Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Risk taking behaviour

Sunk into the dirty sandpit, the monkey bars were the place to be in my school yard.
Every recess and every lunch we scrambled over the hot metal frame, practising backflips, leaping from the lower bars to the overhead bridgework and hoping like hell that our sweaty hands would grip and hold the steel. 

The bravest kids had little routines, swooping and flipping in a less than graceful and yet energetic gymnastics frenzy.
Teachers watched on, sipping a mug of coffee and occasionally calling out if it looked like someone was going to lose an eye.

Every now and then, a kid fell and ate some sand. There were some grazed knees and one broken arm that I can recall.

I don't remember it ever being referred to as "risk taking behaviour" although there was certainly risk. 

What I do remember was standing on the lower rungs trying to work up the courage to push out into open air and reach for the top bar. I must have stood on that rung every break time for 3 school terms. I was sick in the stomach. Anxious, desperate. 
Logically the distance was not so great, the abyss not so broad, but to a 10 year old it was like leaping into the grand canyon and hoping to catch a trapeze bar.
I watched jealously as my braver classmates leapt with abandon, I felt left behind as they sat straddling the top rungs like kings surveying their land.
I remember the day I finally took the leap, the adrenaline, the victory and the exhilaration when I caught the top bar and swung myself up to sit with the kings.
A risk taken, a mountain conquered.

That climbing frame has been pulled down now. Far too unsafe. Kids were taking risks on it, silly childish risks. Someone might get sued hurt.

It's been replaced with a brightly coloured Fort.

It stands 4 foot off the ground and has safety nets on 2 sides (because school children can't be trusted to not fall through the gap and someone might get hurt) On the entry side are sturdy steps ( a ladder with open rungs being unsuitable in case a foot slips off a rung and someone gets hurt). There is a slippery dip on the fourth side which is missing the dip and which a kid can sit on for a year before sliding, the gradient is so slight. (because a child might slip down too fast and someone might get hurt). I'm certain that half of St Kilda beach lies underneath the fort for extra soft landings. Lucky its brightly coloured, because the colour is the most exciting thing about it.

A friend of mine has a son who is regularly in trouble at school for his exuberant behaviour. He is full of energy, a typical showoff, third child and after a few hours trapped in a classroom, he tends to let of steam with school yard play. 
What bothers me is the phone calls my friend gets from school to discuss her sons "risk taking behaviour".

"Tom jumped from the top of the fort and that is an unacceptable risk" -a four foot tall fort! 

"Tom showed his mates how he can do a back-flip, and that is an unacceptable risk" - wow, we spent so much time doing cartwheels, handstands and back-flips it's a wonder the Moscow Circus didn't try to enlist us as acrobats.

"Tom jumped off the retaining wall near the garden. No not the high wall, the retaining wall. Yes the one that is low enough for preppies to lean over and plant seedlings. But it was onto hard concrete and anything could have happened.!"

Just between you and me, I think Tom is pretty normal. He's not engaged in dangerous risk taking behaviour, he's finding his boundaries.

What is not normal is to try to protect our kids from every experience just so they don't scrap a knee or jolt their ankle. Of course helmets while riding bikes and skateboards is sensible, of course we shouldn't allow our kids to hurl themselves out of windows, but we have taken our desire to protect our little treasures from every little feeling that isn't sunshine and roses, that we are denying them important life lessons. 

How will they learn how to take a risk safely, if we never allow them to risk.
And if we as parents, guardians and teachers prevent all risk taking throughout childhood. what do you think will happen when they finally get the freedom of adulthood, including cars, money and alcohol?
We are creating a disaster with our bubble-wrapped kids. 
We are creating a generation of young adults who have no real idea how to be safe.

What do you remember doing in your childhood that would draw gasps of horror now. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comments are welcome, please be kind and respectful. We all have different views of the world, sharing your view with gentle words is Lisa