Teaching Risk Assessment to Children

by the rocket's red glare

by the rocket’s red glare

Do you have any idea how hard it is to photograph fireworks?

Do you have any idea how hard it is to photograph fireworks?

It was a very nice Fourth.

We have a tradition where I come from, maybe you do too – right around Independence Day we share stories about this and that kid we know or heard of who lost a finger or an eye or a hand because he mishandled fireworks.  The story I had to add this year was tragic.  The only possible good that can come of it is as a word of caution to my children about the dangers of alcohol, youth, foolishness, and explosives.

My husband and I try to explain to our boys that sometimes young people make foolish and dangerous decisions because they don’t accurately assess the risks (and benefits) of their actions.  So we ask the boys to work through it with us: “What bad things could happen?  How likely is that to happen?  Are there things we can do reduce the chances of bad things happening? In light of the possible consequences and how likely those consequences might be, is the benefit we might receive still worth it?”

And very often, the risk is worth taking.  We climb high trees (and sometimes the woodshed roof) and hike along ravines and walk barefoot in the grass and have great big bonfires that we like to poke with sticks.  We’ve thought about the risks involved with these activities, devised plans to minimize those risks, and we truly enjoy the benefits.

I try to have them practice assessing risks for themselves, but they are young and I am the mom and I still sometimes overrule and they just have to trust that I am wiser than they are and that I love them and that I’m really not the meanest mommy in the world.  Or not, but they still have to obey me.

I know it’s not just my boys who have a wild daredevil streak.  I don’t want to break them, but I want them to learn to harness and train that adventurous spirit.  I want them to live long enough to do truly risky things.


It occurs to me now that there are also risks that we might choose to take in which failure is almost certain, but conscience demands that we go forward anyway.  Another topic for another day.  Maybe.    

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