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Page last updated at 17:18 GMT, Friday, 6 February 2009

Would you let him carry on?

Boy on plank of wood
The British state as parent has become reluctant to take risks

Sawing through a plank of wood which is the only thing between you and the stream below isn't very clever, but would you stop this boy, or let this boy carry on to teach him a lesson?

In today's "cotton-wool culture", children, it's often claimed, are rarely left to learn from life's hard knocks. Instead, adults tend to adopt a safety-first approach, even if the risk amounts to little more than a grazed knee.

But the photo on the right is being used to challenge this reluctance to take risks. It is all part of a new approach to improve the lives of children in care, called social pedagogy, which is currently being piloted by the government. The term is used to describe a form of child development aimed at increasing a child's personal responsibility.

As part of the approach, carers are asked to look at the picture and consider what's the worst that could happen. But they are also required to consider the benefits of letting the child carry on sawing.

So what would you do if confronted with the same situation? Here, four people with an expertise in child development offer their views.


Frank Furedi

One of the best ways for children to learn is from experience, it helps them manage problems around them. An adult's instinct is to say no, but people should just relax and let the boy carry on if there is no real danger.

There is a relationship between action and outcome. Even if that action is a bit painful, the outcome can be positive. If the child learns from the experience then that's a good thing.

In today's society we are programmed to always imagine the worst-case scenario. Every new experience with a child seems to come with an elaborate health warning. Things are at absurd proportions and we are now seeing an unprecedented level of parental insecurity and anxiety.

It's hard to let go of this way of thinking, but people need to. They are adults and are able to judge situations for themselves.


Sue Palmer

Boys need to take risks, it's in their DNA. If he isn't in danger and you are happy for him to keep on sawing, then let him. By being so risk adverse people are denying children the opportunity to learn how to make assessments about what is dangerous and what is not.

Throughout history and across all cultures, the way a child has learned what is safe and possible is by going out to play and taking some risks. If you don't allow them these opportunities to learn they will grow into adults who lack resilience.

The British are particularly over protective. It was never a problem in the past. I was allowed to play in bomb sites when I was young. My grandfather would just tell me not to touch anything that was metal.

This change of attitude is partly down to today's litigious culture.

Penelope Leach

My gut reaction is to hope an adult would point out why sawing the plank he's standing on is not a good idea. If he decides to carry on, and the adult doesn't think he is any serious danger, then let him.

I think the issue of encouraging children to take risks is very complicated. It's all about how serious the risk is and that can a be such a grey area. It's hard to arrive at a definitive answer.

Take the incident this week when a girl was killed in a sledging accident, I wouldn't dream of banning sledges because of this. But I would ban children from riding bikes without safety helmets because we have the statistical evidence that it is dangerous.

Professor Joe Elliott

It's crackers to keep children isolated from risk, they will end up with no notion of danger.

By wrapping them in cotton wool and not allowing them to learn about the element of risk you are doing them more harm than good. If the person with the boy doesn't think he is in danger, then let him continue sawing.

Such situations are always a balance and are never black and white. This is why children need to learn about making an informed decision. It is also why exercises like this are good. It's about exploring the issue, not just saying yes or no.

Part of the problem is that people are so cautious in today's litigious society.

Below is a selection of your comments.

Monkey see, Monkey do! If you cant learn from others mistakes, you have to learn the hard way and make mistakes. Trial and error.
Peter Skeldon, Perth, Australia

As a child I was very anxious and frightened of everything, no doubt due to the well meaning but over anxious grown ups around me who saw danger in every little thing. I felt stifled and eventually resentful of this, which, in part led me to leave home at the first opportunity. Give kids the space and freedom as best you can to enjoy life and discover the world for themselves. Then they may not grow up neurotic!!
Greta Brown, Warrington

What would happen if you did try to stop the boy and he accidently got cut by the saw in the process? Does the cotton wool protect the child on the inside or the people on the outside?
Rhyman, Nagoya

Since the consequences of his sawing the plant could very quickly be serious, I believe the boy should be asked to stop and consider what he is doing. He needs to work out for himself the fact that he could fall in the stream and be injured by the sharp broken end of the plank as it gives way. Then let him decide whether there is a better way to do what he is trying to do. I do not believe that children should be protected from all dangers but neither do I think they should be allowed to approach anything without thinking of the consequences before acting. This advice is not confined to children. Adults get into the same dangerous situations simply by not thinking first.
John Graham, Denver, Colorado, USA

Brains react weirdly sometimes. Who knows, the kid in question may forever develop a fear of water, or planks, or saws that he may never get over. Is that really what you want your kids to go through?
Thomas, Manchester

I wholeheartedly agree that risk management is best learned from practical experience - but a bit of advice can help to prevent a child doing something stupid. The dangers I see in the photo are that the boy may fall on the sharp saw and a rock, either of which could cause significant injury. The bow saw could easily cut through clothing and rip open a blood vessel and he could be concussed on the rock. In fact in that position he might castrate himself when he falls on the saw! I would ask him to think about what will happen if he carries on and to think of a safer way to cut the wood. If necessary I would stop him - I have seen too many injuries from saw cuts.
Steve Parker, Leeds

Do you think this kid will grow up to be one of those people who go mountain-climbing or hill-walking in foul winter weather and then expect to be rescued at huge risk and expense to the rescue services?
Elizabeth, Los Angeles

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