As a parent we all want our kids to be resilient; to be able to rise up to challenges and respond well to difficulties. The problem is we see our kids living life tethered to a screen, indoors and highly scheduled, moving swiftly from one activity to the next. Their lives have been scrubbed of danger, risks and obstacles have been removed and in this sanitized life everything is scripted for them. This is not the wild life God has in mind for any of us.
Risk and challenge are vital parts of a balanced childhood. Exposure to healthy risk, particularly physical risk, enables children to experience fear and learn the strengths and limitations of their own body, make smart choices for themselves and develop resilience. Yet as parents, many of us are unaccustomed to allowing even the tiniest degree of danger to enter the lives of our children. That’s why roaming distance (how far children play from home) has decreased by 90% in the past 30 years. It’s no wonder that the simulated risk of video games is so compelling and addictive – the real world seems rather tame in comparison.
So how can we put some of that danger and excitement back into the lives of our kids?
The answer is: step-by-step and in an age-appropriate way. First, the outdoors is key. Time outside in God’s creation every day is essential, and not just in the neat and controlled environment of the play area. Encourage young ones to poke around under logs and permit your primary-age children to leave your sight. Unsupervised time, even just in the yard, might lead to more cuts and scrapes or fights between siblings, but it is what many of us did as children and it teaches them how to make risk-related decisions for themselves.
Learning to light a fire is a rite of passage for most children, and from the age of three they can be actively involved in feeding and managing a small campfire. Of course make sure they’re not wearing flammable clothing and show them how to behave safely, but you will be astonished by the respect they show the flames.
Swimming and understanding water is an essential and healthy risk. Let them climb in streams and fall over in the lake wearing all their clothes, let them slide in mud on a salt marsh or go wild swimming in a river. Your job as an adult is to manage the risk not eliminate it – checking the tides before venturing on to a salt marsh or researching good swimming rivers, then stepping back to allow them to make their own decisions.
Risky sports are a reasonably controlled way to allow your children to feel fear. Horse riding or skiing might be expensive, but what about biking, tree-climbing or rock-climbing? Your child will fall at some stage, and they will probably feel out of control – but wow, they’ll feel alive.
Re-wilding your kids and introducing them to risk and joy in God’s creation doesn’t have to just be your responsibility. A summer camp experience away from you can develop confidence and self-assurance like nothing else. Alongside excellently trained young adult staff, both our Redwood and Ponderosa summer camps will allow your kids to get dirty while exploring God’s wild love for them.