What are the risks of not letting your kids do risky things? Here’s a list.
The high school student who had to be brought in for medical treatment after falling from the top of an overhanging cliff at Joshua Tree National Park has died, according to the San Bernardino County coroner’s office. Authorities say they discovered that 18-year-old Jesus Ortega was on drugs and alcohol when he fell about 200 feet into a dry river bed below.
The “risk-taking and child development” is a topic that has been studied extensively. The article discusses the risks of not letting your kids do risky things, and how it can have negative effects on their development.
We looked at the evidence behind the most common reason parents give for adopting this approach and abandoning the more “free range” method they were raised with in the last installment of this series on the causes and effects of the modern trend toward overprotective parenting: that the world today is more dangerous than it once was.
We demonstrated that the likelihood of a youngster being involved in an accident or being the victim of a crime was exceedingly low many decades ago, and it is even lower today. We also spoke about how, no matter how hard we try, the little danger that still exists seems impossible to entirely eliminate; the unpredictability of the universe assures that certain disasters are just beyond our control.
Nonetheless, as long as some risk exists, no matter how insignificant or impossible to influence, many parents feel compelled to do everything they can to mitigate it, either in the hope that their efforts will tip the odds in their favor, or, more realistically, simply because it feels better to know you’ve done everything you can to keep your children safe.
That may be a sensible approach to parenting if such heightened attentiveness did not come with its own set of drawbacks and hazards.
However, it does.
When it comes to risk management, what most people don’t realize is that when you control for one kind of threat, another one might develop in its place.
We expose our children to additional danger when we strive to avert certain forms of hazards in their life, such as injury or death, but also failing to fulfill their full potential and skill.
Because the threat occurs in slow motion over a lengthy period of time, these hazards elicit a less visceral reaction. Their physical, mental, and emotional impacts, on the other hand, might be just as real and devastating.
The Consequences of Not Allowing Your Children to Do Dangerous Activities
The possibility of youngsters not developing the capacity to take initiative or be self-starters.
Children have nine hours less leisure time each week now than they had thirty years ago. Extracurricular activities — sports, music lessons, tutoring, and so on — have sucked up all of their free time. When kids aren’t doing planned activities, they’re usually hanging out with their parents, who don’t want their youngsters to wander out and play alone. Adults — parents, teachers, coaches — supervise them for the bulk of their days and nights, telling them what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.
Kids do not learn how to occupy themselves, how to be self-directed, or how to figure out how to spend their time if they do not have the opportunity to participate in unstructured play away from the watching eyes of adults. Remember when you had the day to yourself and had to choose between riding your bike to a local school, exploring a construction site, or putting on a circus in your backyard? How many children nowadays have the opportunity to plan and carry out their own activities?
It’s no surprise that becoming self-starters is one of the most difficult things for today’s young people. They feel adrift after they’ve graduated from college and the frameworks of their childhood and adolescence have been ripped from under them. They wait in vain for someone to point them in the right direction and tell them what to do next.
How will children determine the trajectory of their adult relationships, interests, and occupations if they are not permitted to direct their youthful playtime?
The dangers of a stifled imagination
I’m fortunate to have some wonderful children. They’re intelligent, well-behaved, and entertaining. However, I wouldn’t call them especially inventive. They don’t appear to participate in the type of pretend play that I recall loving as a youngster. In fact, for a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old, they frequently seem strangely literal.
Perhaps it’s due to the amount of “screen time” they’ve had (guilty), as well as the fact that, as mentioned in a previous installment, we’ve been so involved and omnipresent in their lives that they haven’t had as much of a chance to escape the adult world and enter the fantastical world of children. Perhaps it’s another unintentional effect of the previously noted lack of free time: organized activities have preset elements, rules, and outcomes, requiring just a fraction of the creativity required by more open-ended play.
It’s not only that contemporary children’s activities are more regimented, but their toys are as well. When left to their own devices, youngsters must make use of “loose bits” in the environment, seeing many possibilities in them and inventing their own rules for how the world works – a stick becomes a sword, dirt clods become grenades, and the driveway becomes lava.
Toys offered to youngsters nowadays, on the other hand, have a pre-programmed and extremely obvious purpose. Toymakers (and their parent consumers) appear to believe that “fun” isn’t enough of a reason for a toy; instead, they emphasize the educational value of their products. However, by designing toys to be “brain boosters,” their usage is limited – a wagon may be played with in an unlimited number of ways; a device that allows you to learn numbers by pushing buttons can only be “played” with by pressing buttons to learn numbers. Such regulated toys may improve one area of a child’s cognitive ability, but they leave their creativity undeveloped.
This emphasis on regulated, educationally-focused play has resulted in a generation of young people who are similar to my children in that they are capable of sophisticated thinking, but only along restricted lines. In a research titled “The Creative Crisis,” Kyung Hee Kim points out that, although intellect and SAT scores have risen in recent decades, results on creativity tests have fallen, resulting in:
“Children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different perspective over the last 20 years.”
The results on “Elaboration,” which measure people’s capacity to absorb existing ideas, reflect on them, and then expand on them in new ways, have dropped the most.
It’s the type of aptitude that comes from navigating an open world where X may equal Y, Z, or D rather than gazing at a screen where X=X. A pinecone becomes a phone, a rock becomes a fossil, and a hollow tree becomes a hiding.
Obesity risk in childhood (and adulthood).
Today’s youngsters, according to Jane Clark, a kinesiology professor, are “containerized kids.”
Babies and small children are not only strapped into car seats when they are born, but also into high chairs for eating, baby armchairs for watching TV, and strollers for neighborhood walks and jogs.
While some of this “containerizing” is required for safety, it also causes youngsters to become much more sedentary. According to one research that examined toddler mobility, the typical 3-year-old is only active for 20 minutes each day!
Children’s containers get bigger as they grow older, but only little; parents who prefer the protection of the vast interior to the peril outdoors effectively put their children under “house arrest.” According to some studies, fewer than a third of American children play outdoors on a regular basis, while another study revealed that one in every two children globally plays outside for less than an hour per day – less time, it should be noted, than convicts in maximum security prisons spend outside.
While both the domestic wards and their wardens are content — youngsters like to remain curled up with their screens, and parents want to know where their children are at all times – the more time children spend inside four walls, the less time they spend moving their bodies.
Anecdotally, I can tell you that my kids are considerably more sedentary when they’re indoors, draping themselves over furniture and crying with boredom. When they’re outdoors, though, it’s as if the sun powers up their solar-powered batteries and they spring to life.
Unsurprisingly, the increase in kid containerization, whether in strapped seats or relatively roomy houses, has coincided with a rise in childhood obesity, which has more than quadrupled since the 1970s.
Parents often believe that enrolling their children in organized sports will help them combat this tendency and provide the best of both physical exercise and attentive supervision. Despite this, the popularity of organized sports has grown in lockstep with the growth of children’s waistlines. Enrolling in peewee soccer does not seem to be a magic bullet for preventing juvenile obesity.
This might be due to the fact that organized sports, at least for young children, can be unexpectedly sedentary. There’s a lot of standing about, perplexed, with a little exercise thrown in for good measure, followed by food and undeserved Gatorade. Children, on the other hand, seem to move more when they play alone, in an unstructured manner, in games of their own creation. Even when he’s just shooting hoops by himself, I know my son Gus is a lot more active than when he’s at tee-ball practice.
While many parents believe that since their children are so active, they will take care of themselves, this is only true when artificial and unneeded obstacles to activity are eliminated, and children are left to their own devices and permitted to wander and range. All batteries deteriorate when they are stored.
Parents are naive to the quiet “killer” inside, which piles on pounds that children may carry into adulthood, and which may even cut short the life mom and dad fought so hard to maintain.
The possibility of youngsters not achieving complete physical capability.
Lower levels of movement and exercise not only put children at danger of becoming fat, but also stifle their physical development.
All motions — sprinting, leaping, crawling, throwing, balancing, and so on — are talents, even if we don’t think of them that way. To really master them as abilities, they need embodied practice.
According to research, the more active a youngster is, the better their motor abilities become, and the environment plays a key part in this process. Children who played regularly in more natural places — landscapes with uneven terrain, rocks, and trees — acquired stronger balance, agility, and all-around mobility than those who played on a safer, flatter, more organized playground, according to studies conducted in Norway and Sweden. The more complex and unexpected the play environment, the more physical competence is strengthened; larger risks offer greater rewards.
Unfortunately, if landscapes of play and exercise for children remain at all, they have been physically and symbolically flattened. Not just to gain more classroom and testing time, but also due to liability concerns, as many as 40% of schools have canceled one or all of their recess times. Climbing ropes and dodge ball activities have also been banned from gym class for the same reason. The chance of someone being wounded is too great; the risk of physical incompetence does not rank, despite the fact that it is linked to obesity risk.
According to research, the link between motor skill development and obesity might produce a positive or negative feedback loop. Children with better motor skills are more active, and the more active a kid is, the better their motor skills develop, which pushes them to be even more active. Children with poor motor skills, on the other hand, are less likely to be active, which atrophies their motor skills further, making them less attracted to physical exercise and more likely to grow fat.
The possibility of youngsters not achieving complete manual competence.
This point is really a continuation of the previous one, but it is significant enough to have its own entry.
Along with developing full-body athletic abilities, children must also learn to use their hands effectively. Manual competence, like larger physical competence, is gained via direct experience – through handling tools and things.
Although swiping things with one’s fingers may achieve a lot these days, a youngster should still acquire hands-on skills that involve the palms and wrists — even “hazardous” ones. Every child should be able to safely handle a kitchen and pocket knife, use matches, swing a hammer, and tend a fire by the time they reach adulthood.
Sure, there’s a chance they’ll burn themselves or smash their thumb while learning these things. But if they don’t, kids risk growing up without the conviction that they can perceptibly influence the world, manage its raw materials, repair its damaged objects, and master its fundamental aspects — that they can be useful in the world in a concrete sense.
The danger of not developing problem-solving abilities and a feeling of self-reliance.
Because contemporary children are almost constantly supervised by adults, when they have a difficulty, they can always turn to an adult for guidance. Even when a child is left alone, he and his parents remain connected via their cell phones; this dynamic continues as children grow older, according to Lenore Skenazy in Free-Range Kids, and keeps “the parent-child relationship back where it was when the kids were very young and needed constant supervision”:
“I recall my oldest son, Morry, who was about ten years old at the time, calling me shortly after I’d gone for work to ask if he may have banana bread for breakfast. ‘Sure,’ I said. ‘Hell yeah!’ I should have replied instead. Have as much as you want! I’m not present. I’ll know you need extra supervision if I arrive home and discover the remains of a vodka smoothie in the blender. Otherwise, you know how to cook breakfast and are of legal age to eat anything you want.’
Playing Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in today’s world is like to playing Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? There is no limit to the amount of lifelines you may have. That’d be great if you were making money on a game show, but it’s a no-no when it comes to teaching youngsters to be self-sufficient.
When children delegate all decision-making to their parents and other authority figures, they will struggle to learn to think for themselves; when they do make their own decisions, they will be prone to second-guessing and self-doubt — even to a state of “learned helplessness,” in which they do not feel in control of their lives.
Children, of course, need boundaries and direction, but they also require the ability to establish their own hypotheses, experiment with various options, and analyze the implications of their actions. They’ll then adjust their original theory, maybe fail again, and construct a new one. Some things can and should be learnt by guidance and example, while others need trial and error. “One thorn of experience is worth a whole desert of caution,” wrote James Russell Lowell.
A small prick of the thorn now and again is good for you; the little amount of blood it pulls gives you a lasting feeling of self-confidence.
Listen to my “free range” parenting podcast with Lenore Skenazy:
The danger of never getting at ease with risk (and developing the resilience that comes with doing so).
Parents hover so close to their children and provide so much advice because they rightly wish to protect them from the anguish of failure. They may be concerned that a frightening or unpleasant event may make their children fearful of chances in the future. A terrible incident may certainly leave a child scarred for life, but failures that fall short of that — as the great majority do — have the exact opposite impact.
“Injurious falls from heights between the ages of 5 and 9 were connected with the lack of height fear at age 18,” according to Ellen Sandseter’s research, and “the quantity of separation experiences before the age of nine correlated adversely with separation anxiety symptoms at age 18.” Sandseter concludes from this and other findings that rather than making youngsters more apprehensive, “scary” events habituate and desensitize them to risks and failure, resulting in a “anti-phobic” or “inoculation” effect.
Even when a youngster takes a risk that has a poor outcome, they discover that the consequence was not as awful as they thought. When a child falls off his bike and scratches his knee, he discovers that it is painful, but only for a short time. All wounds heal with time, yet some wounds do not need much time to heal. As a result, he hops back on his bike knowing that scratched knees aren’t a huge problem and aren’t anything to be afraid of. He grows immune to future worry in this area and becomes a more resilient child as a result.
Without these types of personal encounters with dangers — not only physical ones, but also financial, scholastic, emotional, and social ones – anxieties may grow bigger in the imagination, eventually becoming paralyzing phobias. Children do not develop the coping skills required to confidently and logically evaluate and manage risk if they are not exposed to the tiny bumps, scratches, and setbacks that come with taking chances. They lose the capacity to tell the difference between what is harmful and what is just unfamiliar. They fail to grasp a profound, intuitive awareness of how great their resilience potential is.
“Our fear of children being harmed by mostly harmless injuries may result in more fearful children and increased levels of psychopathology,” Sandseter posits, “resulting in excessively risk averse and neurotic adults who shrink from taking on any task they aren’t already sure they’ll succeed at and who fall apart when beset with failure.” Indeed, mental diseases such as sadness and anxiety have been on the increase among young people, perhaps as a result of this.
There’s a chance you won’t like parenthood as much as you thought you would (or having as many children as you would have liked).
The negative consequences of parental risk aversion affect not just children, but also parents (and, as we’ll show in the following paragraph, whole societies).
Numerous twin studies have shown that heredity is more important than environment in determining how infants develop; nature beats nurture. Twins reared in two distinct households are generally highly similar, but two fraternal siblings raised in the same family are often very different. Parents don’t mold their children like unformed clay; rather, children’s personalities and skills are essentially inborn, and it’s up to mothers and dads to create a secure, loving environment in which these seeds may bloom — to pluck weeds and throw in some fertilizer. Parents may undoubtedly assist in smoothing off rough edges, but children will develop into who they are.
Despite the fact that parents are only responsible for half of a child’s development, they parent as if they are in charge of everything. Parents are spending more time with their children than they did fifty years before, fearing that if they are not there all of the time, their children will not grow up to be intelligent and well-adjusted, or that something horrible will happen to them.
Parenting has become a labor-intensive, energy-sapping chore as parents maintain a continual level of alertness, live with a daily degree of worry, and give up their own connections and interests to devote all of their spare time to childrearing. It’s no surprise that most parents feel they can only manage one or two children or opt not to have any at all; family life no longer appeals since it seems to entail shackling oneself to your children 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
But it wasn’t always like this. Parents had more children and hence more time to themselves fifty years ago; adults and children typically did their own thing.
It made both of them happy.
There’s a chance that community relationships and trust may be eroded.
I used to run with a group of other lads in my area when I was younger. Despite the fact that all of these guys’ parents had the same, mostly hands-off supervision style as mine (we wandered till the streetlights came on), they all kept an eye on us. They weren’t scared to chastise us as a group! My parents expected the other parents to call me out if one of the boys did anything wrong.
Parents nowadays barely know their neighbors (much alone enable them to discipline their children), and they keep a careful eye on everyone else in the neighborhood.
The proscription we teach youngsters to “never speak to strangers” codifies this mindset, in which any unknown person, even dear, elderly Mr. Withers down the corner, is a potential molester or serial murderer. The message of this proverb, according to Skenazy, “boils down to ‘Don’t trust anyone, ever, under any circumstances!’” (Next time, we’ll discuss a more useful method of conceptualizing how kids should approach strangers.)
While instilling in youngsters the belief that any adult who hasn’t been vetted by mom or dad is a possible risk may keep them safe from predators, it may also keep them safe from adults who may save them.
If a child is being molested by someone they know (which is 90X more likely than being molested by a stranger), and a neighbor notices something strange and asks if they can help, the child may refuse because they’ve been taught that a perv with whom they’re familiar is always safer than a good Samaritan stranger.
On the other hand, when everyone is looking at each other suspiciously, neighbors may be less eager to assist, fearing that engaging with a youngster may make them seem as a predator. Tim Gill provides a real-life example of the type of catastrophe that might arise from this aversion to becoming engaged in his research on dread in society:
“Abigail Rae, a two-year-old child, slipped out of her nursery undetected. She was later discovered dead at a neighboring pond after falling in. During the inquest, it was revealed that a passer-by had observed her alone on the streets and had done nothing. ‘One of the reasons I didn’t go back is because I was afraid someone would see me and assume I was attempting to abduct her,’ he told the inquest.
Adults are feared by children. Adults are afraid of seeming criminals while they are on the lookout for children. As a consequence, communities are plagued by distrust, and civic bonds are eroded by suspicion.
The risks outlined above show that by attempting to eliminate some types of risks in childhood, other types emerge: the risk of impeding a child’s ability to take initiative, thrive on their own, and be self-reliant; the risk of a child’s ability to exercise competence, creativity, and critical thinking skills deteriorating; and even the risk of failing to forge good character itself. After all, the ability to think freely, confront one’s concerns, and act with bravery is necessary for the development of a strong moral compass.
In treating children as though they are “incompetent, frail, unable to cope with hardship, [and] incapable of learning how to care for themselves,” as Gill puts it, they inevitably fall short of these low standards.
What’s more sad is that parental risk aversion has a ripple effect that affects not just children, but also parents and society as a whole. According to economist Tyler Cowen, cautious young folks are moving less and establishing fewer firms, and American society as a whole is becoming less dynamic and inventive. He claims that a new “complacent class” is emerging, which, by preferring comfort over confrontation and danger, is hindering the necessary reforms for our society to grow and advance.
The answer to today’s overprotective parenting tendency isn’t to go to the other extreme and abandon children in the woods to be reared by wolves. In reality, it is quite conceivable for parents to preserve the risk of injury to their children at the current low level while also exposing them to resilience-building and character-forging danger. In fact, it’s conceivable to do so in a manner that, rather than making them less safe, makes them safer.
Next week, in the last installment of the series, we’ll look at how to take a balanced approach to exposing your children to a healthy level of danger while also teaching them how to maturely handle it.
Read Throughout the Series
Overprotective Parenting’s Origins Is the World a Riskier Place for Kids Now Than It Was Before? The Consequences of Not Allowing Your Children to Do Dangerous Activities Three Keys to Raising Your Children While Balancing Safety and Risk
Overprotective Parenting’s Origins Is the World a Riskier Place for Kids Now Than It Was Before? The Consequences of Not Allowing Your Children to Do Dangerous Activities Three Keys to Raising Your Children While Balancing Safety and Risk
Lenore Skenazy’s book Free Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts With Worry)
Tim Gill’s book No Fear: Growing Up in a Risk-Averse Society is about growing up in a risk-averse society.
Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder
Scott D. Sampson’s How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love With Nature
Gever Tulley and Julie Spiegler’s 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do)
Hanna Rosin’s “The Overprotected Kid”
The “importance of risk-taking in early childhood pdf” is a document that provides information on the risks involved with not allowing children to take risks. It also discusses how risky things can be made less risky by teaching kids about them.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should parents let their children take part in risky activities?
A: It is not a good idea.
Why you should let your kids take risks?
A: Because kids can handle risk. They are more likely to learn from mistakes and grow as a person, rather than giving up when things become difficult for them.
What do you think is different about children taking a risk and children being in danger?
- my child keeps doing dangerous things
- why are parents so overprotective these days
- dangerous things to do at home
- examples of age-appropriate adventurous/risky play
- list of things that are dangerous