Finding balance between safety and risk for children

A child’s play radius is the distance from their home which they are allowed to travel unsupervised.

I was one of those kids (like most others in the 70s) that was allowed to go as far as my bike would carry me, as long as I was home before the street lights were on. I got hurt, lost and caught, but I also triumphed, learned and escaped a few close calls.

More importantly, I learned about risk assessment at an early age.

I weighed the risk of jumping my bike over the dirt mound behind the baseball diamond. (That didn’t work out so well. The front tire came off and the forks jammed into the ground sending me flying.) I also learned that if you lend your bike to a random teenager, you might not get it back and how important it is to have an escape route.

This play radius seems to continue to shrink with each new generation. Think about how far your kids get from your front door before you get that uneasy feeling in your stomach. For a great visual of what the shrinking play radius looks like for four generations of one family, click here.

What I find most troubling is that as our children’s unsupervised play radius is shrinking, their digital play radius is expanding rapidly. They no longer learn the skills of risk assessment in the real world that they will need in the digital world. I’m not sure the digital risks (and their consequences) they encounter online are real enough for them to transfer those skills into the real world.

This article in the Atlantic talks about a new playground called “The Land” where kids play in an unsupervised and unsterilized environment. It’s a bit long, but worth the read. A longer read but just as good is this article in the Guardian.

When I talk to people about this issue, they agree they should let their kids roam farther afield but can’t seem to let go. There are too many “What if…” thoughts for most parents.

I am left wondering:

1. How do we find the balance between keeping our children safe and providing them with the experiences they need to build their risk assessment skills?
2. How do we help our kids draw parallels between risk assessment in the real and digital worlds?

Remember… “A ship is safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are for.” William Shedd

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