Parenting and nearly 18 years of working with teenagers has taught me one thing: When in groups, they’re sort of on this natural drunken high…Screeching, laughing, fighting, rolling, hugging, more laughing…the energy is manic. It’s honestly what I enjoy about working with them, I believe it keeps me young and wards against taking things too seriously.
I swear I don’t understand why so many kids even drink or do drugs to get their kicks; watching them bouncing off the walls and each other, I’ve long realized they‘re always high. It’s the old and the bitter that could probably use the help.
When my son asked me to take him and five friends (all ages fifteen and sixteen) backpacking this weekend I was a bit hesitant. They’re good kids, but surrounding myself with teenagers on weekends is not exactly first priority after working with them all week.
That I have a fifteen year old son that’s not embarrassed for me to hang out with him and his friends is not lost on me, largely factoring in to why I won’t say no to these requests. That he will sit on a log beside me eating dinner and unashamedly rest his head on my shoulder in front of his girlfriend and other best friends is not lost on me either.
But they’re still teenagers. They destroyed my Eno hammock, the explanation something about someone wrestling someone in the hammock while someone was trying to poke the two of them with a stick…I liked that hammock, but easy come, easy go, I found it in a canyon anyway.
Aside from my son, most had never been camping, let alone backpacking, which is always an interesting affair. I packed gear for all of them, they provided their food and clothing. The choices and behavior are fascinating; unbeknownst to me, Marcus hauled two entire gallons of water and a bag of oranges to our camp, all the while we were hiking on a stream. Dash, like most people that don’t spend time outside, naturally assumed leaving piles of orange peels and spilled chili all over the rocks was acceptable because they’re “biodegradable”. He fell in the stream while carrying Anthony’s sleeping bag, completely soaking it. Brendan fell in the stream and ruined his phone. I’ve taken him out once before; he’s the one that collects knives and always shows up with something that makes me nervous, intent on twirling, flipping, and tossing it…and it’s always the one with the biggest knife that’s afraid of spiders. Anthony was planning on going full blown Rambo and brought a gas powered airsoft pistol and a camouflage bandana to which I promptly said “Uh…NO.” None of them slept, save my son and I. All night I heard whispers emanating from their tents…”Dude, what was that?!” -panicked at every falling acorn or snapping twig. Neysa, my son’s girlfriend and the only girl on the trip, was the only semi-sane one among them. The maturity level at this age is typically higher in girls and I’ve never been too sure about what sixteen year old girls see in the crazed and testosterone-fueled energy of sixteen year old boys. I can only presume it’s a combination of something hormonal and something primal and other things nobody will ever understand. To his credit, my son is far more laid back than the others.
But despite the spastic energy, I caught a few moments of enlightenment, overheard a few comments about how beautiful the light was, how good the air smelled, about how they should keep doing this when they’re older.
“And quieter” I thought to myself.
Two areas of education that I firmly believe are absolutely necessary, especially for youth: the arts and the outdoors. We need to be teaching children how to be whole, how to cultivate their own creativity and appreciate the wonder of the world around them. The outdoors can teach them what it means to find joy in the world and each other without relying on possessions and distractions, to slow down and pay attention to what’s around them- both things desperately lacking for many contemporary kids.
Take some kids out, even if it means a beer and an ibuprofen and a nap to dull the headache after the last one has been picked up.