Tim Gill writes in ‘The Guardian‘ “In the 1980s and 1990s we collectively fell prey to what I call the zero-risk childhood. Children were seen as irredeemably stupid, as fragile as china plates, and utterly unable to learn from their mistakes. Hence the role of adults was to protect them from all risk, no matter what the cost.
In the past years we have begun to realise the flaws in this zero-risk logic. The constant stream of jaw-dropping anecdotes – children arrested for building a tree house, teachers having to complete reams of paperwork to take classes to the local church, schools banning chase games – has brought home an insight that should have been obvious from our childhoods: children need challenge. They need adventure. They need uncertainty. And they need risk.
Children learn a great deal from their own efforts, and from their mistakes. If we try too hard to keep them safe, we starve them of the very experiences that they need if they are to learn how to deal with the everyday ups and downs of life. What is more, children themselves recognise this.”
As a father of the 1990’s, I was both to blame for ‘chaperoning’ my sons through life, but also of often being disappointed that they didn’t want to get up at 7am on the weekend to go hiking (although, I occasionally just dragged them out of bed and off). I often saw danger that they couldn’t manage, in many situations, although much of that perception was related to ‘near misses’ I had during my own childhood and teenage. Some of the near misses are my proudest moments, some are my most shameful examples of bad judgement. Perhaps of the latter I was also angry that they happened because of lack of parental guidance. And so, my over-protection was a response to a lack of perspective on the true nature of things. As I get older, I find a certain forgiveness of my own lack of judgement and my parents lack of understanding and intervention, has allowed a clearer view of the needs for risk in the developing child’s life. I have come to the view that this risk can be a family and community process, rather than the unfettered movements of an unaware child, and, in that, elements of mentoring, encouragement, drawing lines of inquiry, can ensure the child stretches themselves, emotionally, physically, spiritually, socially, and intellectually. What children need is for adult’s to take a risk.