Monday, March 28, 2011

Managing Risk for Life's Adventure

Whitewater rafting is dangerous, which is what makes it so much fun.  Dana and I sat overlooking the Seidel's Suckhole on the Arkansas River near Buena Vista, Colorado and watched rafts flip, a potentially life threatening event.  (You can see one video here: Seidel's Suckhole.)  Is it dangerous?  Yes.  Is there risk?  Yes.  But, there is risk with almost anything worthwhile.  The key is managing risk.

A prime parenting task is to teach our children how to manage risk.  For a five year old, it might be learning which streets to cross and how to do that safely--some streets aren't safe, ever.  Some crossings require knowledge and maturity a five year old just isn't ready for.  So much of life is in assessment, preparation, and facing risk.  Risk is everywhere, from the decision to let a toddler use a fork to teenage driving and dating to guys like me deciding whether to climb up on the roof to fix a shingle.  How do we manage risk in life so our children can be bravehearts?

The first step to good risk management is assessing the risk.  Is there "no real danger," "danger to manage," or "danger to avoid."  Making this decision isn't easy. Lying down to take a nap in your bed sounds like "no real danger."  Unless bed bugs have found a home there. Good risk assessment often involves using a lot of information, which is why we don't let ten year olds drive; wisdom of age, experience, and training make some things safe for some people but a danger to avoid for others.  We often practice risk assessment without really thinking about it, but intentional thought will help you make good decisions about risks, opening some doors and closing others.

The second step for risk management is preparation.  If a teenager is mature enough to drive, good training and practice will make it a "risk to manage" and doable.  The video of the rafts at Seidel's does not show what happens before and after the rapids to manage the risk.  Seidel's is safer than it looks for the customers of whitewater companies who have prepared well.  A video clip, a news story, or a rumor doesn't always give an accurate picture of risk because they focus on the danger and not the preparation that makes the risk safer.

While managing the risk appropriately did not originate with Noah's Ark Whitewater Rafting and Adventure Company(Noah's Ark Colorado Rafting), it is where I first saw it implemented well.  While other companies may manage risk by careful preparation, Noah's certainly has developed a strong plan for preparation that comes long before any dangerous rapids and prepares for safety after the rapids.

To minimize risk, the guides prepare intensively by studying books, then riding with others on the river and swimming the rapids to experience the danger first hand.  Then they row the rapids again and again until each is checked out by a supervisor before taking a commercial group in that section of the river.  They have learned to avoid dangerous situations.  And, they have practiced emergency situations like flipped and torn boats, know emergency aid, and organize their pods of boats so that newer guides are always under the watchful wings of experts who can help if needed.

If there was a Noah's Ark raft at Seidel's and the video looked down river, to the right, you would see Noah's Ark guides standing in the water with rescue lines and boats ready to help anyone in trouble.  Not only did they prepare to minimize risk before the rapids, but were ready to make it safe if there was a problem with help to get out.  Risk, yes.  But strong preparation with experience and a way out, if needed.  A solid approach to risk management for anything.  (For a video on Noah's rafting click here: Noah's Ark - Colorado Rafting video.)

Teaching a five year old to cross the street begins with maturity.  Then, preparation begins with verbal instruction followed by practice with mom or dad holding his hand.  Next, crossing while a parent watches beside the road.  Finally, a solo trip with a parent probably peeking out a window to make sure he gets to the neighbor's house.  Always ready to yell or rescue until the child has the practice and experience to do it alone.

A few years ago, our daughter, Kristie, travelled for two months throughout Central America with another young lady, Hannah.  Our parental wisdom was questioned a few times by friends.  But, we had assessed the risk.  Kristie and Hannah had worked as river and mountain guides.  They had experience travelling to other countries and big cities, even organizing trips and being responsible for others.  They had a track record of making good decisions, knowing people, and being resourceful.

They had a plan.  And, a back up plan for safe homes and places if something didn't go right, which was good, because the first spot to stay for a week was a sustainable farm community that was so spooky they left after one day.  They followed Plan B, wading through miles of mud instead of waiting for the twice-a-week bus to get to a safe place. Kristie even dyed her hair dark to avoid being noticed because they had learned ahead of time about the common macho approach to girls from young men.  They prepared well.

The girls had maturity and experience.  They planned well and had backup plans.  The trip was wonderful, with rich stories after they made it home.  It was not entirely safe; the trip was risky.  But, what could we do as parents?  Deny the trip for which they had carefully prepared?  As Madeleine L'engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time, asks:  "But do we want unmarked children?  Are they to go out into the adult world all bland and similar and unscarred?  Is wrapping in cotton wool, literary or otherwise, the kind of guidance we owe them?"

Do we really want children who are safe but heartless, protected with padding we provide and shaded by the umbrella we carry over them, so they can watch the world happen?  The goal is to teach them to live an abundant life.  Good risk management makes living this adventure possible and allows bravehearts to grow.

1 comment:

  1. What a great way to put all of this... very wise. I think parents can learn a lot from this post!!!!
    The world is a scary place. I want to put my children in a safe place just like every other mom. Thank goodness I have had the experience of seeing 25 years of parents (through being in student ministry) doing it well... and doing it not-so-well.
    I learned early- on by observing other families and seeing the results that over-protecting my children would be more risky than what you are calling proper risk management.
    Thank goodness we can also trust our loving Father when we are afraid as parents!