Stranded At Sea: Beyond Risk Taking?

A month long journey in a sailboat sounds like an exciting time for a kid. An adventure. And maybe a needed dose of risk taking in this age of perceived overprotection. But what about if that kid is 3 years old? How about 1 year old? Is this too risky?

It’s easy to say that it is when the baby gets sick, the boat gets stranded, and a massive rescue effort is necessary. The resulting storm over parenting seems to be landing on that conclusion.

What’s especially interesting is that this story may help illuminate what we mean by “safe risk taking.” I recently described an example of safe risk taking - the Noodle Forest exhibit at the Children’s Museum of Phoenix  (which is composed of densely packed, suspended pool noodles). The “risk taking” part was described as follows:

For a toddler, it can be a little disorienting making your way through the Noodle Forest. You do indeed get immersed in the noodles – you can’t see or hear much of anything else. You have to push your way through it and the noodles swing back at you. I’ve tried it myself and it is surprising how quickly you feel like you are, well, working your way through a Noodle Forest.

Of course, there is little physical danger, and a parent/guardian is nearby. The point of Noodle Forest is that it gives toddlers a chance to get out of a psychological comfort zone in a safe way. This is important, as kids’ play opportunities are not only getting limited in terms of opportunities, but also being compromised by safety concerns which can make playgrounds feel unchallenging. The point is to give kids chances to push themselves, not just physically, but psychologically, to try new things, things that might even seem a little scary, without putting them into situations that carry too much potential for harm.

The bigger point, though, is that kids develop a sense of efficacy when they are the ones who control the experience. Being put in a situation that carries risk and potentially compromises heath and well-being isn’t safe risk taking – it’s simply risk. We as parents need to keep that in mind when we determine, for ourselves, our algorithm that computes what’s a “safe risk” for a kid and what’s being placed at risk.

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  1. [...] There’s a big old brouhaha about the sailing parents, Eric and Charlotte Kaufman, who required a dramatic rescue after their 1-year-old Lyra fell ill on their sailboat in the ocean hundreds of miles off of the coast of Mexico. Many in the media maelstrom have been criticizing their decision to take off on that adventure with a baby and a three-year-old in tow, putting both of their kids in danger. (And our own Richard Rende weighed in as well on whether that was “safe risk taking.“) [...]

  2. [...] debating the front-page story today: The Kaufman family who took their 1- and 3-year old kids on a sailing trip around the world, only to have it go awry 3 weeks [...]