From the day we are born, we are destined and programmed to test out our environment. We try new things, learn what things we can eat and what we cannot; we listen for different sounds, the voices of our family, the smells around us, and the feeling of the many surfaces around us. We test our boundaries constantly from birth to old age – this is the very essence of human psychology and our connection with many risk-taking behaviours.
The concept of ‘risk-taking behaviours’ is an activity that has the potential to result in harm to oneself or others. Of course, young people do not always comprehend the potential for harm from their behaviours or choices. This is even less likely when the activity is exciting or when they see others doing it. Unfortunately the timing between idea and evaluating the potential danger or harm is very short indeed, and this is when young people may (as we say) ‘act without thinking’.
There are those risks which we must, as educators and parents, talk to our children about. These may include such things as drug and alcohol use, unsafe sexual activity, risky online behaviours, illegal or hazardous activities and, as they get older, risks associated with parties and those associated with driving cars.
Part of growing up is however, giving adolescents the room and freedom to make mistakes and to take risks. One aspect of being an adult is certainly the ability to take balanced/appropriate risks and to accept that there may be some failures along the way. So why should childhood be any different? We teach our children to ride a bike, and then allow them to take their first wobbly turns down the garden. I certainly remember giving my daughter her first little push on a bike and she ended up in the nearest rubbish bin!
This concept is difficult for us as parents as we understandably (and should) want to protect our children as much as possible. We must not however ‘bubble wrap’ our children to such an extent that we prevent them from the small risks and the growth that comes from them. Many of us grew up taking risks playing in the playground – we fell off, but we got back up and played on. Without the ability to take calculated and relatively safe risks, some children, particularly boys, will invent their own, some of which can be anti-social and dangerous.
Recently I came across this poem by William Arthur Ward, entitled ‘To Risk’ and offer it to you:
To laugh is to risk appearing a fool
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental
To reach out for another person is to risk involvement
To expose your feelings is to risk being your true self
To place your dreams and ideas before the crowd is to risk their rejection
To love is to risk not being loved in return
To live is to risk dying
To hope is to risk despair
To try is to risk failure
But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing
The person who risks nothing, does nothing
This person can avoid suffering and sorrow, but cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love or live
He is chained by his certitude, he is a slave, he has forfeited freedom
The person who risks is free
The pessimist complains about the wind
The optimist expects it to change
and the realist adjusts the sails.
May we all protect our children, but love them enough to help them experience appropriate risks, and then adjust their sails to take full advantage of the wind of knowledge gained.