Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Parents Attitude About Risk Affects Kids’ Achievement

We are afraid our kids are too fragile.

You knew it, didn’t you? Over the last 20 years, adults (both teachers and parents) have been on a track to eliminate failure and risk from our children’s lives. We are afraid our kids are too fragile, and may diminish their self-esteem, or worse, their happiness if they take risks.

Well, I have news for you. It didn’t work.

“Children of risk-averse parents have lower test scores and are slightly less likely to attend college than offspring of parents with more tolerant attitudes toward risk,” says a team led by Sarah Brown of the University of Sheffield in the UK. Aversion to risk may prevent parents from making inherently uncertain investments in their children’s human capital; it’s also possible that risk attitudes reflect cognitive ability, the researchers say.” The Harvard Business Review posted this report, but alas, it won’t help us unless we do something about it. Adults continue to vote to remove playground equipment from parks so kids won’t have accidents, to request teachers to stop using red ink as they grade papers and even cease from using the word “no” in class. It’s all too negative. I am sorry—but while I understand the intent to protect students, we are failing miserably at preparing for a world that will not be risk-free.

Taking calculated risks is all a part of growing up. In fact, it plays a huge role. Childhood may be about safety and self-esteem, but as a student matures, risk and achievement are necessities in forming their identity and confidence. Because parents have removed “risk” from children’s lives, psychologists are using a term as they counsel teens: High Arrogance, Low Self-Esteem. They are cocky, but deep down their confidence is hollow, but it’s built off of watching YouTube videos, and perhaps not really achieving something meaningful.

Bottom line? If we treat our kids as fragile, they will surely grow up to be fragile adults. And our world needs resilient adults not fragile ones.

May I suggest some steps?

1. Create ways for your students to assume calculated risks in their daily activities.

2. When they fall or fail at anything, talk them through how to navigate the blunder.

3. Tell them stories of your own failures and how you built resilience through them.

4. Celebrate successes, but also the lessons that come from failure. This is huge.

What are your thoughts? Should we be risk aversive?

More from Tim Elmore
More from Psychology Today