August 4, 2020
This article talks about what we do to stress taking reasonable risks.
In noted child psychiatrist Dr Lynn Ponton’s excellent book, The Romance of Risk: Why Teenagers Do What They Do, she asserts that teenagers are “wired” to take risks and that this is a natural part of developing risk assessment skills. With this in mind, the challenge of parents and educators is to encourage “healthy risks”.
Dr. Ponton distinguishes between healthy risks (e.g., trying out for a team, performing music in front of an audience) and unhealthy risks (drinking, extreme dieting, promiscuous sexual behavior).
We recognize that camp is an ideal environment for taking healthy, reasonable risks. In fact, it is Susie Ma’am’s favorite of the 4 Rs.
At camp, we provide challenging, but safe risks for all ages of campers. For a first time camper, simply coming to camp and having fun away from home is taking a reasonable risk. Scaling our climbing wall is another great example. We encourage each camper to set a goal for the wall (i.e., “I will go halfway up”) and we work with him or her to meet and even exceed this goal. Being 30 feet up can be a little scary. It feels like a real risk, but the counselors are belaying them to provide physical safety while cabinmates and counselors cheer to provide emotional safety.
In fact, we attempt to craft activities that seem to suggest a bit more challenge and risk than is actually present. For example, we strive to help campers get up on water-skis or a wakeboard. We may use a “boom” and special skis, but we strive to make sure every camper gets a taste of success. The risk the camper is taking in this example is dealing with a fear of failure.
Taking reasonable risks extends beyond our scheduled daytime activities. Participating in a cabin skit, publicly acknowledging the acts of a counselor or fellow camper at Torchlight or even making a new friend are all forms of risk taking that help strengthen a camper’s capability while satisfying his or her need to engage in risk-taking.
For older campers, we focus even more on these challenges. Our Senior Camper program is designed to challenge and stretch our campers. We want them to spend time out of their comfort zone, but to do so in a safe and healthy way.
Ultimately, we believe that campers grow when they take reasonable risks. Doing so stretches them. When the camper is successful, he or she becomes more confident. If they do not succeed, they learn that they can bounce back from adversity. All true growth comes when we try things out of our comfort zone. Camp is a place where campers can take these types of risks daily – and become more capable and confident when doing so.