This is one of the dumbest questions you can imagine, but it's something I get asked quite a lot. Always in a different way, but basically it's the same question each time. This is mainly something I experience with boys. Their level of risk taking behaviour far outweighs girls on outdoor activities. No matter what the activity, someone in the group wants to push the boundaries so far that it risks stepping right outside the safe parameters of the activity.
Why can't we go swimming here? Why do we have to wear PFDs? I can swim!!! Why can't we go to the terrain park? I can do a 20 foot jump no worries! I’ve done it before! Mr. Jones let’s us do it! Playing one teacher off another is a common methodology for kids.
This is a massive challenge with boys and for an inexperienced instructor can be a mine field. Junior instructors often find it a challenge to balance discipline and responsibility with relationship building with students. However, a wrong move with boys wanting to push the limits can mean a serious accident in the making.
I’ve seen these happen before and I’ve seen near misses, which I’ve managed to catch in time and it’s not because the students are trying to disobey. They just don’t understand the risk in what they’re doing. It’s so easy to get momentarily distracted and find you have a student at the top of an abseil ready to go and they’re missing a carabiner, helmet or they’re heading towards the cliff without being clipped into the safety anchor line.
Whilst you can’t change boys and their desire to risk everything, you can be and must be more vigilant when running activities with them. Boys respect strong boundaries and although they will still push this, pulling them up whenever they’re doing so, will reinforce your position as an instructor, as well as ensure the highest level of safety for any activity.
Boys will find any excuse to do something dangerous and stupid, you can be assured of that! However, as an instructor in an outdoor environment, you have the ability to role model positive and proactive risk management and mitigation behaviours for the boys. If they do something way out and you have to drag them back in, use this as part of a debriefing process. Link it to other real risks in their lives and demonstrate ways and reasons for avoiding risk and effectively managing it. Whilst they might not get it right away, as with any experiential education, it could help them later in life to avoid serious risk and danger to themselves and others.
Always remember, when dealing with boys, you have to be far more vigilant and ensure you look out for the dumbest and most dangerous thing possible, because they’re most likely going to be doing it!
Always Living On The Edge!