Encouraging your son to take healthy risks
It has not been easy for me to tolerate my 4 boys’ penchant for risk, despite the fact that I know their risk-taking is, in most cases, healthy and beneficial.
At the age of 3, my third son climbed aboard a skateboard and started heading down the neighbour’s (sloped) driveway.
By age 9, my oldest son had acquired an all-terrain vehicle and was eager to ride independently; not long after, he was clamouring to operate the lawn mower.
My youngest, now age 11, has been operating power tools independently for a while now.
My 17-year-old second born recently tackled an 8-hour driving trip solo.
These are the kinds of adventures that cause many of us parents to gasp and worry – the kinds of adventures we’d like to shut down because we can’t help but imagine calamity at the end. As much as I’m sure you’d love to sometimes, wrapping your son in bubble wrap and securing him inside his bedroom isn’t a realistic option.
In fact, overprotecting your child can cause more harm than good. Increasingly, experts point to helicopter parenting and parental risk aversion as two factors contributing to the reluctance and seeming inability of today’s youth to tackle routine challenges.*
So how do you balance your desire to keep your son safe with his need for risk? Here are 5 ideas:
1. Reject arbitrary rules and limits
You and your boys have to follow the rules of your home, school and community. But watch out for arbitrary limits – rules that have no grounding in science or law but may have been passed down through your family, such as “You must be 10 before you can walk to school by yourself” or “you can’t use the oven until you’re in high school”.
Instead, think through your goals. You want your child to remain safe. You want him to challenge himself, learn new skills and to be increasingly independent. Evaluate each situation on a case-by-case basis.
2. Follow his lead
Are all 3-year-olds ready to head downhill on a skateboard? No. However, I felt that my third son was. Even at age 3, he had good body control and balance, and the simple fact that he grabbed the skateboard and fearlessly pushed off at the top of the driveway told me he was ready. (The fact that the driveway sloped toward the garage, not the road, helped me relax – as did the fact that multiple adults were present in the yard, ready to respond if he got hurt.)
If your son is expressing a desire to try something, he feels an internal urge to challenge himself. Don’t shut him down, no matter how crazy his idea might seem to you in the moment. Listen. Ask questions. See where his interest takes him.
3. Adjust your focus
The first time my oldest son climbed to the top of the monkey bars, I hovered nervously beneath him, my arms outstretched, ready to catch him if he fell. But he didn’t need me. The look on his face was one of intense concentration, not panic or fear, and the joy and pride on his face when he successfully achieved his goal showed me that he’d gained something important through his challenge.
Over time, I gradually learned to stop focusing on the (perceived) dangers of my son’s healthy risk-taking (as opposed to unhealthy risk-taking – click here for more) and to focus instead on the possible benefits to my sons.
4. Sometimes, it’s OK to look away
Seeing your son put himself at risk – even if the danger is theoretical – is a stressful experience for any parent. If your nerves are getting the better of you, it’s OK to look away. Go ahead and cover your eyes when you son tries jumping his bike off the ramp he just constructed (after you double check the stability of the ramp and ensure he’s wearing appropriate safety gear).
Hearing his joy when he lands – or even hearing him pick himself up after a less-than-successful attempt – might be the reassurance you need to comfortably watch attempt number 2 (or 3).
5. Let him see you trying new things
Not all boys are natural born risk-takers. If yours is prone to playing it safe, you might be able to expand his comfort zone by letting him see you attempt something new. It doesn’t matter what you attempt; it could be rock climbing, dancing, or learning a new language. What’s important is that he sees you attempting something outside your usual realm. All the better if you fail or face obstacles! Our boys need to know that it’s OK to fall, fail and try again.
Your attitude and example will shape your sons’ choices around risk for years to come.
https://news.byu.edu/news/extra-love-and-support-doesnt-make-being-helicopter-parent (Link to study -http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2167696815576458 )
http://sites.psu.edu/psych256fa14/2014/12/09/risk-aversion-in-parents/https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/04/hey-parents-leave-those-kids-alone/358631/Jennifer L.W. Fink is a writer, Registered Nurse and mother of four boys. Jennifer is also the founder and creator of BuildingBoys.net. This article is about Parenting
YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY
Subscribe to Understanding Boys. It’s free!
Got boys? Sign up for tips and advice you'll actually use.