Letting children face risk while playing just might be every helicopter parent’s worst nightmare. Award-winning Australian journalist, Griffin Longley, shared his own experience at a TEDxPerth conference in 2014. He compared his own childhood with that of his daughter and the rest of Australia’s youth and concluded that today’s risk-averse society is depriving kids of developmental benefits from risky play.
What is Risky Play?
Ellen Sandester, a professor who studies the subject extensively, defines risky play as a challenging and exciting type of play that includes risks of physical injury while providing opportunities for testing limitations, exploring boundaries, and learning about risk injuries.
Risky play is best done outdoors under the supervision and with plenty of opportunities for learning. In Longley’s TED Talk, he mentions that Australian children spend only under 2 hours per day outside and take 2,000 fewer steps required per day. But by the time they reach their 10th year, they have spent over 1,900 hours glued to their screens. It seems like there’s a real problem in Australia when it comes to wholesome and healthy playtime.
What is not Risky Play?
Defining risky play is important but it’s equally vital to emphasize what it’s not about. Risky play is not about letting the children have the freedom to do what they want without proper supervision. While parents are encouraged to let their children play without them hovering, they should still be well within running distance in case the child needs help. Ignoring the children during activities is not risky play; it’s plain negligence.
It’s not about placing children in hazardous and truly dangerous situations. You wouldn’t want toddlers to climb a tall tree by themselves but it would probably be okay for an 8-year-old to do so. Age-appropriate activities and the environment with controlled risks should be taken into account when practicing risky play.
Categories of Risky Play and Activities Your Kids Will Enjoy
In another study by Professor Sandseter, she categorizes Risky Play into six types:
- Play With Great Heights – Children may climb trees or playground structures to get that exhilarating feeling of conquering seemingly impossible heights. Slides or these Monkey bars from Australia are great playground equipment options for encouraging brave kids to test their abilities.
- Play With High Speed – Swinging, riding bikes, swinging on ropes, and sliding are all fun activities with safe high-speed risks. With plenty of public parks in the country, there are free opportunities to let your kids play to their heart’s content.
- Play With Harmful Tools – Instead of letting kids play with non-threatening, boring toy tools; why not let them play with the real thing? Go ahead and give them a hammer from your toolbox and control the urge to flinch as you watch them hammer a real nail on some wood. While the chances of them hammering their own finger are extremely high, they would learn an extremely valuable lesson about injury and how to avoid it.
- Play Near Dangerous Elements – Drowning is one of the major causes of childhood deaths in Australia but it can be avoided with proper supervision and vigilance. In fact, there’s a growing trend where babies are taught how to swim. This not only builds up a child’s confidence around bodies of water, but it can also save their life. Fire is another element that’s associated with danger. Camping and starting a campfire is an opportunity for them to learn how to control the elements and harness its benefits.
- Rough-and-Tumble Play – Chasing, wrestling, and play fighting are all activities where children can learn about boundaries and limits. As long as children are being supervised and refereed by adults, there’s little chance of these activities turning to real violence.
- Getting Lost – While there are news reports of children getting lost in the woods while exploring, these are quite rare and they happen because of unsupervised play. Let children play hide and seek and let them explore nature at their own pace. These risky plays develop a child’s imagination, which is critical for the foundation of creative thinking.
It’s time for Australia’s youth to start putting down their screens and discovering the fun and thrilling world of risky play. It’s also time for helicopter parents to stop hovering and let their children experience the kind of freedom they had when they were kids. In doing so, they can give their children the best kind of childhood—one that’s filled with adventures, misadventures, and lessons to be learned at every turn.