The simplicity of it all...you fill your backpack with a bottle of water or a CamelBak, snacks, and a first aid kit. You put on a good pair of socks and some hiking boots and off you go. You are ready to soak up some sun and go in a meditative trance listening to the songs of Texas birds, the caressing sounds of a creek nearby or the soothing breeze that rescues you from the infamous Texas heat. Now try doing that with kids!
We all know how positive being outdoors can be on the mind, body and soul. Increasingly, humans have succumbed to the comforts of urban living, living in a 68-72 F degree bubble inside our homes and workplaces, constantly connected to our smartphones, tablets or whatever new shiny object has hit the store shelves. This seclusion stumps our intellectual desire and originality, and makes us sicker, physically and emotionally. The saddest part of this is that our children emulate our behaviors. With each generation, our kids adapt more to this pattern of living, making them less adept to survival. It saddens me when I visit a local, state or national park and my children are the only young ones there. I rarely hear children playing in their backyards other than my own. I then get to see those same non-outdoorsy kids as patients in my pediatric urgent care clinic complaining of a variety of ailments: headaches, abdominal pain, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations, obesity...and the list continues.
My observations have troubled me for some time. Since reading "Last Child in The Woods" by Richard Louv in 2005, I have made it a priority not only for my kids to spend as much time outdoors as possible, but to "prescribe nature" for my patients when they are depressed or anxious. This summer's WMS Virtual Conference lecture on the topic “Bambinos in the Backcountry" by Dr. Christopher Peluso only confirmed that my approach was not unreasonable. I am convinced that if we encouraged our children to be outdoors more, our world would be a better place. There is nothing to be proud of when the U.S. ranks highest among developed nations in teen pregnancies, obesity and homicides. Perhaps a regular short hike may be the cure for that malady.
Being in the wilderness as a child gives them a better life. It teaches them resilience. It promotes creativity. It shows them how to meditate and blow off steam. It instructs them on how to navigate and survive. It makes them aware of the importance to take care of and respect their environment. It is crucial to get them started as early as possible so they see nature as their friend.