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?

1 comment:

Natalie Richer said...

You raise some interesting points in your last posting about the risk of not taking risks. Can we really benefit from taking risks in our teens?

On reflection I feel when a teenager, my friends and I took too many risks. We put ourselves in potentially dangerous situations when socializing; hanging around with an older group of people, drinking and partying and could well have ended up in a few really sticky situations.

I think my parents found my rebellious days really tough and yet were of the view that I shouldn't be wrapped in cotton wool. Whilst their primary concern was, and still is, my safety, they allowed me a certain amount of freedom. Ok so I took a little more than was given but actually my teen experiences were on the whole useful later in life. I think the respect my parents gave me, to find my feet, soon turned into respect for them and I became conscious of the fact that they had given me some personal responsibility for my own safety. The burden made me more responsible and whilst I enjoyed my teens to the full, I did it knowing that I needed to put my safety first.

So yes, I took risks, I was too curious not to, and I experienced fear, I also made mistakes. It’s these experiences that made me who I am today and have given me a real sense of fun and adventure. I know it’s possible to make mistakes and learn from them, to try things once, push boundaries and know it’s OK not to try them again! I also know that taking risks as a teen and learning from them has helped me to manage important decisions later in life.

The question is, when I’m a parent will I be able to step back and let my children take a few of their own risks and learn from their mistakes? I hope so, certainly makes you a more rounded person later in life.