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Too Safe for Their Own Good: How Risk and Responsibility Help Teens Thrive Paperback – February 13, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Michael Ungar is an internationally recognized expert on resilience in at-risk youth and leads the International Resilience Project that includes researchers in eleven countries. He teaches at the School of Social Work at Dalhousie University and runs a private practice specializing in working with children and adults in mental health and correctional settings. He has lectured extensively on the subject of resilience and is the author of four books and dozens of professional and scholarly articles. Michael Ungar lives in Halifax with his wife and two children.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

I’m a social worker, family therapist, and teacher. My work has given me the opportunity to visit with troubled children all over the world: children who throw stones in Palestinian refugee camps and unsupervised teens on Israeli kibbutzim, children who dodge gunfire to go to school in Colombia’s poorest mountainside communities, and those who live as student paramilitaries in remote parts of India, teenaged mothers living in the cinderblock slums of rural Tanzania, glue-sniffing children on native reserves in Canada’s Far North, and bored disenfranchised youth existing in monochrome suburbs across the United States, Canada, and Europe. In many ways, these children are not all that different from one another. They are all at risk of being harmed or harming others, living desperate lives that force them to find creative ways to survive. And survive they do. The world over, young people tell me the same thing: they will do whatever they need to do to convince themselves they are competent, capable contributors to their communities. They are all, in one way or another, steadfastly committed to making their lives better.

For these children growing up amid real danger, our task is simple. We need to give them safer homes, safer streets, immunizations, connections with adults who won’t abuse them, and most of all, hope.

However, for many other more fortunate children, I’ve become concerned that we are offering them too much safety. Odd as that may sound, there is a connection between all the security we offer children and why our kids behave violently, do drugs, and take risks with their bodies, minds, and spirits.

What’s going on? Why would a child with everything choose the life of the delinquent, the bully, the runaway, the street kid, or the drug addict? Why would a child with everything insist on taking on responsibility that parents know is beyond her years? Why would a young person insist on being sexually active, or demand the right to work after school, threatening the grades he might get if he focused more on his studies? This book presents some unconventional wisdom to answer these questions, wisdom that comes from the kids themselves. They tell me that, whether growing up with lots of advantages or few, they crave adventure and responsibility. Both necessarily come with a sizable amount of risk. And both are often in short supply in families and communities dead set on keeping their children too safe for their own good.

Don’t get me wrong. I am as concerned as anyone about our young people growing up and drifting into problem behaviours. But I’m worried that we may, out of our deep and committed love for our children, be overdoing it. It’s not that our commitment to raising healthy children is the problem. It is simply that we are going about keeping our children safe in a way that is inadvertently putting them at much greater risk of serious harm.


But how much of a good thing is too much? While we are keeping kids safe, have we also paid enough attention to some of the good things that risk-taking brings us while growing up? Can you remember a time when putting yourself in harm’s way was a rite of passage you craved? I remember those large steel playground wheels I used to love to jump on and spin around on at high speeds when I was a kid. Emboldened by the adrenalin rush of centrifugal force, my friends and I wouldn’t stop until our stomachs heaved. My city council recently voted to remove them from my children’s playground.

I’m becoming anxious that we’ve gone too far in removing “risky” activities from our children’s lives.

After all, once we’ve taken away all the dangerous things for our kids to do under our watchful gaze, where will they turn to find their thrills? We mustn’t forget to offer them other opportunities to experience moments of growth and exhilaration.

This book explores how to find a balance between keeping our children out of harm’s way while still offering them what they need to experience the thrills that are part of growing up.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: McClelland & Stewart (February 13, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 077108708X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0771087080
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,731,984 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Ungar, Ph.D., is both a family therapist and a Killam Professor of Social Work at Dalhousie University. He is currently the Network Director of the Children and Youth in Challenging Contexts Network and founder and Co-Director of the Resilience Research Centre that coordinates more than five million dollars in funded research in a dozen countries. That research is focused on resilience among children, youth and families and how they together survive adversity in culturally diverse ways.

Michael has published over 100 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on resilience and is the author of 13 books including The Social Worker, his first novel. Among his books for professionals are Working with Children and Youth with Complex Needs: 20 Skills to Build Resilience; The Social Ecology of Resilience: A Handbook for Theory and Practice; and Counseling in Challenging Contexts: Working with Individuals and Families Across Clinical and Community Settings. He also writes for parents and educators. Among his most recent works are I Still Love You: Nine Things Troubled Kids Need From Their Parents; We Generation: Raising Socially Responsible Children and Teens; and Too Safe For Their Own Good: How Risk and Responsibility Help Teens Thrive.

In addition to his research and writing, Michael maintains a small family therapy practice in association with Phoenix Youth Programs, a prevention program for street youth and their families, and was the recipient of the 2012 Canadian Association of Social Workers National Distinguished Service Award. His work has been featured in numerous magazines (Reader's Digest, Body and Soul, Today's Parent) and newspapers (Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, USA Today) around the world, and he regularly appears on radio and television. Among his many contributions to his community has been his role as Co-Chair of the Nova Scotia Mental Health and Addictions Strategy Advisory Committee.

His blog, Nurturing Resilience, can be read on Psychology Today's website at

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on September 4, 2008
Format: Paperback
Is there such a thing as too safe? "Too Safe for Their Own Good: How Risk and Responsibility Help Teens Thrive" is written by Michael Ungar for Canadian students, but some of the concepts set forth within clearly apply to America teens as well. With the increasing sheltering that comes with their age, trying to shield teens from community ills and unwise behaviors becomes too much and they aren't able to learn and internalize the limits and realities of life. Proposing a method that is unique between giving teens a dose of real life while still keeping them in relative safety, "Too Safe for Their Own Good" is a unique contribution to public discourse, as well as a good and recommended read for parents and for educational professionals both in Canada and the U.S.
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