How Young Is Too Young to Pursue a Dangerous Dream?

Just a few weeks ago Rafita was charged again by a 500-pound bull. He was knocked off his feet, and although he tried to bravely challenge the bull again, he was pummeled to the ground for a second time. Rafita's eye was cut and with tears in them he looked every bit the 11 year old boy he is.

"Yes, I know about the blows, about the risks and that one day a bull could gore me to death," said Rafita. But this doesn't stop him from doing what he loves. His father, who nervously stands watch at the edge of the ring during each contest, worries that if something terrible happens he will be blamed.

"Many times I have asked God if I am making a mistake," said Rafael Mirabal. "Should I cut off Rafa's career right there and say, 'That's it, it's over?' I've lost sleep over it and the one who is responsible in this case would be me."

But on the other hand, the elder Mirabal recognizes his son's happiness and determination and has decided all of the anguish is worth it. "When he has a good bullfight and I see him smiling in front of the bull, I think he is really enjoying life," he said.

'She Just Soared'

Should these parents just say no to their children? One mother doesn't think so -- in fact, she encouraged her daughter to soar in a way few children have.

At 7 years old, Jessica Dubroff was a pilot in training who aspired be the youngest person to fly across the United States. She had an instructor as a co-pilot, but Jessica would be at the controls, using special foot pedals and a seat cushion for height.

Jessica's mother, Lisa Blair Hathaway, said her daughter simply loved to fly. "She just soared. She absolutely loved it."

But just after takeoff 11 years ago, Jessica, her father and her co-pilot disappeared from the radar screens and crashed in stormy weather. They all lost their lives.

Remarkably, Jessica's mom said she would tell Rafita and Lizzy's parents to let their children take risks. "I do not question what she loved, how could I have second thoughts about her doing what she loved?" Hathaway said.

Hathaway feels that a parent's role is to protect their children but not to control them, and reaffirms that she would never have wanted her daughter to stop doing what she loved.

Columbia University's Dr. Elisabeth Guthrie, a pediatrician and psychiatrist, would advise parents differently, and has the physiological backup to prove it. Recent studies show that the brain does not fully develop until a child is past their teens and that one of the last parts to develop is the frontal lobe, where judgment is formed.

"I think parents have to be their kid's frontal lobes for the first 10 or 15 years of their lives," she said. "And that's really our task."

How young is too young? For the parents of a child with a special skill, on the track or in the ring, it may be the toughest question of all.

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