Risk-taking advice is going to tip me over the edge

Politicians now tell us we should allow and indeed encourage our kids to take risks, a way of looking at bringing up children that I'm all for – but there is a limit, writes Leona O'Neill

The 'Play' all-party Parliamentary report said we should let our kids go out and get hurt, get lost, and play near potentially dangerous sites such as cliffs

LAST week Westminster announced that our children's development was being hampered by a health and safety culture gone mad which prevents risk taking.

They suggested to counteract this we should let our kids go out and get hurt, get lost, and play near potentially dangerous sites such as water and cliffs.

An all-party Parliamentary report entitled 'Play' cited several studies that backed up the benefits of outdoor play, suggesting that our children are spending too much time cooped up at home and in front of computers or struggling under mountains of homework.

They said they want to end the 'prevailing misconception' that equates 'outside with danger'. They said that by not allowing them to take risks we, as parents, are ill-preparing them for real life and we are not equipping them with the skills to meet challenges and find appropriate solutions.

They have suggested that adventurous play be incorporated into the school curriculum.

The report called for decreased testing at school and increased play times, and promoted the virtues of rough and tumble, speed, playing at heights, exploring and how getting completely lost can give kids a feeling of excitement.

The study, chaired by Floella Benjamin of Playschool fame, found that we neurotic adults, with our mad notions that dangers are around every corner, were preventing our kids creating their own fun and thus stunting growth in resilience and self-reliance.

I agree with them that kids need to get out into the street and play, they need to take risks (within reason) to test their limits and learn boundaries, and they need to explore their environment (in a safe way) to learn how to survive in the real world.

But to suggest our kids should play beside potentially dangerous sites such as water and cliffs is utter madness. I'm going to turn the neurotic meter up to 11 her and ask what if the little risk taker takes it a little too far and falls off said cliff? What if they fall into the water and drown?

It is not beyond the realms of possibility. Is Floelle going to be there to save them? I don't reckon so. And even if she was, I still wouldn't embrace advanced danger and send my kids out to run around at the top of a cliff because a crowd of do-gooder MPs told me to.

My middle son is a real risk taker. There was a time the staff of A&E knew me by my first name; I was there nearly every weekend with the boy who perpetually fell off walls or broke bones playing football, was incapable of climbing a tree without injuring himself.

If there was something within a three-mile radius to be tripped over or dropped on his foot he would find it. He is the only child I know who gave himself a black eye by hitting himself in the face with his own knee while bouncing enthusiastically on a neighbour's trampoline.

He is also the only child I had to spend six hours in A&E with while doctors monitored him for suspected concussion after his best friend hit him on the head with an iron bar as he was pretending to be the Lough Ness Monster in a flooded garden.

That child has sniffed fluff balls up his nose that had to be removed in the hospital, got his head very stuck in a hole in a fence and broke his wrist saving a goal when the ball was travelling at 40mph.

Even after all this, I still permitted him to venture outside, knowing that he would probably come back with another unique and weird injury with a wild story. I know that after the Lough Ness Monster-related concussion, he is at least wary of impersonating aquatic mythical creatures. He is also a tad more careful when it comes to fences, climbing trees, saving goals and his trampolining days are over.

Even after all the lessons he has learned through rough play, I still wouldn't let the boy play on a cliff, no matter what they powers that be say. The risks, as well as the bloody cliff, are too high.


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