Risky Business


Mountain Adventure Park at Bromley Mountain Peru, Vermont The Bloom: What’s the attraction? Mountain Adventure Park, nestled on the south side of Bromley Mountain in Southern Vermont, boasts an alpine slide, giant trampolines, waterslides, and other things to get your heart racing. The Nectar: What’s sweet about this place? We lucked out. The place was empty. It’s pretty fun to have a personal waterslide for the afternoon. I’m guessing this home-grown adventure park is pretty fun even with a crowd, though. There are lots of different ways to test your limits in a beautiful setting. The Pollen: What observations might pollinate good ideas elsewhere? When I say “test your limits,” I mean how comfortable are you with risk? What is the edge between fear and fun? Bromley Mountain reminded me that the answer is nuanced.

First, each person has a different relationship with risk. How fast or high can you go without starting to panic? My kids illustrate how one person’s fun is another person’s terror. For example, my younger kid stepped off the alpine slide with a grin and cry of “again, again!” Meanwhile, the older kiddo, crawled down the slide, unclear why careening down a mountain was supposed to be fun.

Second, how comfortable are we with other people taking risks, especially children? Bromley Mountain definitely reminded me that I often send my kids mixed messages about what is safe and fun. For example, I inched down the slope behind my older son urging him to go faster--it’s hard to explain that when you’re barely moving, you don’t need to heed the “slow down” signs. Then, I fretted over how fast was “too fast” as I flew down the hill with my little daredevil on my lap. Oh, and don’t get me started on how hard I was holding the poor kid as we rode the chairlift up to the top. I am always telling them to both push their boundaries, but not too far.

But, how far is too far? Risky play is a hot topic in research and on parenting blogs these days. Do we control every movement and environment to avoid risk, or do we take a “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” approach? Well, when I looked at the research, several articles summed up the existing data something like this: let’s make sure no one dies, but, yes, the other stuff does make you stronger. Risky play benefits kids in physical, social, and psychological ways. One article specifically linked mental health and allowing risky play: “We may observe an increased neuroticism or psychopathology in society if children are hindered from partaking in age adequate risky play.”(Sandseter & Kennair, 2011)

So what does this mean for me as a parent and interpretive planner? Well, as a mom, I guess that I need to carry more band-aids and not be afraid to let my kids use them. As a planner, that’s more complicated. We should be thinking about how to allow risky play in our spaces without opening ourselves up to legal issues. Sharing the research on risky play with families may be an interesting way to start the conversation.

How have your sites (or families) tried to balance a need for risky play with safety?

References

Sandseter, E.B.H. and Kennair, L. B. O. (2011). “Children’s Risky Play from an Evolutionary Perspective: The Anti-Phobic Effects of Thrilling Experiences.” Evolutionary Psychology. 9(2): 257-284. Retreived on June 24 from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/147470491100900212

Brussoni. M., R. Gibbons, C. Gray, T. Ishikawa, E. B. H, Sandseter, A. Bienenstock, G. Chabot , P. Fuselli, S. Herrington, I. Janssen, W. Pickett, M. Power, N. Stanger, M. Sampson, and M. S. Tremblay. (2015). “What is the Relationship between Risky Outdoor Play and Health in Children? A Systematic Review.” International Journal Environmental Research and Public Health 2015, 12(6), 6423-6454; doi:10.3390/ijerph120606423. Retrieved on June 24 from http://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/12/6/6423/htm

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