The Benefits of Risk

Kids-Trampoline

I have a trampoline. Several kids bounce on it at once.  And a treehouse.  Both present my kids with what I call “calculated risk”–I know that there is a chance that they could get hurt, yet I let them play anyway.  We go hiking and climb the big rocks.  We pull over to the side of the road to pick raspberries.  They jump from rock-to-rock across the river.  They throw each other off of the water trampoline at the lake that we go to.  They slide on the ice when it freezes.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am all for reasonable safety measures and guidance, but I want my kids to experience how to handle risk.

So often, we are so afraid to let our children get hurt, that we don’t let them take risks.  We want to protect them–that is a natural instinct-but in trying to protect them, we risk robbing them of something much more important–resilience.  Resilience is the way that we respond to a challenge.  Typically, resilience is talked about in response to a tragedy, but resilience is developed through learning how to deal with everyday challenges.

Last year, Atlantic magazine ran a series of articles entitled “How to Land Your Kid In Therapy.” The author pointed to the dangers of overprotective parenting because it leads to children that are not able to negotiate difficulties as the get older.  She refers to research that indicates that perseverance, resiliency, and reality-testing are some of the best indicators of success.  How can children learn those qualities if they are not given a chance to practice and learn with us there to guide them?  In “Race to Nowhere” one of the educators pointed out that the coming generation is so used to being “coached” that they are shell-shocked when they enter the work-force and are expected to think independently.  We need to give our kids a chance to learn how to problem-solve.  And they learn how to problem-solve by solving problems–like what to do once they slip off the rock and fall into the river–without us stepping in to save them all the time.

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