Risk assessment is the science of determining two things: the likelihood of a given occurrence and the degree of potential loss. Let’s say I want to do a risk assessment of the likelihood that my pregnant daughter-in-law will be bitten by a mosquito this summer. I would look at past incidents, rainfall amounts, temperature data, and conclude that the likelihood that she will be bitten is about one hundred percent.
So the likelihood of occurrence is extremely high. Then I look at the potential loss from such an event. It is not very significant: a few minutes of irritation, some itching—but that’s about it. However, if she were visiting a Caribbean nation, the potential loss from a mosquito bite would be much greater because of the possibility of contracting the Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects.
From Risk Assessment one moves to Risk Management. Given the likelihood of occurrence and the potential for loss, one takes steps to lower the risk. These might include stocking up on insect repellant and staying indoors during the hours around dusk and dawn.
That’s Risk Assessment and Management 101. Could it be applied to raising children? Yes. It would first require an awareness of possible risks, something most parents have from the moment their child is born, and even before that. They know that things can go wrong in utero or during delivery. The risks start before children are born, and they never stop.
Parents have lots of fears. They worry about birth defects, SIDS, bicycle accidents and car crashes. And they try to manage the risks: mothers have periodic ultrasounds, parents lay their newborns on their backs, put their babies in car seats and make their grade-schoolers wear bicycle helmets.
As children get older new risks emerge. Will they be accepted? Will they get into college? And what about dating? There are no crash helmets for dating (though if you invent one, you’ll make a fortune). The risks now include rejection and heartbreak and social isolation.
Parents worry that their kids will break bones, crack their skulls, and suffer broken hearts. There is risk everywhere, and parents want to save their kids from it. They want to take it away.
It’s for that reason that some people turn to God. They see him as a cosmic risk remover, a kind of supernatural car seat or crash helmet. “Don’t leave home without him,” they say. And why? Because life is risky.
But here’s the reality: God is many things – savior and Lord, leader and even friend – but he is not a car seat or a crash helmet. He is God. We cannot beg or bargain him into removing risk from our children’s lives, though we can pray for him to use it in their development. Our broken world is a risky place to live. We must acknowledge that and manage risk as best we can.
But we can only manage risks wisely if we assess them correctly. Many parents wrongly assess what constitutes the greatest risk to their children. They protect their children from one danger, but leave them exposed to another, even greater danger.
The biggest risk a child faces, the one that carries the greatest potential for loss, is not physical or social, but spiritual. This is not to downplay the importance of physical health and social relations, but to recognize the primacy of the spiritual life. As Jesus asked, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
A successful career and a comfortable living will never compensate for the loss of a soul. Assessing a child’s risk in terms of social, academic and athletic success while ignoring spiritual concerns is like making sure a child takes a daily vitamin while subjecting him to second-hand smoke.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 5/7/2016