Take a hike, kid

May 31, 2018 | Posted in: High School, Middle Years

As a teenager, one of the best pieces of advice I ever got from my dad was when he told me to take a hike.

Although I probably deserved to “get lost,” my dad was really telling me to go for a walk in the woods to calm down.  I can’t remember what the crisis of the moment was, but at 16-years-old, I am sure it was at least as serious as an airliner hijacking.

My dad elaborated by saying  when he was my age in our small rural town and feeling the weight of the world, he’d walk out across the pasture and into the woods to where there were two big sledding hills. He’d climb the hills, clear his mind and head back home.

Being a teenager is no walk in the park, of course. As a 40-something adult, I can’t even begin to understand what it must be like to be 16 again. The world has changed a lot since Guns N’ Roses were En Vogue .

While there may not be cow paths in your community, I am pretty sure my dad’s advice holds true: Getting outside is exercise for the body, mind and soul.

But are today’s teens spending enough time outside?

Any number of researchers and writers will say the answer to this question is a resounding ‘’no’’ and will point out that it is having a detrimental effect on today’s young people.  The Internet is rife with articles on the subject.  Here are a couple:

Stanford researchers find mental health prescription: Nature

Kids and the wilderness: ‘The outdoors is saving their lives’

The reasons for this are varied, with screen time being one culprit that is often talked about. Parent Today looked at the issue in several articles in recent years.

But it isn’t just screens that are vying for kids’ attention. Today’s children and teens  are often very busy young people, getting shuffled from extracurricular activity to extracurricular activity.

Monica Wolfe, a physical education teacher at Cooperstown Jr./Sr. High School, said it is important for families not to allow Mother Nature to be the odd woman out. In addition to leading outdoor activities for teens, including hikes and camping trips, Wolfe lectures around the state on the importance of outdoor education.  She is also a mother of four.

“I don’t think we can get outside enough,” Wolfe said.

In addition to relieving stress and anxiety, being outdoors has benefits for kids both inside and outside the classroom, and the impact is almost immediate, she added.

“You see more engagement, more eye contact and more personal interaction.I find that when they come back in there is rejuvenation. Their energy is up,” Wolfe said as she described what her classes are like after being outside for an activity.

But the benefits don’t stop there, she said.

Outdoor activities like hiking, camping and kayaking are great character builders, she said.

“There is a sense of adventure and risk taking. Being able to know and evaluate risk outdoors, whether you are climbing a tree in a backyard or following a trail along a river, being able to asses dangers that might be there, for your own safety, I think that creates a sense of adventure in a person that they can grow from,” Wolfe said.

For families who want to up their outdoor game, Wolfe said the opportunities abound, even in or near suburban areas.

Go online to help get outside

Wolfe suggested using the Internet to search for state and local parks. Hiking clubs have developed several hiking “challenges” where those who successfully complete the challenge can earn a patch. The most famous of these in New York is the Adirondack 46ers. But the Firetower Challenge is increasingly popular and is generally a little less strenuous. Hamilton County, New York even has its own Waterfall Challenge.

Parents can also search for any number of other outdoor activities, from bird watching to rock climbing.

With the nice summer weather finally here in upstate New York, now is the perfect time to plan some day trips and maybe even a few overnight camping adventures.

But the fun doesn’t have to end when recent high school graduates head off to college. Most colleges have outing clubs, Wolfe said, and these clubs are a great way for a young student to meet people and have a healthy, fun experience outdoors while allowing them to have a great resource to help cope with the academic pressure of higher education.

Jake Palmateer is a public information specialist for Capital Region BOCES. He is the father of a 7-year-old son and a 9-year-old daughter. Their adventures include camping, hiking, metal detecting, painting, stargazing, reading, fishing, soccer, mowing the lawn and baking cupcakes.

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