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on Leading the Next Generation


Parents Attitude About Risk Affects Kids’ Achievement

You knew it, didn’t you?  Over the last twenty 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.


photo credit: prodigaldog via photopin cc

“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?


  1. KM on December 14, 2012 at 10:37 am

    I’m a college professor who completely agrees with this article based on what I’ve seen from my students. And, too often, because not-for-profit institutions of higher education are so worried about keeping students in order to stay open that it continues in the university. I long to be able to change the methodology so I can encourage risk and celebrate failure as a vehicle for learning.

    • Tim Elmore on December 17, 2012 at 7:55 pm

      There are creative ways you can do this in your classroom. I know it can be overwhelming (and slow) to change an entire institution but look for opportunities to give your students a chance to risk, fail and rise again.

  2. BK on December 15, 2012 at 11:28 am

    This is so true. I will go another step and say that “no child left behind” is making many kids in fact even further behind. We are putting say accommodations in place that will never be their for them in the real world. I have a special needs child and am a teacher. I know that accommodations are necessary but it is sometimes leading to false expectations.

    • Tim Elmore on December 17, 2012 at 7:55 pm

      Great point. Thanks for sharing.

  3. M. Zoeller on January 29, 2014 at 11:43 pm

    Amen, brother. This is the message I think about daily when teaching in affluent suburbia. Not to echo every single generation before me since Genesis, but it seems to be getting worse, and I’m not even that old yet. What I want to say to parents when they ask “why my kid….” is “because you never let him get scrap his knees, let alone own a pocket knife and spend a week with his crazy-bearded uncle in Montana. That’s why he got a 0/10 for cheating.”

    • Tim Elmore on January 30, 2014 at 11:30 am

      Thanks Zoeller! I hope you can lovingly encourage parents to prepare their kids rather than always protecting them.

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Parents Attitude About Risk Affects Kids’ Achievement