Kids need adventure. Parents need to teach them how.

Kids want adventure. Parents think it’s a good thing. So why doesn’t it happen more?

Kids need adventure. Parents need to teach them how.

Stuart Kids need adventure. Parents need to teach them how.Do you get bored with routine? Do you long for more adventure in your life?
Do you think your kids do?
Do you think it matters?

Research conducted by One Poll in the UK in May 2010 reported 85% of children age 6-12 longing for more adventure in their lives with 85% of parents saying adventure should be an important part of their children’s lives.

When I first saw these stats they were headlining a press release from a sticking plaster company, part of a campaign to encourage kids to get out more and parents to give them more free rein. While these are both things I believe in (even though I sometimes struggle to do them myself) something left me feeling a bit uncomfortable about this ‘research’…. commissioned by a sticking plaster company, encouraging kids to get out more; was this just a drive to increase cuts and grazes, sell more plasters and improve the bottom line?

Now perhaps that’s a little cynical, for the stats actually serve me well; they make a point I often make myself. Kids want to adventure. Kids need to adventure. As parents most of us know this. But sometimes we struggle to make it or let it happen.

So let me set aside my cynicism and share some more of the findings, without questioning the truth or motives behind them, for they do tell an interesting story and one that resonates with my experience.

Half of kids have never camped out?

According to this poll of 1500 parents and 1103 kids in the UK, over half of children have never camped out, not even in their back garden, nor laid down to watch the stars in the night sky or watched the sun rise. It makes me sad just writing this. These are not risky adventures nor activities that cost money, need training or require special equipment. Anyone can take a pillow and duvet out in the yard, look up in the night sky or  get up early to see the sun. Come to think of it you could do all three in just one night. All you need is the idea, the will to make it happen and perhaps a little cajoling.

 Kids need adventure. Parents need to teach them how.

Can it be true? Over half of kids have never seen the sun rise?
Photo: Sunrise in Aland, 2010

But there’s more; in the sample polled:
• 50% of kids had never taken part in any adventure sports.
• 41% of kids had never taken part in a scavenger hunt.
• 44% of parents played outside as a child more than their kids do.
• 38% of parents said they’re more protective of kids than their parents were.
• 40% of parents said they don’t have time or money to do adventure activities with their kids.

So what’s going on here? Everyone thinks adventures are a good idea but somehow it’s just not happening. A case of cotton wool parenting? Perhaps, but this survey wasn’t sponsored by Johnson’s. Does it matter if kids don’t have the chance to get stings, cuts and grazes playing in the woods? Maybe to a company that makes plasters and commissions polls like this. But should more of us be bothered? Does it really matter if kids don’t adventure? To kids, families, communities, society at large?

The value of outdoor adventures cannot be underestimated

Well I think yes. The value of outdoor adventures, little or large cannot be underestimated. And it’s not just about thrills and spills or building a bank of rose tinted memories of childhood. Whether building a tree house, camping and stargazing, fishing on the old industrial canal, or exploring the local environment on foot or by bike; active adventures bring real health and developmental benefits. When children are helped and allowed to experience risk, even in a semi-controlled way, it helps develop their ability to deal with it and builds self-confidence. It encourages them to think for themselves and develops their resilience. It readies them for dealing with the risks and uncertainties that are part of the big wide world. Who doesn’t want active, healthy, resilient, confident, independent children? And don’t we need people like that in the world?

 Kids need adventure. Parents need to teach them how.But there’s a bigger issue too. Child advocacy expert Richard Louv calls it “nature deficit disorder” and these stats sort of bear him out. According to Louv too many kids in today’s ‘wired generation’ live in a personal world that’s disassociated from nature. They may get to read Frozen Planet, watch Ray Mears World of Survival or play I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, but that doesn’t give them direct, first-hand experience of nature and the ways of the natural world. And, according to Louv, this lack of nature in their lives has direct impacts for kids and society as we see in the current rates of obesity, depression and attention disorder. In his book, ‘Last Child in the Woods’, Louv makes a compelling research based case that suggests “direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults.” And as we sit contemplating all manner of current and future environmental crises, we have to ask, how can we expect kids that don’t know nature to respect or care for it? And what is the future environmental cost for tomorrow’s kids of today’s epidemic of nature deficit disorder?
 Kids need adventure. Parents need to teach them how.

 Kids need adventure. Parents need to teach them how.

Do we really want to see the last child in the woods?

Big questions for sure, but Louv is no doom-monger, he’s got ideas and solutions too and not just of the sticking plaster kind. His book offers hope and guidance, practical ideas he thinks can help bridge the divide we’ve created between ourselves and nature. And many of them are opportunities that exist in our backyards; if we’re prepared to let our kids out there.

Is it parents not kids that are the problem?

Perhaps kids aren’t the problem; perhaps as parents we need to own up and acknowledge our part here. Remember, 85% of kids say they want more adventure, 85% of parents think that’s a good idea, but it doesn’t really happen much. Why? Because sometimes as parents we don’t let them. I know I don’t. Why? Because it’s part of my job to look after them, keep them safe and out of trouble. But isn’t it also my job to help them develop the skills and judgement they need to be safe when I’m not around, or when they escape the nest (with or without me knowing).

It’s not just kids that need skills to adventure safely. We parents need them too. We need the skills and confidence to lead our own mini family adventures, to show kids how to adventure and explore, and to give them the skills and know-how they need to be safe when they’re out and about on their own.

 Kids need adventure. Parents need to teach them how.

Kids are never too young to learn about risk, with appropriate safeguards

Kids need adventure. Parents need to teach them how.

Have you ever talked with your kids about dealing with risks or assessing danger? Told them stories of scrapes you got into as a kid and talked with them about how to get out of them? Actively encouraged them to go explore for themselves? Conversations like these help develop your child’s know-how, and your and their confidence that they know what to do in different situations. You don’t need to wait for a thunderstorm, an accident or until they get lost in the woods to talk about how to deal with it. Even a young child can memorise simple things like their address and phone number and learn how to get help if they need it.

If your kids want to adventure, talk about the activities they want to do, discuss what could realistically go wrong, talk about how best to handle that situation and if you don’t know what to do, look it up together, get some advice from someone with experience, or go and learn together. And then let them get on with it.

Sign Graphic 1 Kids need adventure. Parents need to teach them how.

Kids want more adventure. They need it. It’s good for them. Parents need to teach them how; how to adventure, spot risks, deal with problems if and when they occur. And then let them off the leash to explore and learn for themselves. Gradually, if you must!

 

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Stuart's the adventure addict half of the team, always trying to persuade the family to get out, do more, go further. As co-founder and co-director he handles the business, creative, design, technical and publishing aspects of the project and is our chief photographer. With training as a professional learning and development consultant. an engineer and musician, his contribution is eclectic and unpredictable!

20 Responses to “Kids need adventure. Parents need to teach them how.” Subscribe

  1. Lindsey December 7, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

    Great article! I especially love that you posed the question: Is it parents not kids that are the problem? I do believe it is, obviously the nearly 50% of kids who have never been camping have parents who likely don’t value those types of experiences.

    I went into environmental education because I thought teaching kids to value the outdoors was “the solution”. And while I still think it’s “a solution”, and a very good one, I now realize (after having kids) that educating parents can have an even bigger impact. They can give their kids so much more than I can give them in a 2 hour field trip.

  2. Jessica December 7, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

    LOVE this article. I think you really hit on a lot of the problems that exist with getting kids outside. It’s amazing how easy it is to get kids outside once their parents are on board. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Stuart (Family Adventure Project) December 7, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    @Lindsey I guess there will always be families who don’t value camping, other outdoor activities or the natural environment. I think the work of environmental educators is so important in creating and providing opportunities, for all kids to learn about and experience a little more of the world, even if it is only a 2 hour field trip. Who knows, such experiences may be just as impactful as a lifetime of parenting for some kids? Thanks for commenting.

  4. Sarah Cather December 7, 2011 at 9:55 pm #

    I couldn’t agree more and am very happy to have found this article. I have a 4 year old daughter who thinks it’s normal to walk 5 km and cycle ( on a trail-a-bike behind us) on an adventurous 20km ride! We make it fun, interesting and it’s magic…. While many children are indoors and hipped up at a concert we are out peacefully enjoying the world around us.
    have included a link to my small bog entry on Walking – not to promote my business but to connect with other adventurous/outdoor enthusiasts
    We are off camping in SA fo 2 weeks over the Xmas break with our bikes… Yipee

  5. Suzi Smart Photography December 7, 2011 at 9:56 pm #

    I love this article – some interesting stats. Kids are great emulators and I believe that if the parents get out and enjoy the outdoors with the kids from an early age it will last throughout their lives. Our 2 1/2 year old starting camping when he was 3 weeks old, has been kayaking, backcountry camping, hiking (1st in a carrier, now on his own) – ditto for snowshoeing, he loves bouldering, the list goes on. He thinks it’s second nature to go outside to play – rain, snow, sun; the local park or the wilderness in the middle of the mountains – it doesn’t matter – sometimes it’s mommy saying “can we wait for the sun to come up first?”. For those parents who believe that it costs a lot to get out for an adventure – it can dirt cheap. Just make sure you dress for the part and get out and enjoy the outdoors. For those who don’t have the time – turn off the TV for the afternoon. Let’s all get out and enjoy ourselves.

  6. Stuart (Family Adventure Project) December 7, 2011 at 10:01 pm #

    @Jessica You’re right, parents are leaders in the family; if they’re on board it’s a whole lot easier! You got me thinking though about what I’m like when I’m not on board and whether I could try a little harder to let go of other things and get up and get out when the kids are up for it and I’m dragging my heels. Hmmm

  7. Stuart (Family Adventure Project) December 7, 2011 at 10:09 pm #

    @Sarah Yes, kids see whatever their life is as normal, they’re definitely more flexible than us grown ups! Great that you put a link up… it’s all about connecting. The photos looked great. Enjoy your camping and biking…

    @Suzi It’s frightening the way kids copy! So many times I’ve noticed little things they’re doing (not always ‘good’ things) and when I ask them why they say ‘you do it': they know to do what you do not what you say! Model what you want, like you’ve done with yours. So simple but so important. As you say you can do a lot on a dime, which is quite a good thing to teach too.

  8. Aly- Bliss Monkey Studio December 8, 2011 at 6:43 pm #

    One of the simple ways we have adventures is by Letterboxing or Geocaching. Google these two activities. Free and fun, and gets me and my boys walking new trails, finding new parks, climbing more trees, and tracking down these treasures with clues.

  9. Stuart (Family Adventure Project) December 8, 2011 at 7:58 pm #

    @Aly Geocaching and Letterboxing are fun, simple and free. Always helps! Ever geocached toured a town or city, that makes for quite an interesting and unusual day and takes you places you normally wouldn’t go. Thanks for commenting.

  10. Sandra Foyt December 9, 2011 at 1:19 am #

    Stuart – I couldn’t agree with you more! And now that my kids are in the teen years, I can see what a difference it has made to give my children the gift of adventures. I can’t tell you how many times my 12yo son has told me that he’s not afraid to tackle something new because nothing scares him after some of outdoor adventures – from backpacking in Yellowstone to cliff jumping in the Dominican Republic!

  11. Stuart (Family Adventure Project) December 9, 2011 at 4:26 pm #

    @Sandra That’s interesting what you say about teens and your 12 year old, that you notice conscious and transferable learning, from one context to another. I often wonder what difference it makes. The learning is often implicit and young kids don’t perhaps have the breadth of experience or reflective skills to know that what you do may be different to others, or judge the value of that. Thanks for commenting.

  12. Tess Michaels December 9, 2011 at 11:55 pm #

    My pleasure. Will be following your blog for more posts and have included it in my resources and links blog page.

  13. Heather January 11, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

    Love this post! I might add that parents need adventure too… ;)

  14. tunimaal January 11, 2012 at 7:04 pm #

    I think making your kids having some adventures is just great. They can learn way much more and also they can know how to manage some situations (not hard ones…)… When I will have kids i will try to make them enjoy travelling as much as I can…

  15. Stuart (Family Adventure Project) January 12, 2012 at 12:17 am #

    @Heather How right you are. Parents do need adventure. But who’s going to teach us? ;-) My Dad gave me my adventurous spirit but it’s a bit like parenting, you have to figure it out for yourself.

    @tunimaal Adventure is a great teacher, hard ones too! I hope you are able to teach your kids to love travel as you do one day.

  16. Niki Buchan February 1, 2012 at 1:04 am #

    So true, children need and want risk and challenge! To be pedantic I would like to challenge the statement that adults need to teach children to be adventurers – I would say that children are born adventurers and teach adults if adults step back and allow children to lead and not wrap them in cotton-wool; the children that have already been wrapped in cotton-wool by adults need to be RE-taught! How sad is that!

    • Stuart (Family Adventure Project) February 1, 2012 at 9:08 am #

      That’s a good point Niki. Babies and toddlers are definitely natural explorers and that spirit has a lot to teach us adults! And often we are responsible for squashing it, often unintentionally as we ‘socialise’ and ‘protect’ them. I suppose the point I was trying to make is as parents we have a job to do to both nurture that but also to ‘teach’ them how to assess risks which is not something they may no be instinctively so good at(??). But then nor are we parents a lot of the time! You got me wondering now…! Thanks for commenting.

  17. tanned June 24, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

    I just discover the blog! It’s very noce to travel with kids! Some times it’semmes to be hard to manage to deal with it but i guess when you are used to it, it’s easier!

  18. Sarah Fazendin April 1, 2014 at 10:45 pm #

    Lucky for those of us based in Colorado and other similarly blessed states, our kids tend to not suffer from Nature Deficit Disorder… but travel adventures is another story. Travel adventures with my kids, whether nature- or urban-based… I totally agree with you that “kids want more adventure!”

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    […] go to the park, look around, collect stuff and do some tree rubbing. With all the malarkey about nature deficit disorder any little thing that encourages kids away from the big screenand into the big world is a good […]

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