Kids need adventure. Parents need to teach them how.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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!
Want to read more Adventure Parenting posts?
- Ten reasons to stop being a cotton wool parent
- My Dad taught me to be an everyday explorer
- Adventure on the Timetable at Adventure Schools
- Is adventure just about conquering unconquerables?
- Even if you think you can’t you probably can
- No risk, no consequence, no adventure