When looking at any activity or required skill within an organisation, there are four levels of competency. As we learn and develop, no matter what the skill or activity is, we all go through these stages from knowing nothing about what we’re doing to being unconsciously competent in what we do.
As we move through each of these stages, it can be quite confronting for many people, especially if they’ve been doing something which isn’t quite right or there’s more to what they’re doing than they’ve ever imagined.
The first stage and often the most confronting realisation for people is unconscious incompetence. This is where you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s the most frustrating point at which we find ourselves and in terms of risk management, the most dangerous point and position someone can be in if they’re responsible for an outdoor or experiential program which involves a level of risk.
The worrying thing about this is that over many years, I’ve come across countless people in the head of outdoor education or experiential education positions who are unconsciously incompetent. They’ve been promoted as a teacher into a role for which they might have had an interest, but no real or extensive experience. In this case, whoever is put into this role is being failed by the organisation. Having an interest in something versus understanding the role and inherent risks is a totally different thing. If you don’t know the risks of an activity or program, how can you be expected to manage them effectively?
Getting some basic training in the skill or activity then helps someone to move from this first stage to the second one, which is conscious incompetence. This is where you realise you lack certain skills and understand the need to train in, practise and develop those skills. In terms of risk management, this is key to getting things right within your school or organisation. For many of those teachers who have been promoted to positions of responsibility to oversee programs with a range of risks involved, it’s vital that each understands the risks to which they and their staff are exposed and how to effectively manage these risks. Once someone has this realisation, then they can start to plan to address this skills’ gap in themselves and in their organisation.
Further training and experience at this point, then gets you to a position where you’re consciously competent. You still have to work on many parts of the programs and continue to practise and develop your skills, but overall, you’re good at what you do and are able to support and develop others as well.
The final stage is unconscious competence. You know what you’re doing without thinking about it. You have a level of experience and initiation, which guides your decision-making process to support the programs you’re running. In your mind, you have a picture of what a standard program, day or experience should look and feel like and you automatically react and respond if something doesn’t quite fit. For example, if a series of different weather conditions or warnings present themselves, you unconsciously play out various scenarios in your mind as to the potential impact and consequences of this.
A realisation of this for me was on one program. There was a pattern of illness and student behaviours emerging which pointed toward a series of potential injuries. The change of energy in the group, the apparent fatigue that was emerging, meant that a change of plans was needed. Due to the different level of skills and experience amongst the staff team, only a couple of staff could see this pattern emerging and others couldn’t see the problem at hand. The potential negative consequences of not being able to identify risks as they’re emerging can be huge. It’s critical to ensure that you have unconsciously competent staff in your team to help advise you and others on hazards and risks which might not be obvious to others who are still at the lower levels of skills’ development.
Whilst some of these four different levels can be addressed through training, which is vitally important to begin with, the other levels are grown and developed through practice and experience in whatever it is you’re doing. Further training can reinforce this. However, practice really does make perfect. Whatever level you and your colleagues are at now, you will benefit immensely from training and experience to ensure that all your staff are unconsciously competent in whatever it is they’re doing.
Recently, I was working on a residential program and despite students needing to have a phone on them for our risk management as part of the program, we collected everyone’s phones at night. Now this was something which had wide spread support of parents and limited support from students. No surprises there with the Pandora’s box that’s been opened on that front, which is the point of this article.
Whilst many students thought I was the worst person in the world for taking their phones every night, it made me realise something which I suspected, but didn’t quite have the evidence to support it until now.
The phones generally went on charge before homework time in the evening around 7:30 and after prep, bedtime was around 9:45 with lights out at 10pm. With all the phones being recharged in the duty office overnight, I noticed something when I went back to wrap things up for the evening. Depending on what time all the students were settled, I’d generally head back into the office somewhere between 10:30 and 11pm.
Sitting there, writing up the daily notes for the next day’s handover, I’d hear the buzz, bings and blips of the fifty odd phones going off the whole time I was there. To begin with, it was just annoying, but it became progressively more concerning. One evening, I was up past midnight and the phones were still going.
This gave me the sudden realisation of how overwhelming this must be for their minds. Phones are already addictive by nature. This helps us to understand the ongoing problem that teenagers are facing with the inability to switch off from the connected world. If their phones are still alive with notifications late at night and I mean every night, not just weekend, every single night, what chance do they have to be able to cope in class with tiredness and a constant craving for another dopamine hit.
Like coked up lab rats, they become slaves to the device that’s shaping and manipulating their behaviour almost every hour of the day. This is bound to be slowly destroying their ability to cope with the real world and doing unknown long-term emotional damage. Yet parents are still giving their children phones at a phenomenal rate.
We have well and truly thrown in the towel on this one in such a short period of time. We need to pick up that towel and get back in the ring. This is something worth fighting for as large social media companies care nothing for their users and everything about their profits. These companies have built intentionally addictive functionality into their platforms to keep people online and this is the result, endless distractions designed to manipulate the formative years of children. When you see this toxic mess for what it really is, it makes you wonder about the world 2.0 and how regressive social media has been for us.
Digital technology is amazing, but we still need everyone to have the opportunity to switch off from it and not be constantly bombarded with messages, notifications and whatever other crap comes through their phones. Despite the large tech companies doing nothing but giving lip-service to social responsibility, we have a responsibility to help students switch off from this potentially dangerous and destructive world and provide them with the opportunity to understand the life and circumstances in which they find themselves living.
It’s time we gave them the opportunity to switch off and build real relationships with real people and not just be mindless slaves, slowly losing their sleep and minds to the wonderful machine that goes bing.
Education without focus, is just like anything else without focus. It’s hap-hazardous at best and pointlessly time-wasting and counterproductive at its worst. However, this seems to be the way education goes these days. It’s all over the place where you’ve got a bit of this, a bit of that and a bit of everything. Yet if you’re trying to please everybody with everything, you invariably don’t end up pleasing anybody with anything. The fact is that the world has changed and in recognition of that, so must education.
Recently, I came across a number of different schools that are targeting specific areas for growth and development. I find this is a fascinating approach and one which has the potential to produce some amazing opportunities and educational results. However, how do you know what your child wants to focus on?
Often, it’s the parents who want their kids to do something, rather than the desire coming from the children themselves. I’ve seen this horrible and damaging sort of situation so often and you know what the end result will be, but it’s like watching a train wreck in motion. There’s not much you can do about it.
The fact is that if this is the case, then no matter how much a parent wants something, it's never really going to be something their son or daughter really wants to do. For example, my parents wanted me to learn the piano. I hated the piano. I didn't enjoy learning. I didn’t enjoy practicing. I didn't enjoy performing. I really didn’t enjoy anything about it. Despite loving to listen to music, I wasn’t someone who wanted to play an instrument of any kind. However, I enjoyed singing and I ended up doing some singing lessons and performances which I really enjoyed.
Yet without both these experiences, I would never have known what I liked and what I should focus on. To begin with, it’s well worth encouraging kids to experience a whole range of different activities and explore interests without the parental pressure and expectations to pick one thing that they really want themselves. This process can help students work out what makes them tick and therefore what they should be focusing on in their education, especially in their high school years.
I remember when I was in primary school at the end of one term, we did a week of trying out a different sort of activity. We were given a range of different options. We could choose bowling, squash, tennis or even roller skating and I don’t mean roller blading. I mean roller skating! Yes, it was still a thing back then and it was so much fun. You'd skate up to the DJ, request a song, then skate around the rink as fast as you could when your song came on! Unfortunately, the skating rink, ‘Skatehaven’ was turned into self-storage units years ago. Such a sad end to a wonderful venue, but back to the main point!
The fact was you were able to choose something and concentrate on it for a week. You’d learn different skills and techniques and you’d be able to challenge yourself doing something new and different. If you didn’t like it, at the end of the week you never have to do it again, but if you liked it, this just opened up a brand-new opportunity and interest for you. That week I chose squash!
This is something I really remember about primary school. Most of the time you don’t remember anything about primary school because it was so long ago and far away and but so much better than it is today. Every maths, English, geography and science lesson all blend into one with very little recollection at all of any that really happened. However, when you do something unique and different it stands out and becomes memorable.
To be honest, I’ve never played squash since, but I did really enjoy that week. I did however, go on to play tennis which is sort of the same thing anyway. Yet schools don’t tend to do many experiential education weeks like this. If they did, it would have a profound impact on a child’s education and development. Think about it this way. You have schools full of dedicated teachers, whose lessons will never be remembered. That to me seems like a complete waste of time and talent. Perhaps a few more memorable weeks each year doing something different wouldn’t hurt at all. In fact, even if you did a month a year throughout high school, that’s still only six months of a student’s education, which is six months more of experiences they will actually remember, learn from and cherish for the rest of their lives. Even taking this time out, they’ll still have five and a half years of blurred generic grey days in classrooms about which to forget.
With the stats suggesting that in Australia 40% of students are disengaged, why not try something different and meaningful to get at least some of those 40% back on track. In what are they interested? What do they love to do? Do you have any idea what drives them? If you don’t know that, you can’t tailor a program for them. Why not have a month every year that’s dedicated to doing different activities and I don’t mean outdoor ed activities, I mean a whole range of community, cultural, sporting and workplace activities to see what actually makes students get excited about their life and contribution to society. Some weeks they will like, some weeks they won’t like but it starts to develop a picture and it starts to give students a feeling for different activities, for different experiences and for different challenges. It lets them develop some ideas of a path that they enjoy and that they want to follow. It lets them explore what they want to explore and this can be tied back into the classroom and academic programs they need to be able to do to get into a specific field which interests them.
There’s a great benefit from this because once you have students re-engaged, they’re actually going to learn and so if you have someone who is learning and someone who is keen, they’re more likely to go on to further education or seek positive employment opportunities or contribute in a meaningful way to their communities. They’re less likely to be disillusioned, disengaged with the life, the universe and everything and sitting at home doing nothing.
With massive levels of youth unemployment in our country and a growing trend towards automation of many entry level and low-level repetitive jobs, it’s time to do something more useful and productive in education. At the end of the day, things like NAPLAN results and standardized tests are pointless numbers which are quickly forgotten like most classroom lessons. The emphasis that has been put on these things, would give you the impression that they’re useful indicators of long-term learning and employability, which they’re not.
At the end of the day, you want young men and women who can think for themselves and be able to help solve the terrible social, environmental and economic mess they’re been left with by previous generations. Finding meaningful experiential education experiences for them to have over the course of their schooling is critical to achieving this and it shouldn’t be lumped as a ‘co-curricular’ or one off activity. Build something useful into the daily lives of students and this will have a profound impact on the way in which they learn.
When we don’t know what we’re doing and we’re expected to have answers or manage risk, this is a massive problem. How can we be expected to put systems in place and plan for contingencies if we don’t understand the situation or context of what we’re expected to be doing.
Many teachers find themselves in this exact situation and are expected to plan for something about which they know nothing. At this point, the major activity and operational risk comes from the person not knowing what they’re doing, rather than the potential inherent risks of the activity itself. Do we let inexperienced drivers get behind the wheel without any training or supervision? Thankfully not. Yet why are so many teachers allowed to run sports, excursions and activities with no idea, training nor experience in what they’re doing?
It literally makes no sense at all to allow someone to take on a role which requires them to plan for and mitigate risks, if they have no idea themselves. The increased risk here comes from the person not knowing what they’re doing at all and they’re simply making things up as they go, which is never good in terms of risk management.
A number of years ago we came across one such group on an expedition. We were in Kangaroo Valley and just starting out on an expedition when we came across a group just finishing an expedition. In talking with them, we quickly realised they had absolutely no idea what they were doing. Their whole risk management plan was apparently based upon the fact that one of the teachers went for a walk and saw a snake, therefore they went canoeing instead because the risk of the snake was too great. I really want to laugh at this point as on that exact same river, I saw a 3 metre Eastern Brown Snake in the water and then it slithered up onto the place we had just had lunch, so seeing a snake in the wild and basing your decision on risk management around a single sighting of a snake seems quite idiotic to be perfectly honest.
Essentially these guys had been out on a multi day canoe expedition with no canoe instructors, no maps, no communications devices and no backup plans. Everything has to run perfectly for them to be ok, which relying on luck for your management of risk, is never a good thing.
One wonders how this group was even allowed to go out on this trip with such a poor basis for the management of the inherent risks, let alone the operational risks which were so obvious to this trip. Unfortunately, trips like this go out every day with no idea what their real risks are and the consequences of this can be horrendous if something goes wrong.
The only way that this sort of situation can be avoided is through training and experience. If any organisation is sending staff out untrained and unprepared in terms of risk management, then they deserve everything they get if something goes wrong. Schools don’t allow untrained teachers in the classroom, so why do they allow untrained teachers in the field.
Whether the teacher is running the trip or not, they need to understand what they’re doing to ensure they’re capable and effective in managing the risks involved outside of the classroom. Therefore, they need to be trained and experienced in general risk management, as well as activity or program specific risk management, so they can minimise the risks involved. The risk of not knowing what you’re doing is far too great and negligent when there’s so many opportunities to get trained and get up to speed with factors of which you should be aware and doing the right things to ensure you’re running awesome, experiential educational programs.
If you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing and don’t understand the risks involved or just need a refresher, then get some training today so that you can confidently manage risk no matter what the situation or context. Thus, always run awesome, educational programs for all your students.
Why are schools so challenged by risk management? This is something I’ve been noticing a lot lately and whilst risk management in schools has never been strong, because it doesn’t form part of a teacher’s training, the fact that it’s so important baffles me as to the lack of attention given to it.
Whilst many a school will scream and curse at this suggestion, claiming that they have a great paperwork system, there lies the problem. A paperwork system based purely on checking boxes and approvals masks the fact that there’s a lack of real risk management understanding and implementation. Paperwork without training and experience is just that, paperwork. It can be dragged out to accuse staff of this or that in an attempt to deflect blame, rather than being a support mechanism for decision making and good operational practices.
One place I worked was obsessed by paperwork. One activity was determined unsafe because the paperwork wasn’t good enough. This was yet another ill-informed and idiotic comment from someone who knew nothing about risk management. The boss also insisted everyone sign every document, before going out on an activity, but when something within that document was materially affecting the safety of the program, nothing was done about it. Now, I admit this was an extreme case, but we learn a lot from these things and the reality is that if a teacher has not had any formal Risk Management training, the teacher shouldn’t be planning or running any sort of activity at all.
Anything from a practical lesson, to a quick trip down the road to a local park, gallery, courthouse or museum, right up to sports, camps and overseas trips, requires a risk management assessment. Teachers must take the time, not just to learn how to ‘do’ paperwork, which I could probably train a team of monkeys on typewriters to do quite a lot better than some of the risk assessments I’ve read over the years, but instead, the most important thing is that they need to train for situational awareness, contingency planning and how to be adaptable and flexible to ensure whatever the activity is, it’s run well.
The number of teachers who are taking groups of students out on activities who are untrained, unskilled and unprepared is worrying. You cannot contract out your duty of care nor your liability to a third party, so if you’re taking a group overseas, then you are responsible for everything that happens regardless of contract providers. These are some of the most dangerous trips to run, as far too many people see this as a holiday, rather than the significantly higher duty of care and potentially reduced resources, yet countless trips head out with a bit of paperwork and teachers who have no ideas what’s in that, nor how to really implement any of it.
This disconnect widens, the more schools employ people to ‘do’ their risk assessments for them. I’ve seen an increasing number of schools put this responsibility on one person and not the people running the trips. At the end of the day, if you aren’t trained and experienced in the management of risk, then you shouldn’t be planning and running a trip at all. This isn’t to say stop doing trips, because that would be stupid and pointless. Instead, get some training so that you can be confident in what you’re doing and start to build a culture within your organisation which understands and has great risk management systems so every trip goes out with confident pro-active teachers who are prepared and situationally aware so that you are always running great experiential education programs for everyone.
Before your next excursion, do a risk management training course and build your skills-set and start to address this disconnect between documentation, implementation and culture. The only way to truly run great programs, is to have that culture of risk management right throughout your organisation.
OK! Before you fall asleep with the thought of two days of risk management training, hear me out!
What are the most exciting things you do in education? It probably has nothing to do with sitting in a classroom and completing worksheets. Each year, that puts countless people to sleep.
Education needs to be dynamic, exciting and engaging to equip students with the skills they need for life. However, to run really cool programs like this, we usually have to step outside the school gates and engage with the real world.
Only problem is that when we do this, there’s a whole stack of inherent risks with which we’re suddenly confronted. Everything from your usual stack of peanut allergies, to your bus strangely catching on fire, which to be clear was not actually my fault.
The randomness and richness of the world outside the school gates is the most amazing place in which to learn, but if we’re not trained and equipped to plan for and manage risks in this environment, then we’re putting ourselves and our students at risk.
At this point we have three options:
Don’t go! It’s all too hard! School’s not about the real world anyway. If you take this option, you probably should have become an accountant or a public servant, perhaps both. Complete risk aversion is pointless and damaging and should be avoided.
Just do it! Grab your bags, kids and let’s go! If you take this option, which unfortunately, I’ve seen many teachers do, then you’re setting yourself up for some major problems. Anything can and does go wrong in these situations where well-intentioned teachers don’t take the time to plan, prepare for and run their programs carefully.
Have a structured, well-planned approach for all of your programs which documents the steps you need to take to ensure your group is well managed and the focus is on great experiential education outcomes for students, with robust systems in place for contingencies to support this.
For me, the only option when running any excursion, camp, sport or activity is Option 3. However, most schools are operating somewhere in between Option 1, 2 and 3 with many teachers confused about their role and responsibilities when planning and running any programs. Even experienced staff can struggle with this.
You must put the time, energy and effort into building a well-formed plan no matter what the activity is. It could be just going down the road to visit the local court. It could be a year level camp, or an overseas trip. Whatever the case is, you need to ensure you’ve planned for normal operations and contingencies if something doesn’t go to plan, which invariably will be the case. One trip I was on, I received a phone call to say that one of the 5th Grade students had been taken to hospital with a fish hook in his arm! I was pretty surprised by this, since there was no fishing on the program, yet here we were with fish hook in the arm, right next to a vein.
Risk Management Training prepares you for weird random stuff like this and how to respond quickly and effectively no matter what the context.
With a non-delegable duty of care, you also can’t outsource your risk management to another organisation, even if they suggested you can. It just doesn’t work that way.
Instead, you and your school are ultimately responsible for the duty of care over your students for any trips you’re on.
“But they didn’t tell us that at uni!” I hear you say! True, unis don’t actually equip teachers with most of the skills they need with which to teach, but that’s another matter.
At the end of the day, if you’re running any sort of excursion, camp, sport, overseas trip or any other sort of school activity which requires you to produce a risk assessment, you need to be trained in risk management. It’s no good just to copy and paste what the last untrained person produced and put your name to it. That’s a dangerous precedence which will come back to bite you.
Risk management training isn’t about putting you to sleep for two days. It’s about giving you clarity and confidence through practical experienced-based training on how to run effective and safe programs. Get in touch with us today to see how you can build this training in to your professional development schedule to ensure you’re running the best programs possible for your students.
Where do you start with Risk Management? With any experiential education, you have a professional responsibility to pro-actively manage risk. This is an ever-evolving and dynamic skill-set that you develop over the years through training and experience. It’s something we can never take for granted. We take a look at some of the challenges we face in managing risk and what can happen, when things don’t go to plan.
In this episode, we talk with Paul Tame, who is a leading risk management trainer with Xcursion Risk Management Training, Lead corporate management trainer for Zen Training & Senior lecturer at Western State Uni Colorado. We take a dive into risk management for experiential education and touch on a few challenges we all face when planning and running programs.
Risk Management Podcast Episode - Paul Tame & David Gregory Talk Risk Management!
Often things look great on paper. However, how does that translate into the real world? With risk management for any sort of activity, it needs to be a living and breathing culture within your organisation and not just a bit of paperwork someone completed and then filed away.
For more information on Paul’s work and the organisations he’s worked with over the years, check out:
Zen For Business
Xcursion Risk Management
Western State Uni
And Crested Butte a fun ski resort we’ve skied together at:
For more information on Denali:
Working in risk management, this is one of my biggest concerns and ongoing frustrations. Why don’t people take action, manage and reduce risk until it’s too late? Far too many schools and organisations wait until they’ve had a major incident to ensure they have systems in place and the right people in place to manage risk.
Why is this? Are we all wired to think that everything is going to be ok and run exactly to plan? Is it the unconscious incompetence that comes with being new to something? Or is it not really caring?
To be honest, I really don’t think it’s not caring. Generally, people are in education to help others achieve goals and consequently tend to care about what happens as a result. However, the focus of teaching and teacher training is on classroom practice and although many lessons don’t go to plan, there’s not really a need to mitigate against this risk other than to make sure you plan your lesson. Yet when planning an excursion, trip, activity or sport outside of the classroom, the same level of preparation rarely goes into it.
The problem is that the management of risk and the actual risks inherent to the activity, excursion or sport is rarely understood, especially if the main focus of someone’s training and employment has been unrelated. Just because someone can teach and manage a group in the classroom, doesn’t mean he or she can facilitate and manage a group in an unstructured and unregulated environment. The result of this usually ends up with most things going to plan, but when something doesn’t, it can go pear-shaped very quickly and generally when this happens, the response is just made up as they go. This can exacerbate a problem or an incident and needlessly escalate it, which can result in further damaging consequences for staff and students.
Once a teacher, administrator, school or organisation has gone through this experience, they then suddenly start to think about risk management in a meaningful way. However, this is too little, too late. The horse has already bolted and it’s not coming back.
The first school I worked for unfortunately had to go through a fatality for them to realise that they had a risk management problem. I was one of the new staff employed after the fatality and the fall out from this lasted for years for some and a lifetime for many others.
Whilst a fatality is thankfully a very rare occurrence, there’s many other incidents which still regularly occur that are completely preventable. There’s enough knowledge, experience and technology available to prevent so many incidents from occurring year, so why don’t people do anything about it until it’s too late?
More often than not, it’s what’s referred to as unconscious incompetence. You don’t know what you don’t know. How can someone be expected to manage something, if they have no idea about what they’re managing nor why they’re supposed to be managing it.
All programs and activities start with good intentions to create great educational outcomes. However, good intentions don’t always translate to good management. Therefore, specific training is essential in general risk management for school activities, sport and excursions, as well as more focussed individual activity risk management training. This sort of initial training helps move people from the unconscious incompetence, to the conscious incompetences skill level and can be quite confronting and eye-opening for most people. Suddenly, they realise the holes, gaps and risks in the programs for which they’re responsible and start to do something about it.
Experience and further training at this stage then moves a person from this conscious incompetence stage into the conscious competence stage. At this point, the person understands risks, controls them and continues to actively manage and work towards risk management goals and develop a culture of risk management within their organisation. It’s at this point you actually get good risk management systems operating within schools and organisations to ensure quality practices are always in place and being used to run great educational programs with the risks minimised.
The final stage persons is unconscious competence. Essentially, they understand a whole range of risks and actively manage them without thinking. If you don’t have anyone in your school or organisation like this, with this skill set, then you’re just treading water before something terrible happens. This shouldn’t be the case as again, there’s enough knowledge, experience, training and technology available to ensure risks are well managed within any organisation.
It’s way too late to do this after something has failed and you can be assured that dealing with a crisis and the fall out from that is far more difficult than a bit of training and implementing good risk management systems.
To avoid the inevitable train wreck of a situation in which lives, careers and reputations are damaged, get some risk management training today so you can build and leverage the right systems, processes, equipment and technology to consciously and competently manage risk within your school or organisation.
Most people overlook behaviour when preparing a risk assessment for any program. To be perfectly honest, in my experience, most people struggle to understand what they need to do to assess risk for an activity, which is fair enough as there’s no training for this at uni and most teachers don’t need to know, until they really do. Whilst I won’t go through what you need to do here, even if someone is experienced in doing this, one thing often missed is the increasing problem children and teens are facing around social anxiety and how this is impacting on parents’ understating of what real risk is and why doing something different isn’t going to kill their child, but sitting on their device for almost eight hours a day could.
Due to some rubbish parenting and everyone’s individualistic desire to be the same, children have been given a lot of addictive devices from which they can suffer withdrawals. Their brains are smashed with marketing, body image messages and a filtered view of the world. Whilst in the past, our brains were attuned to be anxious about large animals which may kill us and eat us. This moved on to having your village raided by Vikings and being forced into slavery and even in fewer than the past 100 years heading off to war to fight the real threat of Nazis taking over the world. To ensure our survival, our brains are wired to help us fight or flee from threats to our safety. However, what happens when the world becomes safer, wars less frequent and the change of being eaten by wild animals almost entirely a thing of the past? Are we a happy and progressive world where we look out for each other? No, we’re in an increasingly individualistic world that has little regard for others and are becoming increasingly worried about things that don’t exist.
Whilst the Salem witch trials might be an extreme example of this, it does have merit. What happened in that situation was that mass hysteria overtook people’s ability to think for themselves and countless people became worried about someone putting a curse on them, or turning them into a newt. This self-fulfilling prophecy not only in Salem, but throughout England during this period, resulted in tens of thousands of innocent people being hanged, drowned and burnt to death.
“But that was in the past,” I hear you say and people don’t believe in witches anymore! Well true, but that’s not the point. The point is that people’s irrational fears took over. In the absence of any real threat or danger, people make it up in their minds. The same is true of many students and parents today when it comes to understanding risk and the activities they’ll experience outside of school.
We create new ways of worrying, especially when there’s actually not that much about which to worry. The chance of being killed by a terror attack is extremely low. Wars across the globe are at the lowest point in history. Most people in developed countries have access to plenty of clean drinking water and food. People have plenty of opportunities for work and freedom of movement and association, yet people are often irrationally worried about going on camp, or abseiling. In terms of outdoor activities, abseiling is one of the safest activities you can do, yet this causes a huge amount of anxiety. The reality is that driving your kids to and from school each day is one of the most dangerous things you can do. More people die in road accidents every week than they do in a year or two or more in outdoor education.
With such a disconnect, how do we start having this conversation about risk with parents? Firstly, explain a bit about the current state of the world and back it with some stats. People are always quite surprised by this. Then explain a situation where you went up to a stranger and started chatting with them. What was the fear? How did that make you feel? What happened when they started chatting back to you and you discovered they were a really interesting person. If you haven’t done this, do this and then you’ll know what I mean and you’ll have a story to tell.
Talk about the growth associated with taking risks. Turn it over to the parents. What was something you did as a child that was fun but your parents didn’t know or what was the last time you took a risk with something new? How did it feel? What did you learn?
The reality is that most people’s fears are now grounded well and truly in the fantasy world with social media making it easier for parents and students to reinforce their own beliefs about a topic, no matter how stupid that topic may be. For example, a parent searching for bush walking fatalities, will end up down a rabbit hole which is solely focussed on how people have died in the bush. By doing this, they discount everything about the fact that bush walking is incredible for students to get out and about and learn about themselves and others. Social media and google searches will filter everything out and now the parents’ world is just a clouded mind of bush walking fatalities and just like witches, nothing else is right with the world until we ban it or get rid of it, which will then lead them to support groups for angry parents to want to ban bush walking and on it goes.
Unfortunately, it’s our job to bring them back to reality, because this is the exact same thing that’s dragging their kids down into other rabbit holes of pain, despair and other people who are always far happier, more successful and wealthier than they are. At the end of the day, most of this is total rubbish and yet it’s what children and parents are believing. Let’s bring them back to reality. Talk with them about social risks, social anxiety and maybe facing this fear is far harder than facing down a bear charging at you looking for a tasty meal (although this would have to be in North America, as our Koalas are way too stoned on gin leaves to care).
Often what I’ve seen is a huge amount of social anxiety prior to camps as both parents and students fear disconnecting from the world. The fact is that most of it’s a complete load of crap, but trying to get the socially anxious to understand this, is a much harder task than simply stating the obvious. At your next pre-camp briefing, call this out. Show them some stats and get them grounded in some level of reality.
Smart phones are one of the most addictive things you could give to children! Forget gambling, cigarettes and alcohol! Phones are the completely next level in their addictive and manipulative nature and yet parents hand them out to their kids without a thought!
Why does a primary school student need a phone? Are their lives so hectic that they need to ensure they’re reminded of their next appointment coming up on the calendar? Do they need to be in constant communication with ‘head office’ so that the mission critical operations of the day’s play with Jimmy is guaranteed 99.9% uptime?
To be perfectly honest, children don’t need phones at all. This is a massive failing of parents today who have either convinced themselves that they’re doing the right thing by giving their child a phone to ‘keep them safe’ or massive marketing and peer pressure from other children, parents and social media for which resistance is futile. Whatever the deluded rationale behind it is, it’s just wrong. Phones are dangerous, addictive and manipulative devices which are clearly contributing to the increasingly poor mental health of children today and their inability to cope with so many situations that can’t be resolved instantly.
Since this is so clearly self-evident, what don’t parents just cut to the chase and give their kids a nice big plate of cocaine to snort. Same basic effect: addiction, behavioural change and damage to mental health. For what are they waiting? They’re already creating dependencies and junkie type behaviours so, rather than doing it slowly over years with a gateway addiction, why not just cut to the chase, cut some lines and make it happen?!!
Whilst some people may think this comparison is over the top, I’m not the first person to make this comparison, nor will I be the last, so let’s look at it in some more detail.
Do any schools allow, smoking, drugs or alcohol to be consumed on site on a daily basis? In my experience, no! This will get you suspended or expelled, yet it’s common practice for students to be using their phones constantly throughout the day. Using a smart phone and all the buzzes and bings, notifications and ‘rewards’ which come from using it and giving it your attention all the time releases dopamine, which makes you feel good and re-enforces the behaviour surrounding the activity which just gave you that hit. Other than turning people into wandering zombies, what’s this constant deluge of notifications, stimulations and reliance doing to children?
Although it’s still only early days of this phenomenon, studies have shown that it’s further lowering children’s attention span, manipulating their daily activities and behaviours and reducing their ability to cope without constant stimulation and activity. Add this to the already challenging teenage years of relationships and body image and let them get bombarded by fake images of fake people throughout the world. You’re just setting them up for further trauma and mental health issues from which people are finding it more difficult to recover.
Is this what parents think is a good way of keeping their children ‘safe’? It seems rather idiotic to me and so far removed from any notion of safety, you may as well just get them hooked on a few random drugs instead and therefore save everyone a huge amount of time as the damage will occur far more quickly and efficiently. The next cry will be from parents for schools to conduct ‘phone testing’ to see if their child’s phone is ‘safe’ to use. Therefore, taking yet another step away from actual useful action and taking responsibility for themselves to not give their child a phone to begin with.
The actual danger and long-term damage associated with giving children smart phones, far outweighs the potential risk of their not having a phone so they can be contacted 24/7 ‘just in case.’ Generations of children have survived throughout the ages and managed to find their way home every day without the use of mobile phones, ride-sharing and GPS locationing, yet some parents would have you believe that the world is far more dangerous than it’s ever been and justify giving their child this dangerous device out of ‘safety.’ The fact is that in this situation, the phone, what it does and what it can access is the real risk and is doing real harm to children and adults alike. The random gangs of child kidnappers in white panel vans from whom parents are believing they are protecting their childing, are predominantly the perceived risk in the modern world and an extra-ordinarily rare occurrence. Yet parents seem willing to give their children smart-phones which open the door to a highly addictive, manipulative and unfiltered adult world, that’s far more dangerous and destructive at home than it is for their children to go down to the park or ride a bike with a friend or two and be ‘unsupervised’ and ‘out-of-communications range.’ If you’re really worried about the roaming white panel vans, perhaps paying for some martial arts lessons is a far better investment than the phone.
We’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg for this problem. It’s impacting student behaviour, and engagement as well as their mental health and well-being. Schools and teachers are now being expected to clean up yet another mess which is not of their making. However, until parents realise the difference between the real risk of giving their child a smart-phone versus the perceived risk of not giving them one, it’s going to be a hard uphill battle ahead.
Some further interesting reading on the subject: