Scaredy Cats

School of hard knocks

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Kids who are prevented from taking risks are more likely to be anxious and fearful later in life, posits a paper in a 2011 issue of the journal Evolutionary Psychology. Authors Ellen Sandseter, a psychologist at Queen Maud University in Norway, and Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair, a psychologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, used observations of small groups of kids in Norway, England, and Australia. They found that when kids are insulated from opportunities to take risks—such as climbing, roughhousing, playing near fire and water, and exploring alone—they fail to learn the limits of their own abilities and consequently become less confident and more fearful.

"Children need to encounter risks and overcome fears on the playground," Sandseter told The New York Times. "I think monkey bars and tall slides are great. As playgrounds become more and more boring, these are some of the few features that still can give children thrilling experiences with heights and high speed."

Sometimes lessons must be learned the hard way, Sandseter and Kennair argue: A child injured in a fall before the age of 9 is unlikely to suffer long-term harm from the injury but is less likely to have a fear of heights as a teenager. Institutional elements matter too. "Overprotection through governmental control of playgrounds and exaggerated fear of playground accidents," the authors conclude, may "result in an increase of anxiety in society." 

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  1. Kids learn good risk management when parents show them how to take small risks, give small praise for success, and realistic feedback for failure, but encouragement to try again. Then when the kids are consistenlty successful, they encourage gradually larger risks. Obvious? Not to most parents I think.

    Many parents give too much praise AND too much negative feedback, like a bicycle with no brakes…too much positive feedback makes them overconfident of some abilities, and too much negative feedback makes them overly fearful of other challenges.

    In other words, parents AND government are attempting and failing to exert too much control. This failed leadership will eventually lead to revolution, in both kids and citizens.

  2. Technology, used observations of small groups of kids in Norway, England, and Australia.

  3. Science and Technology, used observations of small groups of kids in Norway, England,

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