Risky opinions

“If you are a parent, you know that kids love to keep making circles” ~ Takaharu Tezuka

This charming Ted Talk from architect Takaharu Tezuka captured my imagination. It beautifully illustrates how architecture can positively influence physical activity levels – and we all have heard that sitting is the new smoking – however, I could not help but notice the take-away message that we are left with:

“My point is don’t control them, don’t protect them too much, and they need to tumble sometimes. They need to get some injury. And that makes them learn how to live in this world. I think architecture is capable of changing this world, and people’s lives. And this is one of the attempts to change the lives of children”

So, can child injury prevention include healthy risk promotion? A special feature in Injury Prevention explored this very question. This piece takes the reader on an interesting journey from the developmental benefits of risky play (via parenting and societal perceptions of risk, playground safety standards and children’s play space design, bubble-wrapped recreation, the public policy perspective, risk-benefit assessment, the state of the evidence) through towards calling for a culture of reasonableness: 

“The challenge is to broaden the focus and commit to a child-centric approach—one that includes not only the mitigation of injury but also optimal child development, which necessitates exposure to competence-appropriate risky play in a hazard-free play space”

This has been an ongoing conversation (as hinted at in the Ted Talk): Are our school playgrounds being wrapped in cotton wool?

Of course, there are varying stances on risk within the injury prevention world. Recently, Barry Pless posted his own opinion right here on the Injury Prevention blog in The Safety Hysteric Speaks Again, stating that:

“In some circles I am regarded as an injury prevention fascist, safety hysteric, protect the children fanatic, a wuss, or worse. This has come about because I consistently push for more prevention and less risk taking. I am not at all convinced that risk-taking is good for child development, as some would have us believe. Nor am I convinced that having a serious injury with possible life-long (if not life-threatening) consequences builds character, or whatever”

It seems that this topic is a can of worms, and one which many researchers are (rightly?) wary of engaging in outside of carefully crafted research papers. Our opinions are carefully kept out of the public eye – however social media is rapidly has changed this. A large element of the advocacy that I wrote about last week applies here: why allow others to own the conversation that we, as injury prevention researchers, have all the tools to constructively address?

Our opinions can, and should, be fluid and in flux – and certainly differing too – this is the very nature of advancing our life’s work. Fostering an open and ongoing conversation remains necessary to that very nature of our work, and is one which I believe we should all be partaking in more often.

So, any thoughts?