Thursday, 22 November 2012

When was the last time you saw a kid out enjoying themselves on their bike?

I’ve interviewed Professor Tanya Byron several times over the years and she talks more sense about children and teenagers than anyone I‘ve met. And the fact that she told me not to worry when my children refused point-blank to have anything to do with star charts was a bonus.

Tanya has been a clinical psychologist for 23 years and earlier this month I spoke to her about a keynote speech she’s giving to the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust conference in December. Once again, her words struck a chord as she talked about her concern that today’s youngsters lack emotional intelligence and emotional resilience. A lot of them, she said, are afraid of failure, afraid to take risks and afraid to think for themselves.

“Children are being raised in captivity,” she told me. “When was the last time you saw a kid out enjoying themselves on their bike?

“Children are not really encouraged, supported or taught how to assess, take and manage risk and I think it is developmentally catastrophic for them.

“Risk taking is seen as a very dangerous thing and to be avoided at all costs.

“We live in a litigious, risk-averse culture where paranoia is rife and we have an education system that is so built around targets and testing that teachers and headteachers are constrained from being innovative.

“But risk taking is important because it helps children to accept, understand and embrace failure. The times when you fail are often the most powerful learning experiences one can ever have.

“When I talk to successful people and ask them about their most cherished memories in terms of how they got to be where they are, it’s usually built around times when they messed up. But boy did that really teach them something. It got them to expand their thinking and their learning and inspired them to push on in the most impressive way.”

Wise words in my opinion. What do you think?

You can read the whole interview in this week’s SecEd magazine.


  1. I couldn't agree more. It's riskier to your kids long term to avoid risk than to expose them to it and teach them how to deal with it. Kids need risk and adventure and we parents should be teaching them how, not keeping them in captivity! I still see lots of kids out on bikes though - sometimes the issue is overdramatised a little. But nothing wrong with that to make a point. I'm all for getting out more and less cotton wool parenting, although it can be an issue of some contention between us parents sometimes.

  2. I completely agree, but I also think it's much easier to achieve in the country than in the city. Where exactly do you allow a 7 year-old child to go off and take risks if you live in inner city London/Manchester/Glasgow etc?

    On the positive side, I think there are signs that the tide may be turning in education to encourage more outdoor play, and the associated risk-taking, in schools, which would help.

    Have you read 'Last Child in the Woods' - a great discussion of these issues.


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