It's time to trust our children again. There is a gentle revolution unfolding in the way we approach risky play in childhood. Our children desperately want to be a part of this risk revolution. Are we, as adults prepared to allow them to join it? When you understand the important role that risky play has in our children’s development, and WHY they need it, it becomes clear if we want to build a generation of resilient, creative, problem solvers and innovators, we must embrace reasonable risk into their lives.
And when you see how being outdoors, in nature, provides the most perfect canvas upon which our little ones can write their own adventures, face reasonable risks, and reconnect with our world, and themselves; It makes us wonder why we didn't turn of the TV and send them outside sooner.
The late 80’s, early 90’s saw the emergence of the zero-risk childhood. Playgrounds changed almost overnight, and threats of litigation and claims of negligence began hanging over the heads of parents and schools across Australia. Our society’s obsession with safety and insistence on control created the bubble wrap generation of children. Yet our obsession with safety has not led to any significant decrease in accidents- in fact there is an every growing pile of evidence to show children sheltered from risk are MORE accident prone, have poorer spatial awareness, and are more reliant on others to judge risk situations for them. Now that bubble-wrap generation are having children of their own, and passing on their own risk aversion. We are building a generation of children who don’t know how to analyse a risk situation, don’t trust themselves to cope, and are less likely to take ownership and responsibility for their choices when a risk does not pay off.
Risky play combines fun and stress. Learning to navigate that low-level stress helps build resilience. Absolutely bumps, scrapes and the occasional broken bone does happen; but these are just the feedback their little bodies need to improve their judgement and decision making for next time. Children developmentally NEED challenge, adventure and uncertainty. There has been a staggering decline in outdoor play and nature play over the past 30 years, and children are not getting a risk reward experience from their natural environment anymore. Being outside presents so many beautiful and powerful learning experiences for their developing brains. And when they are engaging with nature, what do we, as adults have to teach them? Nothing! You have permission to sit back, and relax. Nature is the most natural and effective teacher we could ask for, if we allow and trust our children to build a relationship with it in their own way.
I’m not talking about letting your children bungee jump or go kayaking solo around the country. I’m talking about reasonable risks; everyday challenge and struggle. A leap towards the edge of safety. And for each of us as parents what we decide is a reasonable risk will be different. And that is ok. For each of our children, they will have different propensity for risk taking. Some will be social risk takers, and others will be physical risk takers. Just try stepping back and allowing your children to decide their own relationship with risk. They naturally seek out the experiences they are ready for. Your child needs a HEALTHY relationship with risk so they learn to trust themselves, and to understand their own limitations and strengths.
Allow your children space to navigate their world. Even if you don’t trust them yet to make good choices (that will come!) at least trust them to learn from mistakes and to cope with whatever messy emotions come with those choices. Children learn though experience, not through advice. Let’s give our children back the moments of joy and wonder and failure, and the excitement of gentle fear. Let them live messy, unapologetic, adventurous childhoods.