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.