Corporate ad campaign embraces risk-taking by children

If you want to be really sure of a change in social attitudes, wait until it is picked up by corporate advertising. With this maxim in mind, I was intrigued to see this new video from the global household products corporation Procter and Gamble.

The video has clearly struck a chord, having been viewed tens of millions of times since its release a month ago. With the take-home message ‘For teaching us that falling only makes us stronger, thank you mom’, the campaign marks a dramatic rejection of the norm of the overprotective parent.

The opening sequences – of toddlers’ wobbly efforts at walking – underscore the central role of risk-taking in children’s growth and development.Procter and Gamble video screenshot toddler falling

Some of the later scenes – of painful falls and their aftermath – are refreshingly honest about the potential consequences of taking part in winter sports.

Procter and Gamble video screenshot girl with broken leg

The campaign is not above criticism.  For a start, it adopts a competitive, winner-oriented value system that many people do not buy into. Note to corporate retailers: not all parents harbour the ambition that our offspring will become champion athletes.

The video also sees mom, not the child, as the driving force of their children’s achievements. Surely the kids themselves deserve a lot of the credit, for their courage and determination (by way of evidence, check out another winter sport-related video of a child, which I wrote about a while back).

While valid, these remarks miss the significance of the campaign. At its heart is a powerful message about beneficial risk: a message that will resonate with anyone who is calling for a common-sense approach to health and safety in schools, for instance, or for a balanced approach to managing risks in playgrounds.

What this campaign shows us is that we really are moving well away from what I have called the ‘zero risk’ childhood. The challenge now is widen the scope of this move.

Taking risks is not just about winning, or making us stronger, or facing up to physical danger. It is also about going beyond our social and emotional comfort zones, learning from our mistakes, and gaining a sense of our own agency.

When we engage with risk, we feel what it is like to be an active, competent person who takes responsibility for their actions. So you could say that taking risks is about getting the hang of being a human being.

[Hat-tip to Sharon Gamson Danks for sharing the video on the International School Grounds Alliance group on LinkedIn.]

3 responses to “Corporate ad campaign embraces risk-taking by children

  1. Hi Tim

    It is a poignant video clip for all sorts of reasons as you have identified. It also, for me, reinforces the paradox that whilst we accept falls and accidents as a normal part of engaging in a multitude of sports, as a society we are less accepting of this happening in other areas of children and young people’s lives.

    So we have this irony that ice hockey involves putting sharp blades on children’s feet, giving them a stick in their hand to hit a pebble-like object around an ice rink crowded with two teams who are pitted against each other. Yet the moment a playground becomes icy, it remains too dangerous to experience. Hmmm…

    Best wishes
    Juliet

  2. Tim,
    Interesting post as ever. ‘Advertising’ seems a strange bed-fellow in the campaign to improve play design objectives? But any help to shift the inexorable inertia of public expectations is welcome.

    Without the potentiality that risk brings there can be little gain in our personal lives, in our work or in our play. No-one would fall in love if they wished to avoid a metaphorical grazing of the heart. Play only requires a grazing of the knee. Life with no risks is no life.

    Having indulged my proclivity for a good cliche…………..How soon can we expect a radical new generation of ‘risk benefited’ (or is it risk befitted) play areas to appear? Designers can only tinker around at the edges with the ‘guidelines’ at present and is it not ultimately only we, the play designers, who risks our livelihood and reputation by seeking to push the acceptable boundaries of risk in play? There is only so much we can do while hiding behind insurance policies.

    We all know that a playground with a history of zero accidents is probably not a good playground, just a boring one. So when will we count the number of (minor) accidents a playground records as a measure of a successful play design? How we draw the line between minor and serious accidents becomes the interesting plimsoll line. A broken arm for one child is a trophy to be boasted about, whilst to another it is a parent’s opportunity to seek financial compensation.

  3. Juliet, Jerry – thanks for popping by. That’s a vivid comparison, Juliet! Jerry – I’m sure you agree that there’s no simple right answer to the question ‘where do we draw the line?’. But I believe that if we change the question to ‘how do we draw the line?’ then risk benefit assessment is one good answer.

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