By Brian Dutter
Each generation of mankind has boasted to their children about how much tougher life was when they were kids. It began with Cro-Magnon man complaining aloud that when he walked to school in the morning, he
had to worry about run-ins with woolly mammoths. This tradition has continued for all of the following generations. What Generation X’er hasn’t had to endure the “I had to walk 15 miles to school every day, barefoot, uphill (both ways, mind you), in the snow” lecture from his or her parents at least a thousand times over the years? With all of that hardship being ingrained into our DNA, it is no wonder that Gen X’ers were raised feral. We did not wear helmets when we rode our bikes, we never put on seat belts in the old Plymouth station wagon, and second- hand smoke was inhaled like flavored air. We never felt the need to ponder why our parents seemed to give such little attention to our health and safety. “The Rules of the House” in those days were mostly some variation of “Be home before the street lights come on.” As long as there were not too many dents in our heads when we got there, nobody complained. And hey…most of us survived, so it couldn’t have been all that bad.
Then something changed. I’m not sure who was actually credited with
the formation of the movement, but sometime in the 1990s, parenting was born. Suddenly, it seemed, letting a child walk to a friend’s house, play
at the park, or ride a bike around the neighborhood without adult supervision went from being the gold standard of childhood to the black mark of parental neglect. And forget about letting a kid stay out after dark. Where, once upon a time, we were known as “free-range” children, our kids were now subjected to the newly formed concept of “helicopter” parenting. Helicopter parenting meant arranged play dates, organized after-school activities, and involvement in every aspect of a child’s life—a far cry from our childhood, when leaving the house at 10am to play outside all day with our friends and
not returning home until the sun went down was a typical summer’s day.
Is it really such a bad thing for parents to take an interest in what
their child is doing, always looking out for his or her well-being? Well, the simple answer is….that depends. I doubt anyone would argue that being involved in your child’s life is not a good thing, but building confidence and encouraging independence in a child requires allowing that child to explore on his or her own from time to time, make his or her own (age-appropriate) decisions, and then enjoy (or suffer) the consequences from those decisions. In my house, I must admit my wife and I were guilty of over-parenting sometimes, and under-parenting other times, but all in all, we tried our best to instill independence and confidence in our children. We likened ourselves to being the bumper-guards that prevented our kids from rolling gutter balls at the bowling alley. The kids were free to roll any which way they wanted down the alley, but if they went too far to the left or the right, we were there to offer a little course correction.
There is no rule book for how to raise kids. Most of us will stick with what we know and mirror how our parents raised us, but somehow we have learned to be a little less caveman. We know though that if we are to keep our precious boys and girls happy and healthy, it is still important to keep them active and moving. Since it is no longer socially acceptable to throw our kids out of the house during the day and instruct them to play outside, unsupervised, until
it gets dark, we as parents must find alternative ways to keep our kids active.
The activity of choice in my own family was hiking. And when I say “choice,” I mean it was the parent’s choice. Rare is the kid that would volunteer to walk any place that did not involve an ice cream cone reward at the end. We live near the coast, so there were hikes along the beach where we could go tide pooling. My daughter, Sage, quickly learned that little crabs with little claws can still give you a big pinch. We hiked in nearby woods where we could leap across streams. One time, after I had successfully negotiated a leap, I asked my son, Collin, if he could make the same leap too and, after he said “yes,” I heard the splash and had to fish him up out of a cold stream. On another hike, he disappeared behind a rock and popped back out holding a three-foot long snake by the tail. Did you know that snakes can spray musk like a skunk? Me neither, but that sure was a smelly ride home. Hiking, it turns out, combines the wild lifestyle of our Cro-Magnon ancestors, the outdoor exploration of our own childhood, and the parenting skills that our generation has developed. As Hannah Montana so eloquently stated, “you get the best of both worlds.”Well, in this case, the best of three worlds.
When we were growing up, parenting was pretty hands off, and opportunities for physical activities usually depended upon what your siblings or your friends were up for. Now that the process of parenting has evolved to be much
more hands on, some of the burden of responsibility for keeping your kids active will fall on you. Getting the kids outside and moving, without triggering a call to social services by your neighbors for neglect, isn’t really that hard. Even now that our kids have grown up, my wife and I still can find common ground with them for activity in a beautiful hike. You get pretty views, fresh air, and an immersion in nature. Your body gets a cardio workout that comes with all kinds of health benefits. Hiking is the world’s oldest exercise because it is actually the simplest of activities. All you are really doing is walking. Outside. Up hills. Both ways. Hey, wait-a-minute…Did I just become my dad?!?
Operating Purple Camp- Free Summer Camp for Military Kids
Operation Purple Camps for Kids, provided by the National Military Family Association, offer a free week of summer fun and are open to military- connected children from all service branches, including National Guard and
Reserve, Coast Guard, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, and the United States Public Health Services Commission Corps; however, priority is given to those children who have a parent that has been wounded, ill, or injured
(medically retired, medically discharged, active duty, and reserve) or will have a parent or guardian deployed 15 months before or after May 2019. If all spaces are not filled with campers who
meet the criteria, the remaining camp slots are filled with any eligible military children.
For more information, visit www.militaryfamily.org