Playground Risk

Some of us are old enough to remember going to a playground without an adult trailing along to make sure that we played safely. Oh, there were always a few parents there, but they were with the pre-k aged kids. Anyone old enough to go to school was generally thought to be old enough to be able to play.

Well, thanks to the immense safety movement that has caused everything to be swathed in bubble wrap and foam padding, all of the risk is now gone from playgrounds. AND if you did go to a playground (and almost no one ever does anymore – they are no fun at all) you find that there is usually at least one and probably two adults supervising each child.


Thanks to Claire Wilkinson at the Terms and Conditions Blog of the III, we find that a new study of childhood risk taking suggests that risk taking is a necessary part of growing up to face the world as an adult. Children’s Risky Play from an Evolutionary Perspective: The Anti-Phobic Effects of Thrilling Experiences is the article.  The article says

we may observe an increased neuroticism or psychopathology in society if children are hindered from partaking in age adequate risky play

Roll the experiences of the last generation of kids forward twenty years, when they start to run the world.  They have been deprived of any chance at risk taking as kids.  Not safe enough.  They will also be living in a world dominated by the aged baby boomers.

Apply that picture to future risk appetites.  Any discussion of risk appetite talks about the amount of risk that someone is comfortable taking.

The lesson that we have taught our kids is that ZERO risk is the only level that they should be comfortable with.

I imagine that it would be a good thing to invest in a company that makes that rubber stuff that lines the floor of the playground.  That is much safer than concrete for sidewalks. It will be everywhere.

And business risk taking – forget about it.  Your business may fall and skin its knee.

Kids and adults and businesses and current and future business leaders need to experience risks and get comfortable with the losses that sometimes come from risk taking.  They need to learn that it is not the end of the world if they skin their knee.  Or even break a leg.  Maybe when that happens, we learn something new about ourselves and our ability to take risks in the world. 

Because if someone believes that they are not taking any risks then the only risks that they have are risks that they are not aware of.

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2 Comments on “Playground Risk”

  1. riskviews Says:

    This is likely a situation where what it optimal to each individual separately is sub optimal for society. For a society to be successful against the unknown challenges of the future, it needs to have some people who are risk takers. Not the totally reckless risk takers who wrap their cars around trees, but people who have taken many small risks throughout their life and know their limits and capabilities AND are willing to try to operate slightly over the edge of those limits. But for each individual to have the best chance to survive, they may want to avoid any significant risks. That is one source of the conflict.

    So if every individual is forced to be careful, in the discussion above when they are children, then they will not have ever stood precariously balanced on the top of the swing set and held their hands up high and shouted “I am the King of the World” before they fell. And depending on how they landed, they will know whether there are more such climbs in their future or not.

    The other source of conflict is that people have different beliefs as to whether the childhood play actually IS really dangerous. Discussions of that question seem to be fraught with all of the biases that are discussed in Behavioral Finance. And even if people could agree on the “facts”, their opinions of the level of future danger would differ anyway. The theory of Plural Rationalities applies here as well.

    Unfortunately, the people who think that childhood play is super dangerous have been successful in protecting not just their own children, but everyone else’s as well, regardless of their beliefs of the danger level.

  2. Max Rudolph Says:

    In a world where firms are considered too big to fail and schools must not allow students to fail at any time, riskview’s post on playgrounds is very appropriate. How many times do we see smart people fail as adults because they don’t know how to deal with adversity? It’s hard to find opportunities to fail as children unless you compete in sports or competitive clubs like debate, but even there it is a controlled experience. The kid today is not encouraged to be Superman by seeing if they can fly off the garage roof. Okay, there are pros and cons to the whole safety issue but we must balance the two and look into the future at how actions today impact life in the future. Thanks riskviews!


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