Risky Behavior: Can It Be Good?

One by one, the girls got up to sing in front of the group. Some voices were strong and others, well, could use a little practice. As a youth coordinator at GSUSA, I was most interested in the girls who were struggling to carry a tune. Here they were, 600 girls, surrounded by adults who cared about them, at the Girl Scout Pink Party—an event at the Girl Scout National Council Session/Convention in October. These girls felt safe enough to sing in front of the group. Safe enough to publicly test a hidden talent. Safe enough to fail. They were indulging in risky behavior.

It seems like common sense to steer girls away from risky behavior, but part of growing up means taking a chance. Girls need opportunities to take safe risks in safe places, like Girl Scouts, where they will be supported. They need to try out new skills and work on strategies to see if it suits them.

Creating a Safe Space
As an adult advisor, you have a unique opportunity to create the space where girls can test different behaviors. But first it's important to understand what safety means to girls.

According to Feeling Safe: What Girls Say, a report from the Girl Scout Research Institute, the No. 1 concern, noted by 32 percent of girls, was being teased or made fun of. Teasing makes girls feel insecure. When girls feel insecure, their behavior changes. They are less likely to take safe risks—like trying out for a sports team or auditioning for a part in the school play. Instead, they may engage in behaviors that keep them on the sidelines instead of in the game.

Promoting Safe Risk-Taking
One way advisors can help girls is by creating a space where it is OK to take risks. It needs to be a place where girls can try and fail and be supported. It must be perceived as non-judgmental.

The Pink Party was a success and the girls who got up to sing were cheered on. Many received pats on the back from girls and adults. I overheard one girl say, "You were brave!" I smiled. I knew it was true.

Promote Safe Risk-Taking by:

  • Being proactive about asking girls what they are feeling and whether those feelings stand in the way of trying things. Then help girls brainstorm ways to overcome perceived obstacles.
  • Not judging, threatening, lecturing, or issuing orders. Instead engage girls in the work of establishing guidelines for responsible behavior.
  • Realizing that to girls, feeling safe refers to more than just physical space. Safety can mean feeling protected by adults. Create a network of adults girls can go to for support.
  • Taking emotional injury seriously. Teasing and gossiping cause girls anxiety and should be addressed by adults. Don't assume girls will work it out on their own.