Could a mountain trip help keep your kids off the iPad?
Could a mountain trip help keep your kids off the iPad?
Every now and then, we hear someone talk about their kids and their fixation with technology as a worrying issue. At the same time, we also have adventurers in our community tell us great stories about going on a trip with their children and how good it was for them. So we did some research: we asked a lot of people, including parents, mountain guides, mountain leaders and infant psychologists about the benefits and setbacks of taking your children to a mountain trip. Here is what we got.
In a world where kids adopt new technologies faster than ever before and, thus, relationships between people and devices are changing at an ever accelerating pace, the importance of taking a break in a natural environment can not be overlooked. Whether you are already very familiar with mountain trips or just giving a try to the outdoors, it is useful to consider how spending some days in nature can help you and your kids develop a healthier relationship with urban life and technology.
So this is the usual situation: the child spends a lot of time either on his or one of the parents’ iPad or tablet. Parents find it amusing at first, but after a while they realize the kid is putting off other activities like making friends or exercising. Also, most of what he does on the device encourages learning and creativity only to some extent, simply because every outcome depends on computer programs constricted by their own rules: there is not a lot of room for true, unforeseen discovery.
Then, parents find themselves into the issue: how can I get him off the iPad? We could say: “well, have you tried not providing him with an iPad in the first place?”, but it’s really not that simple.
Let’s assume the parents want the kid to succeed in capitalism in life. Besides, all his classmates have an iPad already so the kid is not going to settle for less. Most importantly, parents don’t know what to think: it can’t be that bad that their kid has naturalized tools that took them, adults raised with more “basic” devices around, years to even be comfortable with. It just doesn’t feel right to keep the kid from the darn tablet. But it would be much better, instead, if the kid were able put out the device on his own, to try other stuff, to be more creative and adventurous when it comes to getting entertained or acquiring a sense of achievement, rather than just relying on videogames to do that for him. Then is when a trip to the mountains could come in handy.
The psychological impact of mountain trips
Alexis Nolet, a specialist in kids psychology, is well aware that technology is bringing up a lot of changes to the upcoming generations’ behavior: “Today you have what you want, when you want. Everything is so fast now, which is not really natural”. According to him, spending time in the mountains could force one to slow down and adopt a different, more relaxed rhythm.
And this is not something that affects only those born in the information age: “More and more kids, as well as their parents, have lost their link with nature“, he adds.
Vincent, a swiss UIMLA certified mountain experienced at leading children into the mountains, agrees with Alexis’ perception of the rhythm change that kids face when they get there: “For kids, a mountain trip teaches them to face emptiness —for example, walking for some hours and doing just that— versus their daily life where they get everything immediately, everything goes so fast and it’s all about consuming..”
Katarina, a French UIMLA mountain leader, also highlighted the benefits from taking some time from the digital toxicity of daily busy and sometimes virtual lives. “It helps you connect with something else, something more simple and natural”.
Overall, both mountain guides and psychologists agree that spending some days in the outdoors can help to reduce anxiety, an ever increasing concern in kids’ development these days. From his own experience providing therapy to kids, Alexis Nolet said: “Natural environments have, mostly, a positive impact on one’s state of mind. Sometimes, just looking at a picture of nature can help you to relax. A one-hour walk in nature has shown better impact reducing anxiety than some medicines given to hyperactive kids”. The reasoning behind this is pretty straightforward: a walk, if the right conditions are given, can be considered a form of meditation; you can only think and this will ultimately help you connect with yourself.
Outdoors trip can improve family relationships
An increasing dependence on devices has also the consequence of separating people in real life. Even though one could argue that it is just normal that nowadays kids spend more time on a virtual world, this should definitely not harm communication inside the family.
A family trip can help to freshen links between family members, by allowing them to see each other acting in a new environment. Paul Stasse, a belgian entrepreneur, told us about his own approach when arranging a trip with his kids, who are also very avid users of technology:
“Taking a break away from the daily rush, connecting with nature while enduring a sportive challenge as a family brings everyone together . Mountaineering, for example, is especially unique since the goal is common; the personal challenge, fulfilling and the scenery, stunning. Unfortunately some refuges have chosen to get a wifi connection, but you can just tell your kids that there isn’t one! Anyway, they will be able to share their adventure when they are back in the valley.”
This adds up to the fact that parents can be so used to observing their kids behave in the same situations, that they lose track of how impactful urban life can be on their kids’ nature. This makes them wary of whether the kid will be “well-behaved” enough to go on a trip. But once the inherent anxiety of the urban rhythm starts to fade away, parents will be surprised with the change. And they will even get to discover something new about their children’s personality!
Sarah, a Swiss UIMLA mountain leader told us about such experiences:
“Parents might be afraid that their kids will be bored in the mountains, but that’s never the case. They will be entertained by so many things: mountains, animals, flowers, plants, rivers… Kids are very curious: going into the mountain is a very good way for them to satisfy this curiosity because there is a lot of new stuff to see, touch, learn; all of them different from what they experience every day. Parents shouldn’t be afraid of going with their kids. Instead, it’s important to congratulate them after the effort, to provoke a feeling of proudness and recognition. “
Realizing that urban life affects you and your relationships can be invaluable: it helps you understand more about who you and your loved ones really are. Most adventurers who travel with their kids or grandkids have told us that there is something about your family worth learning from a mountain trip, that just can’t be appreciated in the hassle of city life.
Arnaud van den Eynde, a 50 year old belgian adventurer, summarized this very well: “An outdoor experience for me means being in nature and be as natural as possible as a consequence. This should be the natural way to be with our family, more than an experience it should help us to stay connected with true life even if our urban lives are so invasive”.
Developing awareness on nature
Last but not least, we would like to address this issue that concerns every adventure and outdoors lover.
Even though many parents have taken to heart the task of teaching their kids to take care of the environment, sometimes the underlying dissociation from natural balance that is implied in the lifestyle of highly urbanized areas can hinder a kid’s realization of what is really a natural, healthy ecosystem.
About this, Anne, a French IFMGA mountain guide told us: “A mountain trip can help children to understand nature, its fragility, that we are surrounded by life: that is, to understand that the world is not sanitized like it sometimes appears to be in the case of cities”.
Mountain lovers who have taken their kids on mountain trips agree that developing awareness of our relationship with nature is one of the major benefits of such an experience.
Jean Zurstrassen, outdoors enthusiast and President of the Board of Directors of Explore-Share.com, when asked about the learnings he would like to transmit to his kids from his own time spent in nature, answered concisely: “that you have to respect nature”.
And respecting nature can hardly be afforded without understanding it first, which is sometimes hard to achieve in the artificiality of urban life. Sarah, a Swiss mountain leader, has synthesized this very well: “Let the kids realize and discover what nature is, what we are doing to nature, and think about ways we can protect it.”
So what, then?
A deeper understanding of technology and of the real world don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Planning a family trip every now and then can even help your kids to understand and build a healthier relationship between urban life, technology and themselves.
We are going to keep up with this series on kids and outdoors. Next time, we will go over some tips to make a mountain trip with your children a real success. Stay tuned!