Thoughts on saying “no” (in OEd).

One of the questions raised from this weekend’s MA in Outdoor Education course was “Do you allow a young person to say “no” to an activity? Challenge by choice!”

I listened to my fellow students articulate their opinions with strong justification for their decision(s) as to why they would allow a young person to fully opt-out but I wasn’t convinced with their arguments.

To explain the terminology: Challenge by Choice is a concept in which people are empowered to decide whether to participate in an activity. The leader and others in a group are expected to respect anyone’s right to sit out or to opt for a personalized level of engagement. (teampedia.com)

I was quite adamant against it, but after reflection, I’m not so sure now.

Firstly, there are the practical and safety considerations of young people not fully participating and sitting out. If there is a financial commitment, then this would be wasted and thirdly (but not lastly), how do they know if they’re not going to like an activity unless they experience it – had they tried it before, then they might fail (in this instance) to learn that situations are often very different from one another!

Whilst I agree young people should be allowed autonomy over decision making, I am conflicted at the thought of fully ‘opting out’ at such a young age (under 16 years old).

  • Firstly, there is the argument of experience and ‘trying anything once’. Who knows? you might like it…
  • Secondly, there is the argument of resilience. Everyone will experience unpleasant moments at some point within their life, maybe a situation they can not avoid, this will help develop their understanding of their resilient levels.
  • Thirdly, learning occurs more robustly if the young person has control and choice over the experience. If they don’t learn to make their own decisions and gave confidence when (and how) to say “no”, what issues will this cause in their future?

On the other hand,

  • Firstly, what will that experience contribute to their self-actualisation? Will it be positive or have a detrimental effect?
  • Secondly, resilience can be developed from many areas within our lives and experiences, does it need to be done outdoors?
  • Thirdly, if the student doesn’t know what they are supposed to learn, then they can learn misconceptions…

I’ve still not found a conclusive answer that satisfies me. It wasn’t until adulthood when I realised just how I could draw from the experiences as young person and apply to adulthood – for example, I was never allowed to ‘opt-out’ of activities whilst in school despite how much I protested (I had to do them, then the detention afterwards for refusing!) and I felt this put me in good sted and created a more resilient person with the mindset that difficult situations often don’t last long. Sadly though, it made me very compliant to authority and others of influence, even when their motivations and viewpoints were not aligned with mine; I felt I wouldn’t have been put in situations had I developed, at a young age, the ability to strongly refuse – this was a lesson I learnt within my thirties instead.

However, I can see why the choice to fully opting-out is not always appropriate. Had I be given the choice to do so, I feel I would have been lazier and without a motivational attitude to areas of my life I enjoyed experiencing in my youth because I was forced to partake in them. I felt my youth was more colourful and adventurous than it would have been otherwise…

So, back to the original question, “Do you allow a young person to say “no” to an activity? Challenge by choice!”

I think, whilst on the long drive home from university, I came up with a woolley conclusion for myself – I would allow them to fully opt-out if I felt it was detrimental to their well-being or development (always a tough judgement call) or no learning would occur at all by them participating. Also, if I felt their participation would cause risk to themselves or others in the group.

I certainly would adapt the activity to be inclusive within reason… however, my first choice would be “everyone partakes” in some form. After all, for a young person, they are often fortunate to experience an adventurous activity for a fraction the cost an adult might. Whilst they would have no interest in the financial cost of things at their age, they certainly will as an adult!

So, no to them saying “no” really within reason. Sometimes parts of our life are decisions we can’t opt-out of, we can certainly try to change them but often we need to draw on resilience and strengths learnt whilst young to participate in the complexities of adulthood (boo!)… at least, from my perspective and experience, it certainly feels that way…

– Just Joanne