You knew it, didn’t you? Over the last 20 years, adults (both teachers and parents) have been on a track to eliminate failure and risk from our children’s lives. We are afraid our kids are too fragile, and may diminish their self-esteem, or worse, their happiness if they take risks.
Well, I have news for you. It didn’t work.
“Children of risk-averse parents have lower test scores and are slightly less likely to attend college than offspring of parents with more tolerant attitudes toward risk,” says a team led by Sarah Brown of the University of Sheffield in the UK. Aversion to risk may prevent parents from making inherently uncertain investments in their children’s human capital; it’s also possible that risk attitudes reflect cognitive ability, the researchers say.” The Harvard Business Review (link is external) posted this report, but alas, it won’t help us unless we do something about it. Adults continue to vote to remove playground equipment from parks so kids won’t have accidents, to request teachers to stop using red ink as they grade papers and even cease from using the word “no” in class. It’s all too negative. I am sorry—but while I understand the intent to protect students, we are failing miserably at preparing for a world that will not be risk–free.
Taking calculated risks is all a part of growing up. In fact, it plays a huge role. Childhood may be about safety and self-esteem, but as a student matures, risk and achievement are necessities in forming their identity and confidence. Because parents have removed “risk” from children’s lives, psychologists are using a term as they counsel teens: High Arrogance, Low Self-Esteem. They are cocky, but deep down their confidence is hollow, but it’s built off of watching YouTube (link is external) videos, and perhaps not really achieving something meaningful.
Bottom line? If we treat our kids as fragile, they will surely grow up to be fragile adults. And our world needs resilient adults not fragile ones.
May I suggest some steps?
1. Create ways for your students to assume calculated risks in their daily activities.
2. When they fall or fail at anything, talk them through how to navigate the blunder.
3. Tell them stories of your own failures and how you built resilience through them.
4. Celebrate successes, but also the lessons that come from failure. This is huge.
The article above in “Psychology Today” highlights everything that is wrong with modern-day parenting. No kid is allowed to fall over, get grazed knees, bump his/her head, throw snowballs, play “conkers” or do anything that is remotely likely to place them in any danger. Schools, colleges and virtually every educational institution has become a “risk free zone”………..at one junior school kids were stopped from playing football in the playground because one of them might fall over and “get hurt.”
In another incident the Police were called to one school to warn kids that they could be prosecuted for throwing snowballs at each other (as if the bloody Police don’t have enough things to do!). I have blogged about this issue on several occasions previously expressing my disdain for this “risk free” mentality.
Having just returned from Lisbon ion Portugal I am pleased to report that the Portuguese seem to have completely ignored this risk free approach if what I saw in the Jardin da Estrela is commonplace.
There were young children climbing to the top of substantial climbing frames, swinging on the ropes, having races with each other to see who could climb to the top the quickest, occasionally falling off but quickly getting up and back on the climbing ropes.
In another part of the park another group of young children were playing football, practicing dance moves and generally having a good time just running around in unstructured play (some Psychologist will now be having heart failure after reading that last sentence).
In both cases the teachers and supervisors of the children let them get on with it and just stood and observed the play. The occasional misdemeanour was dealt with swiftly and in no-uncertain terms with a short punishment then the kid was allowed to resume play activities. No molly coddling of kids, just good old-fashioned discipline which the kids responded to (from what I saw).
So, if you want your children to be adventurous, be risk takers, test themselves, be subject to reasonable discipline, then send them to be educated in Lisbon!