Let Children Take Risks

Jumping off Fence c1998
10 year old boy jumps off fence.

Peter White is blind. His article in the Guardian starts with the spatial world of childhood. Well to be precise, school children’ use of a set of milk crates. His article reminded me of my “Out of the Box” Theatre project from last year, in which we resorted to plastic crates to ‘be’ a variety of key images in the exploration of the aspirations of a teenager.

But Peter White’s main focus is an accolade to his mother for allowing him and his brother, both blind, to take risks in their blindness to make everything of their potential.

“Because I was a blind child, it would have been so easy for those who cared about me to have cosseted me. I almost certainly owe my confidence and my career to the fact that they didn’t. The chief accolade goes to my parents, who had two blind sons, and remained undaunted by it. My mum in particular realised that we needed our freedom, and the chance to play with the other kids in the street. She fully understood there were risks. I once had to be accompanied back to school with a letter that explained that Peter’s many cuts and bruises were the result of his learning to ride a bike. I had spent most of that holiday sprawled in the neighbour’s flowerbed, with the bike in the hedge.”

Peter wonderfully concludes that, “surely parents have already taken one of the biggest risks they’ll ever take: having a child at all. If you see risk as taking a step you can’t control, nothing beats parenthood.” Of course maybe that, for many of us, has been the reason for becoming risk averse, protecting what has already been a high stakes risk. Yet, most of us have had children for the enterprise of building a vibrant family. And this takes continual effort and at least just a little risk. If we want the child to become a powerful member of the family and the community, they must have stretched their potential to the max by the time they are young adults. By the time a person is 16 their foundations have been largely described and delimited. Even with the best of education, after that point, effort itself may well be circumscribed by the status of that young human.

I would not like that comment to be construed as a ‘trapped in amber’ message. Certainly adults can mould their minds and skills for all of life. The next generations will grow into a world in which constant gardening of the mind and learning will be commonplace. Yet the future of humanity will make great progress by realising that it is in childhood that potentiality must be established, and potentiality requires risk, and the constant identification of new opportunities for risk. Sure, we often talk about that risk as walking to school, and, moderately high risk activities like letting my son run out into a cyclone,  but the, even greater risk, is to be an open learning and responsive vessel among hundreds of peers and adults.

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