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Are Kids Getting Soft?

Yesterday, I took my two boys fishing. The air smelled of warm pine. The sky was cloudless. Dragonflies skimmed the lake and perched on our rod tips.

My boys are both old enough now to fish by themselves. They bait their own hooks. They cast their own lines. My ten-year-old likes to catch snakes while he waits for his bobber to drop. My seven-year-old prefers frogs. As for me, I like to find a log where I can sit back and watch.

"Dragonflies skimmed the lake and perched on our rod tips."

boy fishing

I still help out here and therefetching a wayward cast from an branch or untangling a fussy knotbut mostly my boys fish on their own.


tackle box

I've read that the Norwegians use the word friluftsliv to describe time spent in the outdoors. They believe it builds character and fosters grit. Friluftsliv is intentional in Norway, a way of life, and a point of national pride. I like to think that catching a stringer of trout is a fair approximation of friluftsliv—an Idaho spin on a Nordic idea.

I too want my boys to be resilient. I want them to have courage and inner-strength. They need challenges, and they need to solve small problems on their own. They need to see that success comes from hard work. 

I know these lessons need to be nurtured and can't be forced. I need to teach them that sometimes their fishing lines will tangle in a tree, and sometimes the fish won't bite.

"I know these lessons need to be nurtured and can't be forced. I need to teach them that sometimes their fishing lines will tangle in a tree, and sometimes the fish won't bite"

None of this is easy to teach, but if anyone has a handle on the answer, maybe it's the Norwegians. Collectively they outpace the rest of the world in nearly every measurement of well-being: Crime rate. Graduation rate. Health. Longevity. You name it. 

Is it friluftsliv?

It's annoying, in a way, hearing about Norwegian supremacy. Are comparisons to a far away, oil-rich land of Vikings fair? Do these comparisons do us any good?

And what about the doomsayers who complain that American kids are getting soft, or that they can't stay focused, or that they're turning into "snowflakes." 

 

THE TAKEAWAY

As with most good questions, the answers aren't easy. It's a lazy argument to blame youth and eroding American moralsa talkshow oversimplification.

But if we are looking for simple answers, I propose an alternate viewpoint: It's not kids who are softening. It's the adults. It's the accusers, not the the accused.

Kids, to a large degree, mirror the landscape that surrounds them. And while it's foolish to suggest that all every kid needs is more bracing hikes or overnight camping trips, I think it's a crucial part of a bigger discussion.

If we want to raise resilient kids, kids who are strong and determined, then we might do well to swallow our pride and take a page from the Norwegian play book. 

trout

When the boys and I finally left the lake, I let them walk in front of me with their stringer.

They took turns carrying it. I could tell that they were proud; it showed in the cadence of their walk and in the way they kept looking down at the trout—their trout.

As I watched them, I realized that I was also feeling proud—proud to be a father, proud of my boys, and fortunate to live near mountain lakes stocked with willing trout. 

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