Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Risky Business

It's the dawn of the 1990s and I'm about 8 years old. I'm standing atop the biggest slippery dip in our Brisbane suburb; it's so high, I can practically see the Gold Coast. Okay, not quite, but it feels like I could. And then, the best part of all - sitting down on the cool metal and getting ready to launch myself down that monster. I plunge down that slippery dip, hair whipping behind me, face full of wind, and when I get to the bottom, I savour the best kind of rush you can get when you're just a kid.

The last time I saw a slippery dip like that was maybe 15 years ago. I've noticed they're not called 'slippery dips' anymore, they're just plain old slides. And they're not nearly as exciting as the ones of yore.

I've noticed this a lot since becoming a parent - the absence of just about any risk in children's lives. Now in the case of these crazy, aforementioned slippery dips, I can see why - broken arms and legs were their specialty. Or nasty gashes. My childhood friend, Hendrik, went down one of these beasts with particular abandon, not realising there was a collection of broken glass awaiting him at the bottom. Needless to say, he required lots of stitches and still sports a pretty tough-looking scar on his upper arm today.

No, I'm quite relieved our little munchkin won't be tempted by a slippery dip in our area.

But has safety and PC-ness taken us just a little bit too far the other way?

There's something to be said for a little risk-taking. During a recent visit, my step-mum (who happens to be a social worker) was talking about 'the dignity of risk', the importance of giving your children a reasonable amount of space to explore and discover their environment. By honouring their dignity in this way, children are more likely to learn about their physical capabilities and limitations in a meaningful way.

It's funny how my childhood memories have altered a little in my mind, since becoming a parent. I reflect back on all the risky things we did - climbing to the top of the huge gum tree in our yard, playing on the roof of our neighbour's house, digging trenches under our redback-spider-infested house, covering the old-school trampoline (which bears little resemblance to the super-safe, super-protected trampolines of today) in detergent and water, then sliding across it at top speed - and while I smile, thinking about how much fun I had, I also shudder at the thought of my daughter doing the same things.

In the end, I guess it's a balance between letting kids do what they do, knowing they're going to hurt themselves sometimes, as well as having boundaries and limits.

I wish for my daughter a fun, exciting, safe childhood that she can look back on as happily as I look back on mine.

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