Rethinking Risk

Current understandings of risk are disempowering and unproductive.  Risk is used interchangeably with hazard, chance, possibility, probability, and undesirable outcome.  It’s commonly defined as an adverse event or consequence.  The prevailing understanding of risk is based on a simple causal chain: an external hazard, event or situation impacts a vulnerable child, or an incompetent child creates a hazard, event or situation, both of which lead to long term damage.  Unfortunately, many of us seem to be waiting for all the potential dangers to go away before we let our children out, or they become adults – whichever comes first.

We need to change how we view ‘risk’.

I believe that risk is a relationship between what a child wants to do, what the environment offers in terms of action possibilities, and the capabilities of the child to successfully achieve his/her intended goals.

Here’s an example to illustrate what I mean: A non-skateboarder who tries to slide down a railing has greater likelihood of falling and not recovering from the fall than a skateboarder who has perfected this trick. Therefore, the tradeoff between the gain represented by the possible satisfaction of a trick well done and the loss as represented by possible injury is different for a non-experienced and experienced skateboarder.

Viewing risk as a relationship is empowering because it allows us to focus on the development of knowledge, skills and capabilities in relation to what the environment offers.