Boys risk taking behaviour

David Gregory outlines the challenges as some boys will find any excuse to try something dangerous.

Why can’t we jump off this cliff backwards?

This is one of the dumbest questions you can imagine, but it’s something I get asked quite a lot. Often in a different way, but basically it’s the same question each time. This is mainly something I experience with boys. Their level of risk-taking behaviour far outweighs girls on outdoor activities. No matter what the activity, someone in the group wants to push the boundaries so far that it risks stepping right outside the safe parameters of the activity:

‘Why can’t we go swimming here?’

‘Why do we have to wear PFDs? I can swim!’

‘Why can’t we go to the snowboard terrain park? I can do a 20 foot jump, no worries!’

‘I’ve done this before!’

‘Mr. Jones let’s us do it!’

Playing one teacher off against another is a common methodology for kids, especially when it comes to potentially risky activities.


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Challenge and dangers

For an inexperienced instructor there is a genuine challenge working with some boys and it can be a minefield. Junior instructors often find it a challenge to balance discipline and responsibility with relationship building with students. However, a wrong move with boys wanting to push the limits can mean a serious accident in the making.

I’ve seen this happen before and I’ve seen near misses, which I’ve managed to catch in time and it’s not because the students are trying to be intentionally disobedient. They just don’t understand the risk in what they’re doing. The adolescent brain is in fact wired towards only seeing reward as an outcome and not being able to perceive and self-manage risk rationally, unless it’s clearly explained to them. It’s so easy to get momentarily distracted and find you have a student at the top of an abseil ready to go and they’re missing a carabiner or helmet or they’re heading towards the cliff edge without being clipped into the safety line.

Vigilance and boundaries

Whilst you can’t change boys and their desire to take risks, you can and must be vigilant when running activities with them. Boys respect strong boundaries and although they will still push these, pulling them up whenever they’re doing so will reinforce your position as an instructor, as well as ensure the highest level of safety for any activity.

Some boys will find any excuse to do something dangerous, you can be assured of that! However, as an instructor in an outdoor environment, you have the ability to model positive and proactive risk management and mitigation behaviours for the boys. If they do something that’s dangerously risky and you have to drag them back in, use this as part of a debriefing process.

Link it to other real risks in their lives and demonstrate ways and reasons for avoiding dangerous risks and effectively managing them. Whilst they might not get it right away, as with any experiential education, it could help them later in life to avoid serious risk and danger to themselves and others.

Always remember, when dealing with boys, you have to be far more vigilant and ensure you look out for the most bizarre and most dangerous possibilities, because they’re most likely going to be trying them!


David Gregory

David is an experienced outdoor education teacher from Australia who’s worked on various domestic and international programs for over 16 years. David has planned and led outdoor education programs for students from primary age, through senior school. David’s a keen snow skier and outside of the outdoors he enjoys museums and art galleries, his favourite being the V&A in London.


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