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Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Why 'risk' and 'danger' are a necesary part of childhood

Some more thoughts on risk and danger in childhood which I wrote to contribute to an online discussion on the 'Key Critiques made in Gills No Fear; growing up in a risk averse society (2006)' as part of my studies towards a Masters Degree in Outdoor Education.

The central argument to Gills 2006 work No Fear; growing up in a risk averse society is the point that in our modern society is at risk of restricting children and young people from exposure to important formative experiences by limiting freedom to take part in self-directed play/leisure activities and increasing levels of supervision. He refers to this phenomenon on page 12 as ‘the shrinking horizons of childhood’. This opinion is shared by many, particularly with regard to children’s opportunities to engage with the natural environment (Louv, 2005). A study by the Countryside Recreation Network titled Taking a Chance Outdoors - Is Fear of Risk Damaging our Children? (2009)  Explains that when questioned “virtually none of the children actually played in the woods…… The woodland was an adventure as much because it was out of reach as it was because of what it offered.” Despite the documented benefits of outdoor activities there seems to be decreasing opportunities for children to be alone and unsupervised in any situation, possibly because it is no longer socially acceptable for parents to allow their children to do things alone (Furedi, 2004). This increasing level of supervision is quantified in One False Move; A study of children’s independent mobility (Hillman, et al., 1993) and Childs Play; Facilitating play on housing estates (Wheway & Millward , 1997)and cited by Gill who explains that in 1971 eight out of ten seven to eight year olds walked to school on their own but by 1990 less than one in ten were walking to school on their own, equating to three years of lost freedom of movement. Gill suggests that that this freedom is being restricted because of a fear that children are at risk either from their environment or from risks posed by other people. He combats this assumption of danger with a quote from Innocence Betrayed; Paedophilia, the media and society (Silverman & Wilson, 2002) “our children are, statistically, at no greater risk in the year 2002 than they were in 1972 of being abducted and killed”.

This lack of unsupervised experiential play is even recognised as a negative by children themselves and Gill quotes Hannan a teenager from Newcastle “kids should be allowed to experiment and try things. Otherwise when they grow up they’ll make very stupid mistakes” and the Better Regulation Commission (2006) agree that “risk can be beneficial and should be encouraged”. In the Adventure Alternative (Mortlock, 1984 , pp. 41-45) investigates the idea that risk bordering on misadventure, as long as the experience is not too traumatic, is extremely beneficial and indeed essential to giving children and young people a real understanding of how to cope with risk and danger. Based on these sources it is my oppinion that without some risk with or without supervision, obviously there should be some supervision for activities where there is a real risk and need for trained supervision such as the examples that Mortlock uses, children and young people are going to miss out on vital formative experiences.   


Better Regulation Commission (2006) Risk, Responsibility and Regulation; Whose risk is it anyway?, London: Better Regulation Commission.
Countryside Recreation Network (2009) Taking a chance Outdoors - Is Fear of Risk Damaging Our Children?. s.l., Sheffield Hallam University Press .
Furedi, F (2004) Paranoid Parenting. s.l.:Independent on Sunday.

Hillman, M., Adams, J. & Whitelegg, J (1993) One False Move; A study of children's independent mobility. London: Policy Studies Institute .
Louv, R (2005) Last Child in the Woods; Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Chapel Hill : Algonquin Books .

Mortlock, C (1984) The Adventure Alternative. Milnthorpe : Cicerone Press .
Silverman, J. & Wilson, D (2002) Innocence Betrayed; Paedophilia, the media and society. Cambridge: Polity.

Wheway, R. & Millward , A (1997) Childs Play; Facilitating play on housing estates. London: Chartered Institute of Housing.

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