Monday, 9 September 2013

"Crying Wolf" and "Be Careful" is too Risky!

Spotting a family of ducks with a number of very young ducklings in Waikerie, South Australia, we stopped the car on the opposite side of the road to take some photographs. The adult ducks were immediately alert watching my every move. 

I crossed the road, they called out and their young immediately moved closer to the adults. I climbed over the fence, the adults called out again and the ducklings moved in between the two adults - the little family group rapidly started moving towards the road and the safety of the river. 

Reaching the road the ducklings stayed close together with both adults alert, 'escorting' their young as fast as their little legs could take. They remained calm but with a sense of urgency.
The little family crossed the road, down the embankment where the ducklings were sent ahead while the adults moved between myself and their young until everybody had reached the safety of the river and they all swam off calmly....possible danger (me and my camera?) averted.

As young as these ducklings were they immediately responded to the adult's warning cries - instant obedience which is necessary to protect these vulnerable young.  

I have seen similar protective behaviour in the bird world before. Baby birds in a nest will remain absolutely silent until the parent arrives with food which it will only do once the adult feels there is no danger. Some birds on the ground will noisily fly up to distract the intruders while their young instantly hide silently until the parent bird declares it safe to move on again. These young instantly react to the adults warnings, no arguments....their lives may depend on their obedience. This is part of their instinct for survival.

Many of our young children do not appear to have the same instinct for survival. Adults are constantly warning children to be careful - most children do not react at all and may in fact see this as a challenge and increase the behaviour! A child running away from a parent towards a busy road may run faster as the parents shouts louder, thinking it is a game! 

We use this phrase when we want:
  • children to be aware of others in the environment: " BE CAREFUL!" (not to bump the baby)
  •  them to be aware of their actions "BE CAREFUL!" (not to spill when pouring milk)
  • children to undertake risky tasks "BE CAREFUL!" (of the cars when crossing the road), 
  • children to be aware during play "BE CAREFUL!" ( of slipping when climbing the tree)"
  • and many other opportunities! 
Do we use this phrase too often and children, who are constantly being told to be careful, become immune to the phrase... has it lost its meaning? What do they need to be careful of? A snake on the ground or a flying saucer about to land on their heads? Are we 'crying wolf' too often? 

In a risk averse society children are overly protected, not allowed to experience or evaluate possibly risky opportunities for themselves. Adults use terms such as 'be careful' which are meaningless as they are heard too often and children no longer react with caution. The risk is that children are not able to judge and therefore react to REAL danger in an appropriate way.


  1. How do you explain this to a 'helicopter' parent Niki without offending them?

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  3. This thought holds true for the business world too. I just tweeted this with a link to this page using the Title "Careful is too Risky"