Thursday, 22 March 2007

The risk of ruling out risk

As always March is proving a busy month for conferences. Recently I’ve spoken at two: one in North Yorkshire with a focus on personal development and well being, and the British Association for Teachers of the Deaf (BATOD) conference which focused on the need for positive and proactive support through all different transitions including puberty, adolescence, bereavement, divorce and separation.

A couple of themes came through at both - first, to be effective in all of this work we must remember what it feels like to be young - the excitement, the anticipation, curiousity and the fear.

Secondly - the lack of confidence some people have in pushing the boundaries and providing exciting opportunities for young people. In a risk adverse society, the perceived threat of litigation when things go wrong prevents them from 'taking risks' and trying new activities and new approaches. One delegate described a trust building activities where young people are responsible for catching one of their peers as potentially risky. What if they don’t catch the person, they fall and hurt themselves? School trips similarly off the timetable - too risky.

Engage with a group of people who feel this fear for an hour and you start to see the logic. But these activities are important because they help us learn about ourselves, the world around us and our interactions with others. They help us learn that trying new things is exciting, challenging, inspiring and affirming. And they help us to learn how to manage risk so that we can take responsibility for ourselves in potentially risky situations.

Understanding risk is a vital part of every young person’s development and learning to manage it will help them take informed decisions in many areas of their lives, including their sexual health, as they grow older.

If children and young people are constantly sheltered from the possibility of things going wrong are we really preparing them for their lives now and in the future?