by Krista Whipple
When I was eight years old my family moved to Running Springs California, right outside Big
Bear, one of the top skiing locations in Southern California.
Running Springs was a child’s paradise. It was like living on vacation. My brothers and I (ages 4, 6 and 8) spent our days exploring the natural playground of our neighborhood, climbing trees, spotting wildlife, and climbing on and around the big boulders that made up our personal “army base.” In the winter there were so many snow days it felt like we were hardly in school at all, and our lesson plans consisted mainly of building snow forts and not coming home till dinnertime.
Jumping Off the Cabin Roof.
One of our favorite snow day activities was sledding down The Hill. We’d suit up in our
waterproof boots and big puffy snowsuits, grab our backpacks, and walk about a mile to the
convenience store. There we would use our allowance to stock up on “supplies.” This life-saving
wilderness gear primarily consisted of candy bars.
Finally we’d drag our metal saucers another mile back to the spot where someone’s A-frame summer cabin sat buried entirely in snow and situated at the edge of a small cliff with a steep but survivable drop. We’d climb to the top of the cabin roof, situate our saucers beneath us, take a deep breath and push off. We’d slide down the roof, off the cliff, across the snow covered road, and then fly at tremendous speed down The Hill, dodging trees and half-buried boulders spotted just in time. When we finally reached the bottom we had to bail off quickly in order to avoid falling in the icy snow melt stream running along the floor of the valley.
The ride to the bottom was so long that it took most of the rest of the day to hike back up to the top, stopping along the way to eat our snacks or make snow angels in an effort to cool down a bit from the struggle of climbing while wearing all that heavy snow gear. It was an epic, exhilarating freedom that kids today don’t often get an opportunity to experience.
Pre-planned, organic, safe, and supervised.
Nowadays it’s hard to imagine young kids being allowed to wander off in the mountains unsupervised to make their own adventures. Many kids are shuttled around from school to soccer practice to music lessons to pre-planned playdates, always supplied with healthy, organic snacks, and parents hovering close by reminding them to “use your kind words” or “we share with our friends!” Children don’t walk anywhere, they don’t resolve their own conflicts, and they never take a risk that isn’t pre-approved and monitored by a worried parent constantly warning them to, “Be careful!”
While these parents certainly mean well and want the best for their children, the unintended
consequence of constant supervision is a lack of opportunity to develop essential life skills like
communication and conflict resolution, healthy risk management, and above all resilience.
But resilience is a key protective factor in preventing future substance abuse disorders. Kids who are able to develop a healthy amount of grit and the coping skills needed to bounce back after disappointment are less likely to engage in self destructive behaviors such as substance abuse later in life.
The Secret: Coping skills come from coping.
I credit the freedom I enjoyed during my adventure-filled childhood spent mainly outdoors for
allowing me to develop the skills I need to cope with the challenges I face in my adult life. Resilience
can’t be taught, it must be earned by each individual.
The good news is that parents don’t need to add anything to their already long parenting To Do List in order to help their children develop resilience. The best thing to do is to do LESS. Turn off the screen, open the front door and tell them not to come home till the streetlights come on. Or have them participate in the Let Grow Project where their assignment is do one thing on their own that they have never done before, like walk the dog alone or make dinner for the family without assistance.
When parents take a step back, they are often amazed to find out just what their kids are really capable of. This helps their kids grow into the kind of adults who have the coping skills to deal with adversity without turning to substances as a means to escape their fear and self-doubt.