In August I posted a piece on Children participating in extreme sport and high risk activity. I asked you to think about recent incidents, but also to see kids having fun in a serious environment.
In the light of a few cases where kids died in high risk sport, I asked you:
What is a suitable age to expose a child to high risk activity?
Six votes were recorded on the poll up to today. The majority feels that parents should make these decisions themselves. Some believe that an Adventure Professional should assume the responsibility, and some say its OK at the age of sixteen.
Adam from Oribi Outdoors feel that parents should rely on guides to make the correct call: “The reason why people go to commercial operators is due to the obvious, they have not sufficient knowledge for themselves to do the activity.”
Adam feels that professional guides are there specifically to deal with these tough decisions. They are trained and competent to deal with tough calls around people, whether they are adults or children.
Deon from Blyde Adventure Camp is another experienced guide working regularly with children. He feels that it is not possible to place a specific age on this. It all depends on how the parents rear the child. According to Deon extreme sport superstars expose their kids to risk from a young age, and thus they develop the maturity, skills and cognitive ability to take serious risk decisions earlier than a child brought up in a highly protective home.
According to Deon, kids in risk averse homes have no idea what their actual abilities and limitations are. Because of this he feels there is no correct starting age, it varies from person to person.
Deon encourages parents to develop their kids in this arena as soon as possible, and to be personally involved: “In my own opinion a suitable age for exposure is from as early as possible… because hopefully by then the new parents have become accustomed to the child and realized that the child is tough as nails and the earlier you get them out there missioning around the safer and happier they will be able to handle it when they become bigger.”
So should children be exposed to risk? Many people agree with this, and that includes me.
I feel there’s a catch though: Parents must remain the primary responsible persons for a child’s education, development and safety. What a child craves more than anything else, is the personal involvement of its parents. Yup, I’m not a parent, but I used to be a child once so I know what I’m talking about.
When the child turns into an adult he realises how great an impact his parents had in his (or her) upbringing whether the parent was involved or not. When a parent takes an uninvolved approach to this, delegating their whole mandate to others, there is huge risk – regardless of whether they delegate this to a school teacher, a TV screen or an adventure guide.
Who is really to blame if the child turns up as a maladjusted adult, a juvenile delinquent or a bloody splat on terra-firma because of poorly delegated supervision?
Best practice is for the parents to be personally involved in their childrens’ activities. There are many clubs through which you can participate in activities with your child and make it a family affair. Yet this is not always possible:
Can a blind mother teach her son to play tennis? Can a father that is terminally ill with a lung disease learn the skill of white water kayaking with his daughter? Can a high-flying corporate executive create enough time to personally venture into the woods with his kids over a long weekend? Sometimes it is simply not possible. In such cases there are professionals that can help.
Yes, your kid can get into risk activities. Just make sure that you deliver them into the hands of a professional, experienced, responsible and competent person. Make sure that person understands the boundaries within which you are willing to delegate your responsibility and find out what he will will not take responsibility for. And be ready to pay for what you get (or to get what you pay for).