabolic steroids are a concern with any competitive sport today. Half a million high schools students knowingly use anabolic steroids. Forty percent say they are "very easy" to buy. Many others take steroids unwittingly. According to studies, 20 percent of over-the-counter bodybuilding/energy supplements contain illegal steroids.
To ask a question or inquire about being a youth panelist, visit straighttalkforteens.com or write to P.O. Box 963, Fair Oaks, CA 95628
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