Play at your own risk

ohn Brandon, Executive Director at the Marion County Commission on Youth (MCCOY)by John Brandon, Executive Director at the Marion County Commission on Youth (MCCOY)

In the youth development field, we often speak of young people who are growing up in difficult situations or facing major obstacles in life as “being at-risk”.  At risk of what? Not surviving their violent environment to become adults?  Not receiving a high quality education that will equip them for life? Not achieving what our society defines as success?  That label got me thinking.

“Risk is the way we learn to extend ourselves, to take chances, to achieve goals.”

Youth development professionals know that risk is good for young people—in fact, it is one of the developmental milestones that young people have to progress through as they mature.  Risk is the way we learn to extend ourselves, to take chances, to achieve goals.  It is the young person who stands up for a classmate who is being bullied; who challenges a teacher’s decision on a test grade; who tries out for a school’s sports team or a musical production.

“Our responsibility as a community is to eliminate the dangers so that every young person has the opportunity to take acceptable risks.”

Risk is possible because we know we have the external supports and the internal strength that Elizabeth Duckworth calls grit.  Unfortunately, we have way too many youth in our community who are unable to take developmentally appropriately risks—because they are endangered by forces beyond their control.  Being in danger implies that we’re on our own with no access to outside help and the deck is totally stacked against us.  Dangers don’t allow for a normal developmental journey; and when too many youth can’t grow up well, that puts our future in genuine danger.  I don’t believe that it is a risk we can long afford.

It seems to be a quandary:  you are only free to take risks when you know somebody has your back. Our responsibility as a community is to eliminate the dangers so that every young person has the opportunity to take acceptable risks, healthy risks, risks that lead them to discover both their inner strengths and the strong arms of the communities that hold them up. This year’s Spirit & Place Festival, set for November 1-10, 2013, will encourage our community to examine the topic of risk from a variety of angles.  For the 18th consecutive year, Spirit & Place Festival will showcase events that challenge us to risk discovering something new about ourselves.  Wouldn’t it be great if every young person could have that luxury?

John Brandon is the president/executive director of Marion County Commission On Youth, Inc. MCCOY champions the positive development of youth by providing leadership on key issues and support of the youth worker community.  He has over 30 years experience working with youth and youth agencies.  Learn more at www. mccoyouth.org

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