Summer adventure: Guess who’s coming to dinner?
I do not believe there has ever been a place more suited to summer fun than the Adirondacks. It was always the best time to be a kid, and it remains a time that still makes kids out of all of us!
Short of the danger poised by a few bugs, and the occasional clumsy bruin, the region offers up a season that provides the finest in hiking, stargazing, fishing, swimming, canoeing, biking, camping or just plain old exploring.
It is a time when we get to stretch out our legs and expand our limits. It is where we are allowed to test our strengths, and shed our weaknesses. We overcome fears by jumping into the lake, or climbing a mountain cliff. In essence, we grow as a result of the challenges we dare to take on.
Exploring appears to be something of a bygone art, these days. It seems Google Earth has provided safe and easy travel to nearly everyplace on the planet.
There is no longer a “Dark Continent’ or a Timbuktu, everyplace has been explored, mapped, conquered and tamed. The sole exception to this concept is often to be found in our own backyard.
At one time, it was considered safe for kids to explore beyond their own backyard, and to safely wander beyond the bounds of the neighborhood. It was never considered a dangerous journey!
Unfortunately, for many young boys, and girls I must add; a steady media barrage of blasting the never ending story of child abduction has served to scare the ‘living be-gee-sis’ out of even the most sensible parents.
However, the process of children’s alienation from the natural settings did not happen all at once. It has been a gradual removal that has occurred in a series of small increments, amplified by an overzealous and pervasive media that appears hell bent on sensationalizing child abductions, Amber Alerts and the omnipresent fear of pedophiles lingering in the backyard bushes.
The media has seemingly convinced parents the child abductors are everywhere, and it appears cell phone companies have become the major beneficiaries of these scare tactics. Now, kids as young as 4 years old must carry the devices to provide parents with peace of mind. Of course, the phones also provide the benefits of electronic entertainment.
However, recent research reveals that it hasn’t been Chester the Molester that’s causing the most harm to our kids.
Rather, it is the pervasive over protectiveness of parents that refuse to allow their kids to roam from home. This generation may be the most connected generation in the history of the country, electronically! However, they are equally the most disconnected generation from nature, by far.
By 1990, a child’s roaming radius, the distance they are permitted to safely range from home alone, had shrunk to one-ninth of what it had been in 1970. A marked decrease in bicycle sales and use has been considered an unfortunate side effect of this diminished roaming radius, although researchers remain unsure which came first.
Hubert H. Humphrey, a US Senator once claimed, “There is in every American, I think, something of the old Daniel Boone -- who, when he could see the smoke from another chimney, felt himself too crowded and moved further out into the wilderness.”
Americans, as a nation, have long lusted to wander, to explore, to travel beyond the great beyond. I grew up during the era of space travel before the wild frontier of space was tamed. I remember watching on the television as we put a man on the moon.
Now, we’ve put rovers, and their cameras as far away as Mars, and yet our children still can’t walk down the street alone. Is it too much of an adventure?
I never thought I’d see the day when an electronic babysitter would care for children as George Jetson’s robot maid often did.
But, most parents have now adopted the electronic baby sitter concept. We plug our kids into cell phones and Gameboys and Wii’s to keep them pacified.
We cart them around so often the car manufacturers have had to install TV screens in the vehicles, simply to placate kids who refuse to be denied their unending barrage of electronic entertainment.
As much as I may hate to admit it, Mom was right, when she used to tell us to: “Turn off the TV and go outside to play. It’ll rot your mind!”
Usually this was reinforced with a warning to “Be home by dark or you won’t get any dinner!”
With a family of five kids and two parents, Mom’s good cooking never lasted very long. As a result, the dinner hour was promptly obeyed, since there was nothing to eat but a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after the meat and potatoes were all gone.
It wasn’t a fear of the dark that drove any of us home, it was the fear of an empty stomach!
Recent research confirms that children who regularly spend time outdoors are happier, healthier and smarter. Grass stained clothes actually produce good grades, who would have guessed!
It has been proven that nature is important to childhood development in every major way: intellectually, emotionally, socially, spiritually and physically.
Unfortunately, in recent years, lifestyle trends have changed dramatically, and the great outdoors is no longer considered to be so great. In fact, if the media is to be believed, it is downright dangerous to be out there.
Back in my days as a kid, the only handheld electronic entertainment was a transistor radio or a flashlight. Our black and white television usually featured only two channels unless you adjusted the rabbit ears just right, and wrapped them with a bit of tin foil.
Our parents called it the boob tube. I guess it was really just a predecessor to the You tube, but far less risky.
Today’s children are simply not getting outside. They are not fishing, building forts in the woods, catching frogs or turning over logs for salamanders. In short, children are living nature-deprived childhood’s that are responsible for a serious disconnect from the real world of birds, bees, trees and all the entertainment they can provide.
Children who grow up primarily indoors are deprived from developing a full connection to nature. Tethered by technology and over structured with schedules that would make an executive flinch, many of today’s children are missing out on the chance to be active participants in the world as a whole.
In many cases, a lack of direct experience in the outdoors has resulted in children connecting nature with fear and disaster, rather than with discovery, joy and wonder.
Fitness is another grave concern, especially when children don’t get the chance to exercise regularly, to run and jump, bike or play games such as Hide ‘n Seek or Capture the Flag
Sadly, researchers predict that the current generation of Americans will be the first generation since the Civil War to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
Kick ‘em out the door!
Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, explained, “Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health.”
The answer? Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, explained, “Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends pediatricians promote free, unstructured play and discourage excessive passive entertainment such as TV, Internet and video games.
It is expected that these guidelines can improve children’s cardio-respiratory fitness, cardiovascular and metabolic health, bone health and body composition.
The report also recommends children be physically active at least 60 minutes per day and spend at least 30 minutes per day outdoors in nearby parks, playgrounds or open spaces.
The Center for Disease Control likewise encourages children to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week, preferably daily in healthy outdoor activities in nature and parks.
In the Surgeon General’s 2010 report, “Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation” it advises children to be physically active at least one hour a day through age-appropriate, enjoyable activities such as hiking, bicycling, climbing trees or going to the park.
Studies indicate physical activity allows kids to burn off pent-up energy which creates a calming effect while increasing blood flow to the brain.
What happened to bikes?
I realize it is not the season to mention ‘going to school’, however it is a most appropriate time to talk about biking.
At most local schools, there have been far more student cars in the parking lots than bikes! In fact, many schools no longer provide bike racks because so few students use bikes.
Twenty years ago, children routinely moved around their neighborhoods by foot or by bicycle, and they often used bikes to travel to and from school. It is no longer the case.
Up through the 1960s, many schools were located in the center of most communities. In fact, by 1969, 48 percent of children 5 to 14 years of age usually walked or bicycled to school.
By 2009, less than 13 percent of children 5 to 14 years of age walked or bicycled to school.
In 1969, 41 percent of children in grades K–8 lived within one mile of school and 89 percent of these children usually walked or bicycled to school.
By 2009, only 31 percent of students between kindergarten and 8th grade lived within one mile of school, and less than 35 percent of these children usually walked or bicycled to school.
A common refrain from today’s high schoolers is “It’ simply not cool to ride a bike to school.”
How did it happen? Parents have become more convinced that is unsafe for their children to walk or bicycle to school, and there has also been a substantial increase in the number of two and three car families.
From the 1940’s through the 1970’s, the majority of American families owned just a single vehicle. However, vehicle ownership continued to rise as the number of wage, earning parents steadily increased throughout the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s.
By 2005, nearly 65 percent of all American households with children had 2 or more vehicles in their driveway.
It is estimated that parents driving their students to school now comprise up to 25 percent of morning rush hour traffic.
Maybe it is time to get back on the bike, for both our health and education.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.