It’s become apparent to me over the last 15-odd years that Kerryn and I have very different appetites for risk. So it should come as no surprise that like running our household, Kerryn and I have our own special “division of labour” or “roles and responsibilities” when it comes to risk management and our kids. Put bluntly, I’m the Devil that sits on one shoulder trying to get them killed, she’s the Angel that sits on the other keeping them alive.
This variation in risk appetite became apparent when our son Jono entered the fray in 2011. Right from the early days he was subjected to the “Yin and Yang” of our risk-taking dynamic.
Five years later and not much has changed… Often the last words uttered as Jono and I get out of the car having returned home from our latest adventure are “Remember, don’t tell mummy that you…“. Never deep dark secrets, just little white lies.
Risk management as a Father
Boring topic right? Wrong. At least I think so. To me it’s one of my most important jobs in our family, somewhere just behind “Bringing home the bacon” and “Don’t get yourself killed today”.
In our overly sanitised increasingly risk-averse culture today it’s my job to teach my kids that risk can be fun. Appropriate risk. Don’t get me wrong, I’m never going to encourage my kids to do really stupid stuff. Try to do a flip on the trampoline? Go nuts. Go faster down the hill, sure. Go for a blast in a jetsprint boat? Where do you sign me up???
Risk management as a father is just as much about injecting risk into my kids’ lives as it is about helping them to make good decisions about avoiding risk.
But isn’t taking risks dangerous?
Absolutely. You will probably regret some decisions. There will probably be tears. There will be broken bones. You may as well have some fun while you do it right? I mean I broke my thumb playing Hackey Sack. Yep, Hackey Sack. At least Jono did his leg on a trampoline.
I work for a Bank. Boring, I know. But one of the most interesting things I learned early in my career is that there is such a thing as not enough risk. Personal Credit for example. If 100% of loans are repaid without default, your not taking enough risk. Believe it or not, but the success of the portfolio is measured by things like having enough debts going bad. I’ve taken a similar approach to child rearing. If they don’t have any bumps and bruises along the way, your probably doing it wrong…
Risk taking = Experience
I like to think that every time I encourage Jono to take a risk, or stop myself from discouraging him from one he’s intent on taking, he’s learning a little. I actually hope that he fails half the time. I’d rather he make small mistakes now, and learn from them, than live in a bubble now and make one monumental misjudgment later in life.
Example – Picking Jono up from school one day went something like this:
Jono – “Daddy, I’m going to jump my scooter off the step!”
Me – “Ok buddy, you got your helmet on?”
Jono – “Yep”
I knew full well that he couldn’t stick the landing… Now he does too. Some might call that bad parenting. I call it life.
Perceived vs Actual Risk
Half the challenge is figuring out just how much risk actually exists. The mundane stuff probably carries more risk than the extreme. Consider this picture of my brother and I swimming in a Shark Tank in Kelly Tarlton’s.
Lots of sharks in there. Swimming all around us. Reasonably big ones too. Sounds scary right? Probably 100 times safer than when we go spearfishing or scuba diving in the open ocean. Most of the risks we take with our kids are the same. Jono will scuba dive with me as soon as he’s able and allowed. I don’t want him to miss out on the wonders underwater. Is it dangerous? Hell yes.
Risk Taking is Fun!
And here’s the crux of my belief. We can live our lives avoiding risks, we can bring our kids up to be fearful of danger. Or we can embrace it for what it really is. A key part of our lives. I intend on bringing up my kids to respect danger, but never fear it.
I mean you can’t fight DNA can you?
We are hard-wired to enjoy danger, to be thrilled by the risk of failure. It doesn’t need to be physical either. There is just as much thrill in taking a financial risk, in telling a little lie and getting away with it or in releasing partially tested code that “should be ok“. I mean what’s the point in completely avoiding things that we were built to enjoy?
It didn’t kill us right?
Here’s the other kicker – we live in such a risk averse world now that you actually need to go looking for opportunities to put ourselves at risk. I think back to my own childhood and the things that we did that would have modern parents shaking their heads in disdain.
Were my parents bad parents? Hell no. They were, and continue to be, awesome. Oddly enough they share a similar dynamic to the one that Kerryn and I do. Which means boys-only adventures with Daddy and Grandad are typically pretty AWESOME. (Edit – it occurs to me that this implies that Nana/Mummy adventures are not as awesome, which is wrong. They are awesome in different ways.)
The irony of all of this is that the most beautiful photo that I post in this blog is also probably the riskiest of all… How many big brothers have dropped their siblings over the years? And yet we keep letting them hold them.
So risk ≠bad. At least not in my opinion. I take a fairly simple approach to assessing whether or not to let my kids do something:
If it will definitely kill or permanently maim them = Don’t Do It
If it might kill or permanently maim them = We need to talk a little more.
If it could kill or permanently maim them, but probably wont = Yep, I’m in.
Everything else = Go Nuts!
Because at the end of the day you can’t raise a Super Man if they are afraid of everything!
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