Risk vs. Reward

climber-greenEvery year it seems more and more safety measures are imposed to ensure our children are safe.  In fact, the belief that kids will glide through childhood unscathed is becoming standard.  Younger generations are growing up in an environment that aims to skirt danger, rather than embrace it, at any cost. While ensuring children’s well-being is paramount, are we going too far?  Will we look back on the past 20 years and consider it the era of overprotection?

Certainly we want children to be safe, but there is something to be said for risk play among young people. It helps them master their environment and develop the skills they will need to thrive. The risks associated with free play are overstated and very small compared to the costs that future generations will pay.

The impact of our caution is staggering. Children’s play has long been known to have a key role in the development of their future life skills. Allowing children to engage in risk play helps them learn how to manage risks and difficult situations – a vital part of growing up. By limiting risk play we are hindering a child’s ability to better understand how to navigate the challenges in the world around them.

Keeping our children from taking risks outdoors can also exacerbate the following problems: risk aversion, the inability to make decisions, childhood obesity, decreased life expectancy, and disconnection from nature. The consequences aren’t only personal – they are societal – from the skyrocketing cost of healthcare to productivity to national security (too fat to fight). The list of actual problems solved by isolating children from risk includes, well, nothing to date.

Children who are allowed to experience risk on the playground – tall heights, speed, chance of falling or other injury – leverage these challenges to progressively grow more comfortable until they achieve mastery. By allowing children to take risks, we are helping them develop into confident and resilient members of society.

Do you think we should increase risk today so that children can lead better, longer, more valuable lives in the future?


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