After a string of shark related incidents including several fatalities and a number of encounters with sharks resulting in non-life-threatening injuries over the last few years one Northern N.S.W. High School has decided to cancel all ocean-based sports for the remainder of the school term.
Given that, on the face of it, there seems to be a localized increased in shark activity, one can sympathize with the school which considers that the safety of the students is their highest priority. Allowing surfing and other ocean-based sports to continue at the present time was considered too high a risk.
The most common counter-argument to this move is that the significance of recent “attacks” has been exaggerated and that everyday activities that students partake in… such as catching the school bus or driving to school… are considerably more dangerous than the shark threat.
Both of these arguments have merit and I am not great enough an expert to express a view as to which is correct.
There is another issue that might be worth considering, however. Is there a chance that if authorities hastily choose to prevent young people from participating in activities that might have some risk then those young people learn that they should avoid risks at all costs. Is there a risk that if we call things off too quickly we encourage young people to be excessively risk-averse.
This question reminds of an incident a couple of years ago when my daughter arrived at the soccer ground where a representative fixture was due to be played. The sun was shining brightly. The air was warm and clear. The pitch was, primarily, firm, well-grassed and in tip top condition. There was, however, a puddle of water running along one touch line from an overnight heavy downpour. My daughter and her team-mates were horrified to discover that the match had been cancelled because the pitch had been determined dangerous. Most parents milled around nodding their heads saying that they understood the decision and that the safety of the girls was the primary consideration. I was the exception. I was unimpressed. In a world where in hundreds of countries kids play soccer in pouring rain, hail and snow on pitches of ice and mud I thought it extraordinary that a puddle could stop a match. It wasn’t the stopping of the match that bothered me so much. What annoyed me was what the stopping of the match said to our kids about risk-assessment. The message to me seemed clear. If there is any risk at all, pull the pin. In life, one must demand certainty! Don’t stick your neck out!
The high school authorities may well be correct in this case. It may turn out that for some reason the local shark population are in an inordinately cantankerous mood at the moment for some unknown reason and that the sensible choice for the school is to take the no risk option. That being said, I would want the school’s authorities, when they take such decisions, to be fully aware of the example that they are setting to their students.
The question that occurs to me is whether we should be teaching our kids to be careful risk-managers or should we teaching them to be take-no-risks kinds of people.