Young People Ask . . .
Thrill Sports—Should I Take a Chance?
“THIS will be the most terrifying moment of your life,” you are told as you stand quivering on the platform. The countdown begins: “Five, four, three, two, one—JUMP!” The fall takes your breath away. You hurtle toward a seemingly certain death, but suddenly you feel the abrupt pull of an elastic cord. An exhilarating feeling of relief sweeps over you. You have survived!
Bungee jumping.* The sport has attracted an estimated one to two million participants in the United States alone. It is just one of many sports that have recently skyrocketed in popularity—rock climbing, paragliding, white-water rafting, and sky surfing, to name a few. “The 90’s are the decade of the thrill sport,” says one bungee-jump promoter.
Risky activities are not the domain solely of the affluent. Urban thrill seekers engage in such dangerous (and illegal) feats of daring as elevator surfing (riding the tops of moving elevators), tunneling (scampering through the duct systems of large buildings), subway surfing (riding on the roofs of moving subway cars), and stair diving (sliding down greased stairways).
What’s the Attraction?
“I’ll try anything that gets me scared,” says young Norbert. “I enjoy all sports—baseball, basketball—but bridge jumping got me scared! It’s totally unique.” Young Douglas agrees. “Regular sports are cool, but they’re calculated,” he says. “You’re always tied down. I like the feeling of falling. And the speed . . . You never have that feeling with other sports.”
Thrill sports go beyond challenging your athletic ability; they bring you face-to-face with death! Participants seem to enjoy the adrenaline high produced. Some experts claim that certain people are genetically programmed to be Type-T, or thrill-seeking, personalities. However, most youths engage in some kind of risk taking; it’s their way of testing limits and developing self-confidence.
Unfortunately, youths do not always use good judgment in doing so. “The beauty of young men is their power,” says Proverbs 20:29. But some appear to think that their power is unlimited. Dr. David Elkind says that teenagers often believe “they are special and unique—exempt from the laws of probability that apply to others. It is this belief in being special, in being wrapped in a cloak of invulnerability, that contributes most to teenagers’ decisions to take risks.” Dr. Robert Butterworth similarly notes: “When you do something like skydiving, it gives you a sense of defying the odds, controlling your own fate.”
However, risk taking can also be prompted by darker motives. In her book Childstress!, author Mary Susan Miller indicates that many young daredevils take foolish risks because they simply cannot cope with the stresses of their lives. Thrill sports may thus reveal self-destructive or even suicidal tendencies. “They deliberately put themselves in dangerous situations,” says Miller, “as if defying fate to do the job for them.”
Whatever their appeal, thrill sports can be dangerous. ‘So can crossing the street,’ some argue. But someone crossing the street is not deliberately seeking danger or thrills. And while many sports, such as bungee jumping, have fairly good safety records, things can go wrong. Mark Bracker, M.D., put it this way: “With a lot of these high-risk sports, when something goes wrong it can be catastrophic. The higher the thrill, usually the higher the risk, whether it’s jumping out of airplanes or hang gliding or motorcycle riding.” One 20-year-old youth bungee jumped from a hot-air balloon hovering 190 feet [58 m] above the ground. The problem? His cord was 260 feet [79 m] long! He leapt to a terrible death.
Granted, some activities, such as motorcycling, may be enjoyed in a relatively safe and moderate manner. But one expert in sports medicine says of thrill seekers: “As their skills get better and better, they pick something harder and harder, and they end up with an injury.” One youth confessed: “I’m an addict. It’s harder now to get that fear level and the rush.”
Does the Bible categorically rule out all sports? No. It is foolish extremes that are condemned. As recorded at Ecclesiastes 7:17, Solomon asked: “Why should you die when it is not your time?”
‘Life is short. Play hard,’ urges one advertisement for athletic footwear. But we have a responsibility to ourself, to those who love us, and to our Creator to treasure our life. Life is a gift from God. (Psalm 36:9) In Bible times serious penalties could be imposed if a life was taken accidentally. (Exodus 21:29; Numbers 35:22-25) God’s people were thereby encouraged to avoid needless risks.—Compare Deuteronomy 22:8.
Christians today likewise have an obligation to show respect for life. Would it be appropriate to pursue a sports activity that might expose you to unnecessary risks? When Satan the Devil tried to tempt Jesus, he argued that the angels would catch Jesus if he hurled himself down from the temple battlement. Jesus responded: “You must not put Jehovah your God to the test.”—Matthew 4:5-7.
Besides, as strong and healthy as you may feel, you simply are not impervious to harm. It is unrealistic to reason: ‘It can’t happen to me.’ The Bible warns us that ‘time and unforeseen occurrence befall us all.’—Ecclesiastes 9:11.
Looking Before You Leap
It makes sense to think seriously about the possible consequences of leaping off a crane, of diving out of a plane, or of doing anything that might seem excessively risky. Do not simply rely on hearsay or on the enthusiastic reports of other youths. (Proverbs 14:15) Get the facts.
For example, just what is the accident rate for a particular sport? What safety precautions are taken? One expert says regarding scuba diving: “[People think that] going from the medium of air to water is dangerous . . . . But it is only dangerous if you do it without proper instruction.” So you should also ask, What training and equipment are needed for this sport? Are there any legitimate benefits, such as exercise? Are any risks incidental, or is the primary objective of the sport to defy death?
If the latter is the case, you might ask yourself why risk taking so appeals to you. Is it simply a response to boredom or stress? Then why not find a safer, more wholesome way of dealing with such feelings?* The book Teenage Stress reminds us that risk taking is a “dangerous and ultimately ineffective method of coping with the negative side of stress.”—Compare Proverbs 21:17.
After researching matters thoroughly—and talking things over with your parents—it may well be concluded that you would be better-off steering clear of extreme thrill sports. Your parents may prefer that you pursue activities that seem to be less inherently life threatening, such as bicycling, skating, skiing, and snorkeling, to name a few. Of course, even relatively safe activities can be dangerous if proper precautions are not taken.
This happened to a small group of Christian youths who decided to go for a hike. They veered off the trail and began climbing a narrow edge on a steep cliff. Before long they found themselves virtually trapped, unable to go safely either forward or backward. The youth leading the group then heard a sudden noise. Two of his companions had fallen to their death. How tragic!
So please be cautious! ‘Rejoice in your youth,’ enjoying the strength and vigor with which you are blessed. (Ecclesiastes 11:9) But before accepting an invitation to do something risky, do what young Brian does. He says: “I ask myself, ‘How would Jehovah feel about it? How would it reflect upon my attitude toward the gift of life he has given me?’” Yes, weigh the risks, search your motives. Life is too precious to do otherwise.
“Bungee jumping” is a sport in which jumpers, attached to a long elastic cord called a bungee, leap from bridges, cranes, and even hot-air balloons. This allows for a virtual free-fall before the cord stretches tight, halting the plunge.
If you are depressed or are fighting self-destructive urges, why not talk to someone and get help instead of taking unnecessary risks?—See “Young People Ask . . . Is Suicide the Answer?” in our April 8, 1994, issue of Awake!
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Should Christian youths go in for thrill sports like bungee jumping?