Get Wild Child

Here in the US, this past week was National Wildlife Week. This observance was started by the National Wildlife Federation in 1938 as National Wildlife Restoration Week. From its early roots to the present, the focus has always been to maintain relationship with the natural world to encourage protection of the lands and species. What has changed over time is the amount of time that people spend outside. While I couldn’t find concrete statistics about the amount of time children historically spent outside, the current data that the National Wildlife Foundation is using on its site state that the average child spends about 7 hours in front of TVs and computers and about 4 minutes outside each day.

This year’s theme is Get Wild Child. But how do you get wild in a controlled environment. And how do parents let go of their fear that something bad might happen to their child. Once, some time ago, I saw a map that showed the difference between free roaming territory of our grandparents compared to today’s children and the difference is from about 5 mile radius for our grandfathers, if I recall correctly, and the driveway for today’s children.  As I was doing my search, trying (unsuccessfully) to find that map, I came across a couple of blogs that talk about the fact that the reason that things are safer for today’s kids is that we protect them more and that this is a good thing. I have to wonder, is it? And if so, at what cost? As a teacher of 9th graders, I deal with more attitude from them and less imagination. While I will be the first to agree that schools kill a lot of creativity, when I ask for it, I can’t get it.

I have a lot of wild children in my classroom, but not many Wild Children.

So, how can you get children to be Wild, in a good way, without losing your mind over what they are up to and how safe they are?

Start small. Any beginning is a beginning and a beginning is 90% of the goal. Here are some ideas I have seen:

  • Let her make a trip to the local convenience store or around the block, on foot or by bike. (walk with her, if you must, and get a little wild yourself)
  • Let him ride his bike, out of sight, to school every day and ask for a nature report of what he saw on the way to and from when he gets home.
  • Let her go with her friends to the park to play someday, when you are not there. Find support and comfort with other parents who are learning to let go.
  • Turn off the TV and stop watching alarmist news programs.
  • Remind yourself that most children who are harmed (less than 1% of all children) are harmed by someone they know well enough to trust.
  • Let the kids build their own fort.
  • Let them climb the trees in their back yard.
  • Remind yourself that you survived, and grew from, every scraped knee and sprained ankle.
  • Most of all, give your kids time and space to risk, make mistakes. This is how we learn and grow.
  • Go to Get Wild Child and try some of the National Wildlife Foundations activities.

Over on the Children and Nature Network’s Connect forum, Richard Louv has a discussion about what we can do to help parents deal with the fear of letting go and the fear of being a “bad parent” for letting their kids have the freedoms that we had and took for granted. We are still looking for ideas.

What would you do?

2 comments to Get Wild Child

  • Claire

    This is such a difficult subject. There are several high-profile kidnapping cases here in the Bay Area that remain unsolved, and one that was just solved, where this abducted kid was kept in a shed for nearly twenty years and had children fathered by her abductor. The parents, obviously, keep these missing kids in the media as much as they can, which feeds into other parents fears. The statistics do nothing to make parents feel better because you only need it to be YOUR kid. I think the solution is to take your kids on camping trips, back-packing rips, experience nature in a way that parents feel their kids are safe and yet get the kids away from the machines. Also, organizations like Girl Scouts is another great way to get them into much more of a natural environment that allieviates parents’ concerns.

    • It is a difficult subject and, as you well know, I can’t begin to imagine what it feels like to be concerned for the safety of your kids. I almost feel I don’t have a right to have an opinion. But, I also see, at least anecdotally, the results of kids who have no autonomy. Seriously, these kids can’t start anything on their own. They are like wind up dolls, if I am not constantly winding them up to work they stop and do nothing. They can’t puzzle something out; they can’t follow a list of instructions; they seem to lack imagination for problem solving. I am very troubled by what I see.

      I have seen the cases you mention and they are horrible. But they are no more horrible today than they were 50 years ago when we were growing up or 100 years ago when you could be attacked on the way to the barn. Perhaps one difference is that now we think we are supposed to be safe and have control of our environment where before we knew we were not and did not. Statistically, a child is safer playing in the park than she is riding in a personal car to school but in the first you feel you have no control and in the second you have the illusion of control. It is easy to think you are protecting her in the second scenario and easy to believe that your child is completely vulnerable in the first. Statistically, she is far more vulnerable in the second.

      Family camping does help build relationship with nature and that is awesome but it does nothing to foster independence and autonomy. Kids need the family activity like camping but they need freedom as well.

      Fear is the most powerful emotion and the most difficult to overcome. It is the least likely to be swayed by fact or reason. I don’t know what the answers are either other than face the fear and do it anyway. Which is very easy for me to say and I have know idea what I’d do in a different pair of shoes. I do believe it is important and there needs to be a solution.