This morning I was accompanying a scootering Nathaniel to school and I cautioned him not to go over a bumpy strip of sidewalk, lest he fall. “But I didn’t,” he responded as he zoomed by. As I was starting to splutter, “But, but, but,” I remembered that young kids seem to have no understanding of risk. They either fall or they don’t. And there’s limited transfer between, say, remembering that you once fell off the monkey bars and being told you might fall when scootering. So, as I look at the patchwork of bumps and bruises on his head, I’m filled with horror at all of the protecting and coddling I’ll need to do to keep him alive until he is old enough to start understanding risk.
Most adults I know (I’m including myself in this one) have a limited ability to gauge risks and benefits. My students are shocked when they learn they’ve failed the course, all because they took risks in skimming by with as little effort as possible, though such risks seem obviously not worth it to some of their peers. Good students, too, will pull an all-nighter so that they can study, rather than buy into the benefits of rest, and then wake up from an unintended nap with the start of a cold and a late start for the exam.
And Nathaniel, while walking down the street just after our exchange, having handed off his scooter to me, promptly took a tumble on the sidewalk and got himself covered in mud. Maybe his way through the world makes sense. If you’re going to fall occasionally while walking (he’s a bit befuddled by a cold), what sense would it make to try calculating the risks of scootering over bumps?