Gwen Loughman explores the benefits of camping for kids, but looks at the problem of parental fear around letting go
By dint of his position in the family, our first born is paving the way for everyone else; his parents and younger brothers. He alluded to “going to different places and meeting more people” as one of the best things about having recently celebrated his tenth birthday.
But then he came home from Scouts with news that a trip to an adventure centre in Wales is in the offing. It will be his first time away from home by himself. He very much wants to go.
Suddenly I very much wanted him to curl up in an armchair with his books and forget about “going to different places and meeting more people” until he turns eighteen.
Author of “Cotton Wool Kids” Stella O’Malley reckons this is the perfect opportunity for a ten-year-old to begin to strike out on his own into the great unknown. “If we never take our hands off the handlebars, our children will never learn to ride the bike.”
O’Malley also feels giving children the opportunity to experience a little self-sufficiency is a gift. “Initially we feel scared and our instinct is to drag them back under our wing but it is imperative that they are given freedom and independence in small bites growing up.
“We can’t keep our children wrapped in cotton wool until they are 18 and then hurl them into adult life with the expectation that they are ready now. That’s not how life works.”
Finbarr Burns, Venture Section Leader with the 3rd/12th Cork St Patrick’s Scout Group agrees and cites camping and outdoor activities as one of the best ways to promote important life skills for our youngsters. The group recently camped overnight in Fota Woods and Finbarr believes the sense of achievement, having mastered the most basic of tasks, is what maintains interest and ultimately drives every scout towards the role of Leader.
“Even the 6, 7 and 8-year-old Beavers have to start somewhere. Staying away overnight from their parents and working as a team to overcome the challenges involved, is a milestone in their personal development. Sleeping in a tent, cooking your own food, doing your own washing up, challenging yourself and your team not to get lost, or be last, are tasks that are enjoyed as part of a group; you fail together or succeed together but either way you have fun! These are life skills that will stay with them forever.”
Words teeming with common sense and whilst it is always reassuring to hear others speak so positively when it comes to these giant steps our children want to take without the safety net of their parents, what of the elephant in the room? The issue of personal safety.
Kieran Cody Communications Commissioner with Scouting Ireland puts my mind at ease. “All of our adult volunteers agree to Garda vetting and must attend a Child Protection training course before they start to work with young people.
“When it comes to expeditions away, from a parent’s perspective, it is only natural to think all sorts of situations can occur.
“However, every precaution has been considered and the adult Scouter who will have been working with their Scouts on a week to week basis knows what they are capable of and will ensure they have a great time. All of our training leads to this point.”
Stella O’Malley is of the opinion that if the child is excited about going away for a three-day trip, then it suggests that they feel able for it.
“Let them go. Give them advice on what to do if things go wrong and then watch with pride when they grow two inches in spirit on their return.”
I spoke to former scout, and father of four, Cormac Dooley whose eldest is about to embark on a similar trip, and asked him to outline, as a father, the reasons why his son will be going on the excursion.
“It will broaden his life experience at a young age. There is a camaraderie in going away with a group, a great sense of excitement, particularly if you are going out of the country.
“They will get to experience a different culture albeit similar to their own. When I went away it was as far as Wicklow only but the craic was huge and it was a massive bonding session.”
Kieran Cody has the last word. “The very essence of scouting, as the world’s largest informal educational movement, is empowering young people to take charge with the support and encouragement of adults.”
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