THE BLOG

It's Time to Let Our Kids Take More Risks

11/06/2013 17:37 BST | Updated 11/08/2013 10:12 BST

When you become a parent your children become the most precious thing you have, and it's natural to want to protect them. But is it possible to be too protective? Is there a link between 'cotton wool kids' and the shortage of practical skills demonstrated by those who want to do apprenticeships or study science and engineering at university? I think there could be.

Stories about kids being prevented from doing outdoor, practical things that were the norm for my generation make me sad. I am even more disappointed by the number of kids who fail to become inspired by science at school because they never experience the fun, excitement - and some small risk - of doing practical experiments.

Some of the best learning I had in school was when things went wrong. I know white phosphorus burns your fingers if you ignore the instruction to pick it up with tongs rather than handling it. I also know exothermic test tube experiments will explode it you don't keep them cool. In both cases I experienced the consequences - and it didn't put me off doing science - quite the opposite! That was what made science enjoyable.

I was shortlisted in the First Women Awards, in association with Lloyds Banking Group, last month and became President of the Institution of Chemical Engineers. I reflected at the time on the fact that more young women now make up the undergraduate intake compared to "in my day" - but it's still not high enough. We need boys and girls to be inspired to get involved and tackle some of the big engineering challenges of today. They can only do that if they learn by doing and become inspired.

Being a parent is hard job and it's easy to get intimidated by the dangers that appear to be everywhere. What were local stories a generation ago are now replayed nationally on 24 hours news channels. It's not difficult to understand our protective instinct.

But I am a big fan of the National Trust initiative to encourage children to do 50 exciting things before they are 11¾ - climbing trees, building a raft and cooking on a campfire. It's fantastic stuff. My colleagues and I at the Health and Safety Executive have been encouraging exactly this attitude for years. My only wish would be to add to the list some exciting science experiments for kids to do as well.

We need teachers and parents who encourage kids to get out and about and do things, learning about risk and taking sensible precautions as they go. They can help create sensible boundaries. It's good to learn to ride a bike, but wear a helmet. If you are going to go out on roller skates, knee and elbow pads aren't a bad idea.

Our kids will thank us for it in the end and we can be proud when they have the skills and abilities to solve some of the world's bigger problems in the future.

Judith Hackitt is shortlisted for the 2013 First Women Awards.

For further information click here.

The awards ceremony will take place on Wednesday 12 June and is hosted by Real Business in association with Lloyds Banking Group.