Teach a Sense of Adventure

It’s a scary world out there. Just watch the news or read the paper—something horrible is happening every day. We also live in a culture of fear—with information everywhere about how to keep our kids safe in every situation.
How does a parent protect a child without depriving him of a fulfilling sense of adventure? How can we facilitate healthy risk taking, clear boundary-setting and good judgment in our children?
Adventure is defined as “an action involving unknown risks or dangers.” This means that if our kids are going to develop a strong sense of adventure, they will need to take healthy risks.
How can a child develop healthy risk-taking behaviors? According to a recent NPR story entitled “Teaching Your Child to Take Healthy Risks,” the best venues for development lie in sports activities or the performing arts. Standing up in front of an audience and speaking your lines can be terrifying and electrifying at the same time. The same is true of playing in a team sport—win or lose, participation reaps benefits.
A big factor in how our kids perceive the world rests with us, their parents. They are watching us constantly. Do we take healthy risks? How often do you role model and participate in healthy adventures with your kids? Once, I took my oldest daughter bicycle camping in the San Juan Islands in Washington. There were some scary things about doing it—she was only 5 and if something happened we wouldn’t have a car or lots of extra supplies. We would also be pretty far from the comforts of home and familiar surroundings. As it turned out, it was one of the best vacations we have ever had, and my daughter still talks about it.
Another helpful parenting tool is to be as transparent as possible about the risks you are taking in your own life. If you don’t share your own trials and errors, the kids might conclude that you never take a chance on anything. I talk openly about the benefits of the change, while also acknowledging the hardships as well. This models the kind of clarity that will equip them to weigh the risks in the adventures that lie ahead of them.
Ultimately, the biggest gift you can give them is to model the behavior you would like to see in them. If the parent takes foolish risks while driving, the child will probably do the same when they get her license. If the parent drinks a lot at home, the teen will probably do so also. Speak honestly and openly. Discuss failures as they happen—and express the positive aspects of a failed endeavor. After all, it is a part of the wonder of the human experience.
- enjoy it together!
- Matt Neely