Saturday, December 31, 2016

An Investment in Health

“The woods were my Ritalin. Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses.” 

After hiking in the woods, my 13 year old son remarked with a big smile;"I feel so good!"  And I knew exactly what he meant.  Not just because we had checked the box of exercising  or the box of being away from technology; Our brains and bodies felt in-sync.

It was a hard hike, up a ridge, down, and up again.  The air was dry, leaves on the trail were slippery, and the air was changing from warm summer to chilly autumn.  We didn't bring water, and the hike took us much longer than expected.  Yet, the group of teenagers I brought with me didn't complain.  And as we wandered along, them in black skinny jeans and occasionally pausing for a selfie, all were different when we left the woods than when we went in.  They were calmer, yet more aware, and it reminded me of that Richard Louv quote from above.  

“Time in nature is not leisure time; it's an essential investment in our chidlren's health (and also, by the way, in our own).” 
― Richard LouvLast Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

I am new to having teenagers.  When they were younger, they desired to be outside and with the family as much as possible.  Now, they hide away in their rooms, or seek out opportunities to be with friends, away from the family unit.  Because I study child development, and because I remember being a teenager, I know this is normal.  I have started inviting their friends to join us for a hike in the woods.  Sometimes they groan, but they have yet to say no.  And when we get there, they eagerly make their way along the path.  I usually am far enough ahead to be out of ear shot, giving them the feeling of autonomy.  They don't necessarily ask for this, but I find it a good practice, allowing them freedom to be themselves with their friends, without feeling like mom was ease dropping. The point is not to force them to be with me, but to give them time outside, moving, hiking, connecting with the natural world.  Also, I enjoy a quiet hike where I can gather my thoughts. I always find that after we are outside doing something physical and enjoyable (not a chore), we are all nicer to each other.  

So, time in nature, as Louv writes, is an investment in health.  I see it as an investment in mental health, as well as physical health.  We have to teach our children to not only take care of their bodies through physical activity, but also take care of their mental health, by introducing them to, and repeatedly doing, things that help condition the mind.