Coaching your kids- Part VI: Planning and understanding risks

Kids and young adults are often lack of the understanding of risks because they haven’t got enough life experience to teach them life lessons so they often find it hard to build a causal link between actions and risks. This happens to many young adults and even teenagers when they first learn to drive.

Learning to drive is not as simple as it looks. Although most training for a young driver is about hand-eye coordination to drive a car properly without hitting things, a big part of training is actually about risks assessment and taking actions. That’s why L-plate learner drivers have a lower speed limit imposed by law. The risk of allowing a car to go faster is not only about controlling the car itself, but more about the risk of losing control of the car and cause harm to other cars and people. The damage a 100 km/h car can make is huge, given its weight and speed. The risk is high and the stake is also high for young drivers; that’s why insurance premium is also high.

The risk to be killed by this Port Jackson shark is almost 0%. They are as small as a puppy dog …

We, as parents, usually coach our kids about causes and effects. They are important and sometimes, hard for kids to understand. My daughter learned a big lesson at the age of 4. We went to a Chinese restaurant on an evening and we ordered a sizzling beef (my wife’s favorite dish) among other dishes. When the sizzling plate came, it was exciting for a 4-yo kid; wow….. As good parents, we warned her that the plate is very hot and don’t touch it. Yes, that makes sense, right. Guess what, while my wife and I were chatting, she touched the plate and screamed! The effects? Well, not good (as you can guess…).

This is a typical cause-and-effect example: cause: a very hot plate and effects: get burned after touching the hot plate. We wonder whether our cause-and-effect warning triggered her curiosity: “Why does Daddy say the plate is hot and dangerous? It looks normal to me. Let me try…” So, she decided to try. OK, a big lesson then. After that incident, she had known how hot the sizzling plate could be and she told her little brother so!

These cause-and-effect teaching, however doesn’t teach our kids the concept of ‘risks’. Touching a sizzling plate has almost 100% chance causing a burn. The risk of being burned is almost 100%. Not all actions may involve 100% risk of causing bad stuff.

(Photo by freestocks on Unsplash)

Back to our driving example. If you drive at 90km/h in a 60km/h zone, then do you always get in trouble or hit something or someone? The answer is no but the risk is high, say 30% but not 100%. Statistically speaking, this number (30%) means that you will only come across 3 accidents if you do the same thing 10 times. This also mean that you get away 7 times, too! If the risk is lower, say 5%, then you feel like that you will ‘never‘ hit one and you will never get caught by the police! Driving training for teenagers and young adults is particularly hard on this because they haven’t driven enough mileage; hard to feel the ‘statistics’ because the chance to ‘get away’ is a lot higher. Human brain can be easily fooled by this experience and bias.

Teenagers like to go to beach together on a hot summer day. When the surf is big, then making a decision to swim in the ocean is all about risk assessment. Without good understanding of the risk in a big surf situation, people may just go and under-estimate the power of ocean. I swim regularly at Manly Beach in Sydney. Trust me, you can’t fight the ocean and its powerful current; nature is scary! This is why training your kids to plan their activities with risks in mind is so important that this skill may save their lives one day.

Know the risk and enjoy the surf.

How to train your kids on risk assessment? You can start by asking them: what’s the risk of doing X and then getting Y? For example, what’s the risk of getting wet by not bringing an umbrella today? What’s the risk of not being able to finish your homework by Sunday, if you go out with friends on Saturday? What’s the risk of not being able to buy something you really want before your birthday with your saving, if you spend all your pocket money right now? This simple question helps your kids build a logic loop:

What is the risk? ->

Can I take the risk? ->

If I can, then what is the ‘price’ to pay for the risk? If too risky, then what? ->

Do I need to ask my parents? ->

What is the risk after thinking it twice?

Risk assessment is an essential tool for personal finance. (Photo by on

Training your kids on risk assessment takes a long time and you will certainly be frustrated by how kids don’t listen! Well, be patient. Once this risk assessment skill is embedded deeply in their young minds, then after kids have grown up, they will use it automatically when it’s needed. One day, this skill will save your kids from big troubles because they know the risk of drink and drive with a bunch of teenagers after a house party at 11pm, and because they know it could be dangerous to swim in big surfs without lifeguards around. Understanding risks saves lives, at times.

Later in their adult lives, they will use this skill to assess whether making an investment decision is too risky or whether a business decision is worth the risk. Risk-taking aptitude needs training and it takes knowledge, skills and time to master the skill. Train your kids to plan with risks in mind. This skill may save their lives one day.

Dr. C. Richard Wu @

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