September 3, 2016

BW photograph of Morgan Run flowing over a rock.

Copyright 2016 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

I was raised in a tiny, rural town in a small East coast state during the 1960s.  While I distinctly remember watching news coverage of the riots and assassinations that took place during this period in other parts of the country, that kind of violence was very much absent in my hometown.  (It is also important to state that said town, as remembered, was segregated.  During the 1968 riots, the local National Guard was on alert and were participating in drills at their armory, which was up and across the street from my house.  This did create a degree of fear as the images of the riots on TV were quite frightening.)  I was able to ride my bike for hours across town and play baseball until the sun went down.  During my later adolescence, I moved to a state and lived in another small town that was close to mountains.  As a teenager, I would often skip school to go hiking in those mountains-that seemed to be a better use of my time, as the curriculum was not very interesting or challenging.  I came to greatly appreciate the solitude and peacefulness to be had while climbing the rocks and wandering through the woods.  As a fully formed adult who is indoors and tethered to a computer for a fair amount of the working hours, it is always pleasant to actually get outside and listen to the water and feel fresh air.  In a sense, it is a way to drift back to a freer time.

Given that background, reading reports such as this produces an initial, emotional shock to the system.  That article from The Guardian highlights the developmental importance of children spending time on free play in the outdoors.  On an intellectual level, I most certainly understand the sociology and psychology behind such developments.  After all, we are in a Post-Modern, technology-driven culture.  However, there are other factors to be considered as well.  For instance, the city of Chicago was home to over 400 people being shot in the month of August 2016, as reported here and here.  While reading about that degree of violence creates a much different shock to the emotional system, living it is an entirely different experience, as those in parts of New Orleans, Detroit, and Baltimore, as other examples, can attest.  The danger of being shot is a very strong incentive to remain indoors.  The lived experience, particularly during the formative years of childhood and adolescence, creates an imprint on the brain on both a physical and emotional level.  This article describes what researchers refer to as “adverse childhood experiences” and the consequences of growing up with such levels of stress.

There are other factors beyond violence that make it difficult for children to play outside.  The question becomes, given the developmental risk, what can be done on the global, national, local, and personal levels to create opportunities for children to play free in the wild?  This is not a naive question-it comes from a well-grounded understanding of the risks excessive stress can produce, as well as a familiarity with the many and varied psycho-social factors involved when discussing this issue.

The lack of time in the outdoors also exacerbates the problem of climate change.  After all, if children do not have the experience of the outdoors being an exciting place for exploration and fun, for what reasons should they care about preserving such places?

Take care.



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