Don’t do that; you’ll hurt yourself!

I often write these blogs in a light-hearted way. I try to think of you, the reader (hopefully more than one, but you are important enough) – not necessarily an expert but perhaps someone with more than a passing interest in mental health. In trying to engage you, I offer something of importance while remembering that we all have other things in our lives too. So here is a quick question for you: which word links the 2 points from the APA Dictionary of Psychology below?

  1. a pattern of unnecessarily engaging in activities or behaviors that are dangerous or highly subject to chance.
  2. accepting a challenging task that simultaneously involves potential for failure as well as for accomplishment or personal benefit. 

Did you guess? Oh, well done. Yes, the word is risk.  Did you notice how they sounded different, but actually talked about the same thing? They are 2 sides of the same coin. Risk is a game of chance; it might be fun, but it might not. And it may be preoccupying more and more of us. 

A couple of years ago, you might have been less consumed by this topic, but along came a pandemic to adjust your thinking. Now we all regularly assess risk in a very overt way. It may not just be that, though. Perhaps it simply did what a virus does – reveal and feed off underlying conditions. You can’t get very far in daily life now without being accosted by a set of instructions; and 10 people lined up to tell you how to do it. Whatever happened to Lego? Didn’t you just build it? Not anymore – use the manual. Creativity is being increasingly managed.

Along with creativity comes risk. There is a chance something may not work, but you have the freedom to develop things that might. Yet much of life now is trained, instructed or more subtly guided. How many ‘gentle reminders’ have you had lately? Incessant calls you get to confirm an appointment are perhaps part of a concerted effort to eliminate risk. It may be something to guard against.

Risk has a very necessary role in life. At our core, we are curious beings and this is what fuels our development. Some of us do more with this than others, depending on our life circumstances and temperaments, but we all encounter it. Perhaps noticing how often we do is important; ever run down the stairs, or should I say escalators now – you could hurt yourself! Have you ever watched the fear that some people have when stepping onto them? We may all have very different approaches to balancing risk; I say balancing rather than managing, as to manage something may take the sting and the life out of it. 

This is very tempting to do with children. Armbands and stabilisers are very necessary to a point – which is always determined individually – but they also detract from the reality of an experience. It is frightening to give young people a role in their own experiences – you can usually smell the impending disaster from a long way off. This can encourage a desire in the grown-ups to control things. This is sometimes wholly necessary but when it doesn’t fit the child or the situation, it may encourage more than it prevents. It can be very difficult to work out the danger or benefit of an experience without involving your children in the thinking. If the level of risk may be determined by the context and the nature of support available, thinking about it together may be vital.

Written by:
Robert Leveson

Psychotherapist & Counsellor
Children and Families (Reg; TSP, BPC & APACS)

SACAC Counselling


American Psychological Association; APA Dictionary of Psychology. 

Wider Reading:

Zuckerman, M. (2007). Sensation seeking and risky behavior. American Psychological Association.

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