Our Risk Averse Culture Continues to Undermine the Development of Children
Back in September we took a look at a growing trend in America’s public schools, one that eliminates many of the childhood games that children love to play. In “Another Elementary School Bans Tag,” we discussed the alarming overreaction of yet another public school that put an end to a traditional playground game for fear of potential student injury.
In April, we did a piece on Gever Tulley, the founder of the Tinkering School, who gave a talk on Ted.com about six dangerous things we should let our kids do . We noted that many of his suggestions would cause a parent of the 21st century to question the man’s sanity.
Another Proponent of Play and Risk Taking
This past week we came across an organization in the UK that seeks to formulate the need for children to experience play in natural settings. PlayEngland is devoted to the promotion of free play and natural risk taking among children.
However, the organization reveals a similar trend towards limiting opportunities for children. Their recent study, Playday 2008, reveals that children are consistently being deprived of “adventurous play” by a wide variety of adults, including parents.
PlayEngland’s focus this year has been on one of the most traditional of child behavior’s, climbing a tree. The group found that half of children aged 7-12 years reported they were not allowed to climb a tree without adult supervision while the other half reported they had been stopped from climbing trees because it was considered to be too dangerous.
In addition to concerns about the banning of tree climbing, this year the group’s theme calls for a new review of the current risk-averse culture that has sought to ban conkers on the playground as well.
Managing Risk Is a Learned Behavior
PlayEngland consistently highlights that children who are involved in risky and challenging play are able to learn how to manage risk in their daily lives. In summarizing the group’s recent study, Adrian Voce, the organization’s director, offered the following comments:
“Starting from their earliest play experiences, children both need and want to push their boundaries in order to explore their limits and develop their abilities. Children would never learn to walk, climb stairs or ride a bicycle unless they were strongly motivated to respond to challenges – but we must accept that these things inevitably involve an element risk.
“Adventurous play that both challenges and excites children helps instill critical life skills. Constantly wrapping children in cotton wool can leave them ill equipped to deal with stressful or challenging situations they might encounter later in life.”
Voce went on to note that it is becoming a social norm for younger children to be allowed outside only when accompanied by an adult. Of course, in today’s two parent working homes, it is simply not possible for parents to find the time to take their children outside. The result, children today spend far more time on the computer or in the front of the television than they do in meaningful outdoor play activities.
Fearful of the Wrong Things
Voce also pointed out the irrational responses of parents today. He cited data that indicates three times as many children were hurt last year falling out of bed then were hurt from falling out of a tree.
Clearly, as PlayEngland and Gever Tulley reveal, kids learn best when given the opportunity to explore in relatively unrestricted settings. In contrast, our 21st century response has been to eliminate such opportunities for children.
It is interesting to note how hard schools have been working in recent years to improve student learning. Despite working diligently to increase test scores, very little progress has occurred.
One has to honestly wonder whether our desire to protect our children has actually become a severe deterrent to their overall development. The work of PlayEngland and Mr. Tulley give strong indication that our current sheltering of children may actually be one of reasons that progress has been so limited.