My good friend Tim Gill has just written a passionate and cogently argued book called ‘No Fear – Growing Up In A Risk Averse Society’ which focuses on the formative years between the ages of 5 – 11.
His main argument is that by taking an over protective approach towards kids’ lives we deny them the chance to learn and grow.
As Andrew Barnett explains in the preface: “children will never understand risk if society prevents them from experiencing it“.
These days there is a widespread belief that risk levels for children are much higher. This perception is fuelled, and to a large extent generated, by irresponsible and sensationalist media reporting which attracts readers and viewers by maintaining a climate of fear. Tim argues persuasively, however, that there is in fact no objective evidence to prove that abductions, abuse by strangers or child murders are any higher than they were say 30 years ago.
Nevertheless there is no denying that the fear factor is a modern day reality with one consequence being that more and more children have come to use their bedrooms as ‘dens’ rather than create their own play spaces outdoors.
Tim writes that “children’s appetite for adventure and excitement persists in spite of adult’s anxieties” and this fact needs to recognised by schools, local authorities and parents.
An example of the cotton wool approach to public policy is the blanket introduction of rubber safety surfacing in UK playgrounds with the objective of eliminating serious , or even fatal, injuries. Far from reducing risk, however, it is quite possible that because children are sold the idea that the equipment is risk-free, they are likely to be more reckless. Money gets spent on such ‘improvements’ rather than on measures like traffic calming in residential zones which have a proven record of making streets safer.
The Scandanavian approach on these issues is more pragmatic. I particularly liked what Danish landscape artist Helle Nebelong had to say: “standardisation is dangerous because play becomes simplified and the child does not have to worry about his movements. This lesson cannot be carried over to all the knobbly and asymmetrical forms with which one is confronted throughout life“.
In the book, Tim shows us that total risk elimination during childhood is neither possible nor desirable. The fear for the “knobbly” aspects of the real world is understandable but he maintains that instead of adopting a philosophy of protection, parents and policy makers need what he calls a “philosophy of resilience“.
A good article on Tim and this book was published in The Guardian.
More details (and a downloadable pdf version) can be found on the publisher’s website.