Risk vs. Reward

climber green 300x231 Risk vs. RewardEvery year it seems more and more safety measures are imposed to ensure our children are safe.  In fact, the belief that kids will glide through childhood unscathed is becoming standard.  Younger generations are growing up in an environment that aims to skirt danger, rather than embrace it, at any cost. While ensuring children’s well-being is paramount, are we going too far?  Will we look back on the past 20 years and consider it the era of overprotection?

Certainly we want children to be safe, but there is something to be said for risk play among young people. It helps them master their environment and develop the skills they will need to thrive. The risks associated with free play are overstated and very small compared to the costs that future generations will pay.

The impact of our caution is staggering. Children’s play has long been known to have a key role in the development of their future life skills. Allowing children to engage in risk play helps them learn how to manage risks and difficult situations – a vital part of growing up. By limiting risk play we are hindering a child’s ability to better understand how to navigate the challenges in the world around them.

Keeping our children from taking risks outdoors can also exacerbate the following problems: risk aversion, the inability to make decisions, childhood obesity, decreased life expectancy, and disconnection from nature. The consequences aren’t only personal – they are societal – from the skyrocketing cost of healthcare to productivity to national security (too fat to fight). The list of actual problems solved by isolating children from risk includes, well, nothing to date.

Children who are allowed to experience risk on the playground – tall heights, speed, chance of falling or other injury – leverage these challenges to progressively grow more comfortable until they achieve mastery. By allowing children to take risks, we are helping them develop into confident and resilient members of society.

Do you think we should increase risk today so that children can lead better, longer, more valuable lives in the future?



  1. Erick | September 5, 2011

    I think this kind of changes is not good at all. Playing is part of a child’s life whether a child gets injured is also part of his growing up. I totally agree on the last part of this article. Unless they want that future citizens in this world would become weak emotionally and physically.

    Nothing beats the joy a child experiences playing on a swing sets inside a park!

  2. kathyweemer | September 10, 2011

    While protecting the children from great harm should always be the first priority, allowing children to experience bumps and bruises is a big part of learning how to deal with small setbacks, and helps them to mature and grow. Typically, our learning comes from failure and pain, and children that are deprived of this can be developmentally challenged for the remainder of their lives.

    I think it is also very important that parents take an active role in their child’s life online and on their phone (when they get one). I have a 5 year old boy that is already playing games online, and who has learned how to text message his friends with a special device for texting only. I talk to a lot of parents that do not take an active role in these areas, or that believe that their children are too young to be online and texting their friends. I can tell you from experience that they learn how to do these things on their own whether you think they can or not, and will do these things when you are not around. The dangers in these areas are just as real as being somewhere like a playground.

    Let’s all take an active role in our children’s lives, but let them experience some of the bumps and bruises that they need to learn.


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