I guess we need a new parenting term: outdoors shame.
Yesterday, Bangor Daily News columnist Sarah Smiley ran a thought-provoking column on whether a recent ad campaign “shames” mothers for not getting their kids outside enough.
I don’t know about that.
I think that Sarah–whose column I normally love–and I agree on the key point: that kids need to be outside more.
But, as she thinks the ads suggest, do their parents need to take them? And should parents feel ashamed if they don’t?
In another version of the PSAs, a dad comes home and finds that all of his children are speaking like robots because they’ve been on electronics all day. No one says it is Mom’s fault, but if it’s the same mom from the other ad, we can draw our own conclusions: she must have been too busy doing something else to take her kids outside.
Should we be responsible for taking our kids to the woods? Should we feel outdoors shame if we don’t?
Look, it’s really, really easy for my kids to play in the woods. That’s because we live in the woods. When they want to go see the stars, climb a tree or catch a frog, they open the door and they go. I don’t need to do anything to help that along.
But I have many, many friends who don’t live in the woods. They live in towns. And while living in town has many advantages, like the ability to walk to the library and bike-friendly streets and sidewalks, stepping out the back door into the woods isn’t one of them. If my friends want to take their kids to the woods, parents will need to be involved.
Just like when my kids want to go to the library, I need to take them.
I don’t feel ashamed if I can’t take them to the library because I’m too busy to drive them into town; we just renew the books and wait until we have time to go. I don’t see going to the library as an unpleasant task that I must check off my list every week. It’s something we do because I like to be the kind of family that goes to the library on Saturday morning.
It’s our family culture.
I think this is the crux of the issue. As I’ve written before, if you want your kids to develop an interest in the outdoors, you need to build a family culture of being outdoors. Just like if you want your kids to develop an interest in music you need to play music in the house. And if you want your kids to develop and interest in cooking, you need to cook with them.
Of course, this is an ad from the Forest Service, so obviously they are trying to sway you to want to be a family that gets out into the woods. But really, it’s just a question of building family culture. Whatever you want your kids to value, you need to do with them. If it’s important to you that your kids get comfortable in the woods, you may need to take them into the woods.
But should you feel outdoors shame if you don’t?
Should I feel ashamed that I don’t build LEGOs with my kids, happily run behind them on a bike, smilingly hand them their breakfast, or teach them to be junior master chefs? Those are all things ads have suggested I do so, maybe. Maybe I should be awash in biking, breakfasting, or chef shame because those are values the ad makers would like me to have.
Luckily, spending time outdoors is shown to build confidence, as well as reduce stress. So I don’t really care that much.