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. I still help out here and there—fetching a wayward cast from an branch or untangling a fussy knot—but mostly my boys fish on their own.
"Dragonflies skimmed the lake and perched on our rod tips."
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 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. So I've thought a lot about this Norwegian idea, Friluftsliv, and I admire it, mostly.
But sometimes, I admit, all this Norway worship, my own included, gets a little annoying. Their gold medal counts. Their happiness. Their long and healthful lives. All of it, when I'm feeling jaded, makes me wonder if comparisons to a far away, oil-rich land of Viking descendants are relevant or even helpful.
What I do know is that the lessons my boys need must 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. Maybe that's the point of friluftsliv. And maybe that's enough.
"I need to teach them that sometimes their fishing lines will tangle in a tree, and sometimes the fish won't bite"
The doomsayers will always complain that American kids are getting soft, or that they can't stay focused, or that they're turning into "snowflakes" with eroding morals. As far as I can tell, this is a lazy argument—a talkshow oversimplification. I also suspect that most of the people who talk like this don't spend much time with kids. I suspect they don't know much about fishing for trout, either.
So 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 at least one page from the Norwegian play book—and spend more time outside. Of course, it's not just kids who need it—it's adults too.
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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