Why boys will take more risks in the outdoors than in the classroom
Our boys take risks with their physical safety all of the time. As an outdoor educator, I see it every day as they abseil down cliff faces and brave the elements. And yet, when the same boys return to the classroom, they shy away from challenge. Infuriated, we implore them – ‘Just have a go! What is there to lose?’ A lot, apparently.
Boys take fewer risks in the classroom because the risk of failing is far greater in the classroom than in the outdoors. If this strikes you as odd, recall that humans generally fear public speaking more than dying. Get something wrong and your classmates might jeer. Worse still, fail and you confirm to yourself that you really are incompetent.
This isn’t just a problem for boys in schools. It is a fact of the human condition that corporate entities are spending huge amounts of money to solve. Amy Edmondson, author of The Fearless Organisation, has found that groups (including classrooms) that exhibit more risk taking behaviour have one thing in common: psychological safety. Psychological safety exists when people feel they can speak up, offer ideas, and ask questions without fear of being punished or embarrassed.
Make the environment safer to take risks and we lower the consequences of failure and increase the payoff of success. Whether in the classroom, at home, a music group or sporting club – if boys feel safe in their learning environment, they will be more willing to take risks.
And here is where things get real. The consequence of not providing these spaces for our sons is not just a missed opportunity but the suppression of an expression of their authentic self. Withhold our opinions, creations or ideas enough times and we begin to forget that we had them at all. So how do we identify and hold psychologically safe spaces?
Creating a supportive and positive atmosphere is vital. Mistakes, and how we learn from them, are shared and celebrated as a key part in the learning journey. We need for boys to be aware that people are celebrated for the risks they take, regardless of the correctness of their answers. Empathy is a guiding principle and is intentionally developed through the sharing of personal stories. Many schools are beginning to embrace these key elements of psychological safety.
Here are some things that we can do on a personal level to influence our boys’ perception of risks and make them less scary:
- Activities such as drama, improv or public speaking can help boys to become more accustomed to taking psychological risks (and find that most of their fears don’t come true)
- Developing emotional awareness through journaling and other activities helps us to build awareness around the content of negative thoughts
- Mindfulness helps us to accept fear and failure and be less overwhelmed by them.
Let us join our boys on this developmental journey by creating psychologically safe spaces in our schools, clubs and homes for ourselves and those around us.
Andrew Braddy is a teacher and outdoor educator and is currently studying a Masters of Counselling. He is passionate about the wellbeing of boys and believes in the transformational power of authentic connection for boys in their schools, families and friendships. This article is about Education
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