Fear, you would think, is a negative experience to be avoided whenever possible. Yet, as everyone who has a child or once was one knows, children love to play in risky ways—ways that combine the joy of freedom with just the right measure of fear to produce the exhilarating blend known as thrill.

It is a scene that epitomizes childhood: young siblings racing towards a heavy oak tree, hauling themselves on to the lower branches and scrambling up as high as they can get, many times later calling for help because they have adventured far to high. Yet millions of children are being deprived of such pleasure because their parents are nervous about exposing them to any risks, new research has revealed. A major study by Play England, part of the National Children’s Bureau, found that half of all children have been stopped from climbing trees, 17 percent have been told they cannot take part in games of tag or chase. Some parents are going to such extreme lengths to protect their children from danger that they have even said no to hide-and-seek.

‘Children are not being allowed many of the freedoms that were taken for granted when we were children, they are not enjoying the opportunities to play outside that most people would have thought of as normal when they were growing up.’

‘Risk-taking increases the resilience of children and it helps them make judgments,’ says editor in chief and father of 4 D.R. Pierce.

Six categories of risky play

Great heights. Children climb trees and other structures to scary heights, from which they gain a birds-eye view of the world and the thrilling feeling of I did it!.

2 Rapid speeds. Children swing on vines, ropes, or playground swings; slide on sleds, skis, skates, or playground slides; shoot down rapids on logs or boats; and ride bikes, skateboards, and other devices fast enough to produce the thrill of almost but not quite losing control.

3 Dangerous tools. Depending on the culture, children play with knives, bows and arrows, farm machinery (where work and play combine), or other tools are known to be potentially dangerous.  There is, of course, great satisfaction in being trusted to handle such tools, but it is also thrilling in controlling them, knowing that a mistake could hurt.

4 Dangerous elements. Children love to play with fire, or in and around deep bodies of water, either of which poses some danger.

5 Rough and tumble. Children everywhere chase one another around and fight playfully, and they typically prefer being in the most vulnerable position—the one being chased or the one underneath in wrestling–the position that involves the most risk of being hurt and requires the most skill to overcome.

6 Disappearing/getting lost.  Little children play hide and seek and experience the thrill of temporary, scary separation from their companions.  Older ones venture off, on their own, away from adults, into territories that to them are new and filled with imagined dangers, including the danger of getting lost.