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Parenting 101: Danger has “Great Learning Benefit” for Children

Posted Feb 02 2010 12:00am

It’s natural for parents to be protective of their children.   Some parents clearly lack this instinct, but often the pendulum swings to overprotection in many families. Little Johnny can’t climb trees because he might fall and break his arm, or Little Johnny is not allowed to use a knife in the kitchen because he might cut himself.  Of course, we need to protect our children, but Peter Cornall, head of leisure safety at the UK’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, explains that taking risks “great learning benefit“.

The discussion on the benefits of dangerous activities for children was prompted by the publication of Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do). I have not read this book, but it provides risk-taking activities for children that help them decipher between what is really dangerous and what is simply “unfamiliar”.  Author Gever Tulley explains in the Telegraph:

Of course, we must protect children from danger but when that protection becomes over-protection, we fail as a society, because children don’t learn how to judge risk for themselves.

Let children practise climbing trees, and they will learn to do it safely. If you never let them climb a tree, they will eventually do it anyway, possibly in the most unsafe manner. Or they may never do it at all, which might be the greater tragedy.

I don’t want my children licking nine-volt batteries, but I do think there is some truth to the thought that we need to learn from experience.  Often, children brought up by overprotective parents are the ones that rebel harder in high school and do do dangerous things like binge drinking, drag racing, heavy drug use, etc., in my experience growing up.

Cornall goes on to explain:

We have almost transferred the occupational health and safety model to children’s lives, but childhood is about learning to develop and overcome fears. It is important that kids learn what stings, what hurts, what is slippery and so on.

We live in a society that is strongly influenced by fear.  Children need to grow up with a reasonable sense of fear, instead of doubting their abilities and shaking their confidence when faced with the risks of living.  Finding that balance of protection is important in parenting.  We don’t want our children to get hurt, but we don’t want them to lives controlled by irrational fears.

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