Risk is an essential component of a balanced childhood. Exposure to healthy risk, particularly physical, enables children to experience fear, and learn the strengths and limitations of their own body.
As mentors, we often feel the need to protect children. This natural reaction can cause more harm than our good intention, especially around the development of sound risk taking behaviours and a general increase in sensory deficits. If we limit a child or adolescent's access to healthy risk taking behaviour, they may seek it in other forms. Assessing risk is a skill that needs to be developed by children and adolescents; and like a muscle, regularly flexed. Ideally in the outdoors!
Playing outdoors is naturally a wonderful sensory experience for children. Just like exercising on occasion doesn’t gain lasting benefits, children need to move and play on a frequent and regular basis in order to reap the sensory advantages of the outdoors. They also need to be surrounded by adults who support not only regular outdoor play, but also encourage healthy risk-taking. Their sensory system depends on it.
Caroline Paul wrote "The Gutsy Girl" as a how-to guide for parents to overcome their anxiety and allow kids to take acceptable risks in the outdoors and shared her story of firefighter to author in a related TED talk: "To raise brave girls, encourage adventure".
Caroline encourages mentors to surround girls with life lessons of bravery and resilience before puberty, when the pressure of being accepted by the tribe really kicks in. She also observes "there’s a sense that our daughters need more protection than sons, which is ironic, because before age 11, girls are ahead of boys physically and emotionally."
Learning to take risks outdoors gives children confidence and builds self-esteem to ride the waves of adolescence, and this foundation continues into adulthood.
As mentors, our responsibility is to subtly assess the high risks ahead of time and share this knowledge with the mentee/s, i.e., check the tides, determine if the tree can hold their wait or will be harmed by their action, ensure they're not wearing flammable clothing when lighting fires. The rest is their risk to assess, mitigate or accept. One age appropriate risk at a time.
Time to head outdoors and collect a few scrapes and bruises!