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Boys from The Scots College canoeing.Scientists and educators have observed, measured and analysed boys’ behaviour to provide us with insights and explanations as to why they are more prone to engage in risky behaviour. These insights provide critical information but there is a Biblical proverb that resonates with my own experience and it states that “the glory of a young man is his strength”.

As a father, grandfather and teacher who works with boys, the ancient proverb although somewhat simplistic from today’s vantage point, seems to resonate with what I have observed over the years, which is boys love to:

  • feel strong;
  • compete with others;
  • take on some personal challenge;
  • overcome an obstacle; and
  • develop a unique skill or gain notoriety in some specific area of endeavour.

The perplexing thing for parents and educators is that in their desire to achieve their personal goals, boys often engage in risky behaviour.

Typically the behaviours fall into two broad categories:

  1. Conscious, deliberate types of behaviour that are inherently dangerous and embarked upon for that very reason.
  2. Behaviours that boys happen to ‘bump into’ or become a part of simply through association, immaturity and inexperience.

With respect to the boys I have observed, it seems that a combination of both aspects of risk are usually at work, with fun, curiosity and prowess being key motivators. This example illustrates my point.

A teacher walking the school grounds finds half a dozen boys playing a game. Four of the boys are sitting at the bottom of a grassy slope with their legs apart while another boy rolls a large rock (bowling ball sized) down the slope on a trajectory that would have delivered dire consequences if the boys had not got out of the way. The apparent goal was just that – to see who could hold their nerve the longest – the last one to get out of the way was the hero. Not much thought had been given to what might happen to the one who was not quick enough.

The desire for childish and youthful notoriety and prowess often includes unwise and uncalculated risks but when significant adults strategically engage with and shape the adventures of the boys in their care they can embrace life in challenging ways with exciting, safe, educative and preparatory experiences for life.

Written by Mike Pitman, Director of Glengarry, The Scots College

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