Monday, September 28, 2009

Growing Up (in the) Wild

The No Child Left Inside Family Fun Day at Sanborn Western Camps was a huge success this last weekend. Over 100 parents, teachers, children and their friends enjoyed a beautiful, Colorado fall day amid the golden aspens and tall Ponderosa pines learning about animals, building forts, roasting marshmallows, playing games, and loving the outdoors and their time together.

I had the opportunity to be a participant on a few of the guided hikes with my own children and a few families from my son’s school. At one point, while hiking on the trail, one of my “mom friends” called out to our kids to “stay with the group, it might be dangerous up there.” Her comment gave me pause. Sure, as far as predators go, we’ve got our fair share: red-tailed hawks, coyotes, bobcats, and more. And yet I realized I am far more comfortable with my child running through the woods than I am with him running through the grocery store (trees don’t tend to give you disapproving looks, I suppose).

Her comment, however, is indicative of an unhealthy shift that makes moms into community pariahs, roaming kids into deviants, and “safe” kids into screen-watching, computer-clicking, tech-savvy individuals—who have limited confidence in themselves because they have not been able to interact and connect with other kids through real, unstructured, free-play types of activities in the outdoors.

While building a fort with our kids, another mother regaled me with a tale from her college days (mid 80’s) where their outdoor leadership club hitchhiked from Ohio to New Mexico to go backpacking for a week. “Of course, it was much safer then,” was her comment. Really? Or is it just easier to dismiss an act of borderline foolishness (or youthful ingenuity?) as typical of a different time—especially when that “time” itself didn’t involve the level of instant information (or dis-information) that exists right now.

As parents and as youth development professionals, it is our responsibility to take care of our kids and the kids enlisted to our care, and to help them become responsible, productive, happy adults. It is our responsibility to assimilate as much information as possible and make responsible decisions regarding the well-being of our kids and campers. It is also our responsibility to allow them the freedom to make mistakes, deal with consequences, and to feel empowered by the good choices they can and will make.

I can only hope that, when and if my kids have the opportunity to walk to school, or go on a Lone Vigil backpacking trip by themselves, or ride their bikes to a friend’s house (with or without a parent at home), I will have equipped them with enough information to make informed, wise decisions. And, if their decisions aren’t the best, that—with a loving heart--I can help them understand and deal with the consequences, then grow and learn from the experience. One of my favorite bloggers, Lenore Skenazy says, "That’s why it’s called “self-esteem.” Not “parent-assisted esteem.”

As we all watched our kids tripping over roots without tears, getting poked in the eye with branches and laughing, slipping on moss covered rocks and quickly dusting off pants, lifting heavy logs as a team, sharing a treasured feather with a friend, chatting together in the outdoor lunch buffet line, and safely leading each other on a blindfolded trust walk through an aspen grove—I think we all realized a lesson about how strong and powerful and wise our kids really can be….and already are.

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