To the point - Who sets risk levels?

Tim Gill, writer and play consultant
Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Whatever your views on the Schonrocks - the parents who let their eightand five-year-olds cycle to school and were threatened with a referral to Southwark Social Services as a result - we can surely agree on one thing.

Parents, like the rest of us, are on a spectrum when it comes to risk. At one end, you will find parents who choose to buy spongy knee pads to protect their crawling babies. At the other, you will find parents like the Schonrocks, who passionately believe that their children will only become responsible people if they are given the chance to learn from their experiences - even if that means accepting that things might go wrong.

In truth, the chances of that are pretty low in their case. After all, the children were riding through the leafy streets of Dulwich, not the Gaza Strip; mostly on pavements, with lollipop ladies on hand for the crossings. In many European countries, two under-nines on bikes would not merit a second glance.

The existence of this spectrum puts those who are caring for and educating children in a tricky spot. If different parents set their 'risk thermostats' at very different levels, how do you decide what is best for the children in your charge?

It comes down to what you think is important for children. If, like almost every childcare and education professional I speak to, you think that today's children are seriously over-protected, then the one thing you cannot do is let your benchmark be set by the most anxious parent. Giving the fearful a veto - over equipment, say, or trips, or the use of tools, or rough and tumble play - means depriving all children of some vital learning experiences. In the nicest possible way, your setting needs to let those anxious parents know that they are overstepping the mark.

Parents understand that they have to untie the apron strings sooner or later. By questioning the idea that being a good parent means being a controlling parent, the Schonrocks have made your job just a little bit easier. Even if you disagree with their decision, you should be grateful for their courage.

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