Risk and Responsibility
Leah | Mar 01, 2017


Much has been said about allowing children to take risks. Helicopter parents are scorned, especially as we hear about parents wanting to advocate for their college age children whether to protest a grade or intervene in a disciplinary hearing. We are tempted by the benefits of “free range children”.  And then there are the accounts of parents having social services called when they let their children explore “too much”. Whatever your parenting style is, I think it’s healthy and skillful to be curious about possibilities.

And so we come to the Soul Matters theme for March – Risk.

To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger.

                                                             ~James Baldwin

Commit to danger? That’s a quite a challenge for parents and caretakers; it’s their job to balance between allowing children to explore, risk and learn; and keeping the children safe.

But like playing on a teeter totter, staying on one side of the plank or the other gets us nowhere.  We don’t want to always be resting on the ground and neither do we want to be so high off the ground we can get down when we want or need to. Further complicating things is that we don’t always enact our UU values when we make sure our children “stay safe on the ground”. If we’re always working to ensure the comfort of our own children, we can’t foster compassion in them and help them navigate and thrive in the world. As Unitarian Universalists we teach our children that it is important to continue to search and learn what is true and right and that our actions should be guided by what we value. Sometimes that means taking responsible or good risks.  

I appreciate the steps for risk assessment that my colleague, Kimberlee Tomczak Carlson, who works on Soul Matters, suggests for children when a risky challenge arises for them.

How can you know the difference between a responsible or good risk and a bad risk?

  1. 1. Identify the risk (body, feelings, others, mind) or (physical, emotional, social or intellectual). What am I risking? Who am I risking? How am I risking?
  2. 2. Stay aware of the potential dangers, and benefits, of moving forward or staying still. What can I learn from taking this risk?
  3. 3. Think through one’s actions. How will I take this risk?
  4. 4. What will happen if you take this risk? Evaluate your actions afterwards.


And I would add to number 4 – “Evaluate your feelings”, because when we do good we feel good. And this is true regardless of the outcome. Last week I was talking to a group of elementary kids about being kind to others. One child related helping out someone in need at school, someone who had been mean to her before.  The nice ending might have been that the meanie changed their ways and expressed kindness and gratitude in return. But that was not the case. Still the child who helped felt good about what they had done. Children know that we can always know what other people are going through and that we don’t act simply with an expectation of reward.

Let us all risk on this month! May we know the exhilaration of taking a risk, the comfort of a safe landing when we need it, and then learn and grow from whatever may have passed.  

In joyful service,

Leah Purcell, Director of Religious Education

Need a little more support? Check out these resources suggested by my colleague Kimberlee.
6 Ways to Encourage Children to Take Risks
11 Benefits of Encouraging Risk Taking in Your Children