My granddaughter Lennox had a life-altering experience … at 3-years-old. Things will never be the same for her or her parents.
She’s been reborn. Her finicky eating habits are gone, and she eats whatever they put in front of her. At the end of the day, she hops in bed and puts her head on the pillow, where it stays until the crack of dawn when she’s ready to brave the California wilderness. And no more temper tantrums. She’s too tired.
What could have produced such miraculous changes? A 12 step program for tots? Bribery, the parenting technique of choice? No. Every day, she goes outside to play.
She discovered something the digital generation never did — the great outdoors. It’s amazing what a little fresh air will do to a kid, especially a kid who never went into the woods, caught a frog or played in a brook. Do you think Mark Zuckerberg climbed trees? No way. If he had, Facebook wouldn’t have lost $120 billion in one day.
I don’t want to say, “When I was a boy …” but when I was a boy, we were outside from morning till night and my mother yelled for us to come home for dinner.
We were so hungry we raced to the house, ate a hearty meal, watched TV for an hour and hit the sack. Playing outside was our life. We didn’t have Facebook or Twitter to distract us. We lived outside with our dogs and friends, building tree forts, picking blackberries and fishing for trout. (Of course, we never became billionaires like Zuckerberg.)
Lennox joined a wilderness camp and every day they send us a new video. Here she is, wading in the stream, watching water striders. Beware of JAWS, Lennox! There she is, examining rocks. Whoever thought rocks could hold so much mystery. Here she is, splashing a playmate with water. Careful! Her parents might sue you! There she is, picking up a daddy long legs and chasing her mother with it.
You couldn’t keep kids from my generation inside even when it rained. Today, you can’t get kids outside. It’s an ordeal to pry them away from iPads, TV and video games like Fortnite Battle Royale, which they’ll play for days without ever seeing the sun. When did things go so wrong?
Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods — Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” wrote: “At the very moment that the bond is breaking between the young and the natural world, a growing body of research links our mental, physical and spiritual health directly to our association with nature — in positive ways. Several studies suggest that thoughtful exposure of youngsters to nature can even be a powerful form of therapy for attention-deficit disorders and other maladies. As one scientist puts it, we can now assume that just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they may very well need contact with nature.”
Fresh air, sunshine, streams, trees, fields, frogs, birds, fish, snakes, grasshoppers … do you remember those things? Many kids today have never encountered them. The real world has been replaced by the artificial world. You can mine the depths of the universe with your laptop, but there’s one problem. It isn’t real. The world God created is infinitely better than the world man recreates.
Turn off your iPads, turn off your TV, turn off your video games, turn off your cell phone. Do something daring. Open the door and walk outside. And take your kids with you.
At nature camp, Lennox learned about bugs, and she’s fascinated by them — quite unlike her mother and father, who are horrified by them. So when there’s a spider in the house, who you gonna call? Not Mom or Dad. Lennox to the rescue.
Of course, life in the woods in the age of social media is different from what I knew. My mother wasn’t hovering over me with a cellphone, taking videos to post on Instagram and Facebook with titles like “Allison saw a caterpillar!” Or “Horace chased a chipmunk!” Or “A chipmunk chased Horace!”
But that’s better than seeing another selfie of the Kardashians or Taylor Swift, who I’d bet my retirement savings never picked up a polliwog because they were too busy making their first billion.
Joe Pisani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.