Unplug. Disconnect. Log off.
Those words may sound like threats to this generation of young people. But for parents contemplating time with their children, it is soft music to tender ears. Much is written today about the indoor, sedentary lifestyle that is too often the norm for modern day kids. With television, video games, i-pods and other technology temptations, it is not surprising that “Nature Deficit Disorder” is a common diagnosis.
But there is an alternative. Tune in to the sound of hiking boots crunching on rock, the feel of a cool, mountain breeze on the face, and the sound of a family engaged in conversation. Yes, conversation; actually sharing thoughts and ideas, peppered with a good, hearty laugh every now and then.
As the mother of three sons, those times when we left the big world of global commerce behind and headed for the backcountry, those are the times I felt closest to my boys and most connected to all that matters. And as the hours passed, they felt it too.
Now as young adults, those are the activities, the kinds of vacations that we choose, together and on our own. Whether it be hiking, biking, skiing, packing into a high mountain meadow or casting a line into a treasured trout stream, that is when we are most at home.
Younger parents often ask me for family vacation advice. When I suggest something like heli-hiking or camping or rafting through wilderness, they will often respond that their kids, particularly teens, would never want to do that. “They couldn’t be without TV or their cell phones or Facebook,” they say.
I cannot help but think that as parents, it is our responsibility to introduce our children to the deep reaches of the forest and to the highest mountain we can reach. Our children do not know what they don’t know. How could they? I firmly believe that we must show them the way.
How can we not introduce them to the joys of seeing wild animals in their own habitat, or colorful birds darting through the forest or the magnificence of nature’s own symphony? Should they not have the opportunity to experience the deep peace that comes with a star-filled night and the pure silence only found in a faraway natural place? With that experience will come acceptance, and almost certainly, their own brand of appreciation for wild beauty.
During my first trip to a CMH lodge, I was, of course, struck by the awesome beauty of the landscape. I also recall spending time with several multi-generational families. Because the programs allow different family members to pursue outings that best fit their abilities, it is truly a holiday that offers something for everyone.
My own passion for the natural world was stitched into my soul by the outdoor family adventures once crafted by my father. Lucky for me, I learned the healing power of nature as a child. My dad recently turned 80 and can no longer travel into the backcountry the way he once did. But today, I know just the kind of family trip he might enjoy; a CMH heli-hiking trip, where he could once again breathe the high mountain air and watch his grandsons engage in youthful pursuits. It would be the perfect way to repay the gift he bestowed to all of us.
What family vacation memories do you treasure most? Share them with us here in the comments.
Lynn O’Rourke Hayes is a journalist with more than 25 years experience writing and speaking on travel, technology and family issues. She edits FamilyTravel.com, which is undergoing a major redesign and will relaunch soon. She previously worked for two hotel companies and consulted to numerous other organizations. She has written a book about balancing work and family and contributed to several others. She recently became a travel columnist for the Dallas Morning News; and launch the Adventure Mom blog at GoodHousekeeping.com. She’s appeared on the TODAY show and numerous other television and radio programs.
Photo: CMH Family Adventures: More fun than an Xbox! By Topher Donahue