Opinion & Essays
- Mar, 2000 Issue #67
Should I Send My Child Into the Wilderness??
By Kristie Vollar
[The author is the daughter of Woodbury Reports publisher
Lon Woodbury and his wife Denise. She graduated from the Explorations Wilderness Assessment Course and Mission Mountain School, both
in Montana in 1993. She was inspired to write this article after participating in conversations with other parents while working at
her father’s office. Her presence there is a demonstration of the positive relationship that has evolved since she has returned from
the above-mentioned programs.]
Some people ask why would I send my child into the wilderness as
an intervention? How is it going to help them? How could the wilderness be more helpful to them than a classroom or a psychologist’s
I feel there is something about the wilderness that has a “magical”
effect on people. It teaches survival, leadership, self-confidence, and helps to break down barriers that block progress. Children
can learn traits about themselves that they never knew existed, and at the same time, they are away from the distractions that could
keep them from dealing with the behaviors and issues that caused them to arrive at such a road block in their lives.
In my experience, the wilderness was an ice-breaker. I was so closed
to everything around me, and so self-conscious, that I had become a follower. I had begun to do things that my “friends” wanted me
to do, not what I knew deep down were the right and moral things. I had given up on myself and my ability to judge. I only wanted
to keep my “friends.” To please them, I followed them down the path of trouble and deceit. The wilderness was a wonderful way of teaching
me that I could be a leader, and I was in control of my own life. At the same time, I learned that my every decision had direct consequences.
When I realized that I was on my way to a wilderness program, I
was furious. I knew that I would be leaving my “friends” behind, and would be stuck out in the middle of nowhere for at least a month.
Being raised with knowledge about this type of program made it even worse.
When I actually began the program, I thought it was much worse than
I could have ever imagined. I had to start a fire with a stick and sleep under a tarp that I had to set up and take down every day,
by myself. I had to boil my water before I could drink it, I couldn’t wash my hair or wear deodorant, and the pack on my back was
so heavy... To top it all off, it rained every single day.
When I finished the trip and we had made it back to the beginning
of the trail, I was so proud that I had hiked 104 miles! I had learned self-confidence and was eager to show my parents just how to
start the bow-drill fire that I had relied on to cook my food and boil my water while I was out there. There was only one more step
to seeing my parents.
Solo: Three days alone at a campsite where they had taken me. I
had no contact with any of my peers. I couldn’t even talk to them when they brought me water and checked to make sure I was okay.
The purpose of solo was to reflect on what I had learned and access what I still needed to learn. Being alone at that time was for
me, a nightmare. I still felt lonely when I was by myself, and now I had to be by myself.
I learned that it is a wonderful thing to be alone. Now when I am
alone, I am no longer lonely. Being in nature by myself, gives me peace of mind and serenity; a necessity to life itself.
Many adolescents have grown accustomed to their environments, and
know just how to manipulate everything and everyone around them to get their way. By sending them out to the wilderness, the dramatic
change in their environment makes their manipulations no longer effective. Nature doesn’t respond to manipulation; there is very little
margin for error. With the guidance of the professionals who walk with them on their path through the wilderness, adolescents can
grow and learn about themselves in a way they never knew was possible. Nature can be a useful tool for teaching adolescents to respect
themselves and the things around them, and it can help them heal and grow to be the strong people that they are inside.
Copyright © 2000, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced
without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)