“Today I take Matthew, my younger son, to the Sierras; or we glide in a skiff on the bay a few miles away, across the flats, and he watches stingrays scatter like bats; or to the giant in-shore kelp forest, richly populated with fish larger than men. Over the edge of the boat, peering down into vertigo-inducing columns of water and light between waving strands of giant kelp, Matthew sees into the beating heart of Earth. I watch him from the other end of the boat; in his absorption, he might as well be miles away.”
Richard Louv is worried about the youth. He feels like kids, due in part to the example set by their parents, are no longer interested in being outside. That they are so wrapped up in technology, with its flashing lights and obtainable objectives, that forests, fields, rivers, beaches are no longer capable of holding their attention. The scariest part of this is that he wrote the book in 2005. The iPhone debuted it’s very first model in 2007.
The kids, as noted, are not entirely to blame. They follow the example of their parents, and their parents stare into their own screens all day long. As a teacher, I have talked with so many students who have stated that they miss their parents even when they are at home. They aren’t available for conversation, they don’t want to play, they are busy. Busy doing what, though?
Video games are amazing little liars. They convince the brain that it is accomplishing something. The brain loves accomplishing things, it adores it, it lives for it. Those little points in the corner of the screen increase, and the brain lights up. Likes, comments, reposts, all of this are little rewards to the mind. A million years of human evolution has developed a brain that wants to feel like it made progress, that it solved a problem. It never saw pretend problems coming, and now, for many, those are the only problems the brain is occupied with solving.
It isn’t only the video games of course. Louv also reminds us that parents these days are terrified of the terrible things that might happen. Kidnappings, injuries, drugs, murders, all are waiting right around the corner. Never mind that crime has actually been decreasing for years, and that the only reason these stories are so prevalent is because they are the most effective at selling advertisements. Parents are scared! The days of children going out in the morning with the directive to be home for dinner are over. Every moment must be monitored.
They are monitored not only for safety, but for posterity. Kids aren’t kids, they are students. When they are not in school, they are in classes. Their successes documented on social media, the parents vicariously celebrated for the accomplishments forced upon their children. It is not enough for a child to be wonderful, they must be able to demonstrate their wonderfulness.
All is not lost, however. The media has portrayed the younger generation as disengaged and entitled, and that same generation stood up and shut down the country in a fight for racial justice. The generation marching in the streets are the kids Louv was talking about in 2005. They were ten then, they are 25 now. It isn’t just that they changed, though finding a worthwhile cause to fight for is an excellent reason to do so, it’s that they always had that tenacity within them. It has now been concentrated.
So, it is with the kids of today. They can come to love the outdoors, they just need an opportunity to do so. My own son is incredibly imaginative, he plays with Legos and magnets and toys all day long. He is four, and doing math is one of his favorite games right now. He hesitates to go outside, however. It is in part because our part of the world is unpleasant to be outside in for a large part of the year, but that’s just an excuse. It is my fault. I like being inside too, I have a lot to do in here! It’s easy to accommodate, especially when the way he spends his time is constructive and purposeful. Again, excuses. It isn’t that we don’t go outside, we do every day, but it isn’t the bulk of our day.
I took my kids out to a river. We walked the path, eating salmon berries, looking for birds. Standing on the bank of the river we saw baby salmon, alevins, treading water in small inlet. The kids climbed rocks and logs, exhibiting dexterity and bravery that is simply not accessible inside the house. After a couple hours I told my son we had to go, and he became upset. I was glad to see it! He only left willingly when I promised him we would come out to camp at this same spot for 100 nights, I promise I hope to keep, though the nights won’t likely be one after the other.
I love this book, it was important in 2005, and it is critical now. It also is an amazing book in that it showed me the error of my own ways, and there are few things I value more than finding out that I was blowing it. For how can one stop blowing it, if one never knows they were blowing it in the first place? Thanks Richard!