The Risks of Childhood – A Lunchtime Musing

userpic=bushbabyOne of the things I do in real life is assess risk. Humans, it turns out, are horrible at assessing risk. For example, would you rather have your child visit a home with a swimming pool, or a home that had a gun. In today’s society, most people would think the house without a gun is safe, but statistically more children are killed by swimming pools than guns in the home. There’s a greater risk in that house with the pool.

I mention all of this because of an article that Google News highlighted during my lunch reading: The Overprotected Kid. This article explores how we have stripped childhood of its risks, and in doing so, stifled the inquisitive and exploratory nature of children. It focuses on the playground as a metaphor for the over-protection. I know that when I was young I never went to the playground (and certainly, if I did, its structures weren’t safe). The most fun was just exploring through the nearby Ballona Wetlands (the “swamp”), or building structures in a nearby vacant lot, or just walking and exploring a neighborhood. This exercised the body and the mind. Today, that rarely happens — we have homogenized playgrounds with standardized safe structures. There’s no danger, no risk … and so we never teach our children to accurately judge risk and determine their personal risk tolerance level.

I think about this often. When I went to camp, we were trucked to the beach in a stake-truck with a corrugated iron bottom, all squeezed in. Today they go in school buses with safety belt. We didn’t need no stinking belts — we were so tight in the back that if the truck turned over, we would still be where we were. Today?

Sometimes, for all our desire to eliminate risk from our environment, all we succeed in doing is making life less fun. Taking a reasonable risk — and succeeding — is one of the joys of life.