The balancing act: Keeping them safe

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As a parent, I know that delicate balance between letting kids explore and keeping them safe. It can be a dangerous world. A responsible parent can’t disregard the hazards, even as we gradually expand kids’ boundaries.

Playing in nature definitely presents a list of potential hazards, from sunburn to tick-borne illnesses (a particularly knotty problem this year!), animal bites, falls . . . a worried parent could go mad. I believe it’s important to remember that our primary job as parents is to render ourselves unnecessary–to rear independent persons who are as healthy and well-adjusted as possible, equipped with the skills and judgment needed to succeed as fully-functioning adults.

But achieving that goal requires that they stay alive long enough to become adults.

So, where do we draw the line? And how do we adjust appropriately–because that line always keeps changing! Developmental stages flash by so fast, we have to work, to stay on top of “what’s developmentally appropriate today?” I managed (with a lot of help) to shepherd two reasonably-functional human beings into adulthood, and for me the key always seemed to be information.

I have yet to meet the child who responds positively to “because I say so!” And they’re RIGHT. That’s an extremely unhelpful answer.

As appropriate for the developmental level, I always tried to take the time to explain to the child why certain restrictions had to apply, if I possibly could. Granted, sometimes there’s no time. But that meant we needed a follow-up conversation. I discovered even the youngest child has the capability to be a rational human being (to the extent that someone can be, at any given stage of development). If we want them to grow into that capability as adults, we must treat them accordingly when they’re kids.

As appropriate for their age, that means teaching kids how to prevent their own bad outcomes (wear sunscreen and bug repellent; know basic safety principles about approaching animals or walking on rotten branches or uneven terrain). They may ignore it, but at least they’ll know why it happened, if they do.

It helps to remember the favorite saying of a friend of mine: “Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.” Giving them wide enough boundaries to explore and “push their envelope” means sometimes there’ll be unfortunate results. That’s why it’s just as important to teach them what do do if something does happen. There’s no emergency situation that can’t be made worse by the victim’s panic! The goal is not to terrify them, but to empower them.

It isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Citypages (Minneapolis, MN) for this image! (no info available, on who’s the photographer).

4 Powerful benefits from a simple nature walk

The Artdog Image of Interest

Some folks will look at this photo and see nothing but weeds, potential sunburn, probable bug bites, an annoying tick-check later, and dirty feet in the making. Grab the sunscreen and the bug repellent! They’ve let the kids loose in the the woods again!

Others will realize that these kids are receiving many more benefits than they are facing potential hazards. What are the benefits of taking a walk in nature? Let me count out a few for you!

1. Walking in nature improves emotional well-being. Children today suffer from higher rates of depression and anxiety than past generations–yet walking in nature has been shown to counter “morbid rumination” (brooding on anxious or negative thoughts).

2. Walking anywhere promotes better fitness, but walking in nature is intrinsically satisfying. This makes it a more attractive activity than, say, walking on a treadmill or a track. The variations in terrain also can help foster greater agility.

3. The endless variety and movement in nature provokes a child’s natural curiosity. Some experts suggest it may help foster greater focus and improve kids’ attention span, while other folks have pointed out it can help improve listening and other cognitive skills. It’s also true that things a child personally experiences in nature can make academic studies of topics such as biology, ecology and other sciences more relevant and understandable.

4. Exposure to nature can also improve the body’s ability to function. While overexposure to the sun is a hazard, sunlight is essential to the production of Vitamin D in the body–a vital component for robust immune health. And speaking of the immune system, did you actually know that a little dirt is actually a good thing? A too-sanitized environment for children can actually backfire if the child’s body has no chance to build up natural immunities. It’s the same principle that applies to the immune-system benefits of household pets. Finally, being in nature can even improve kids’ eyesight, if they spend sufficient time outdoors!

Nature walks provide so many powerful benefits, it’s hard to overstate their value. So what are you waiting for? Grab the kids and get out there!

IMAGE: Many thanks to the writer/blogger Angela Amman for permission to use her photo “Walking in the Woods,” posted on her Playing With Words blog.

Let the children play

The Artdog Image of Interest 

There’s a special magic that happens when kids play outdoors in an unstructured way. Last week’s Image of Interest discussed NPAs, or Natural Play Areas in parks, and their value. But lower-case natural play areas don’t just have to be in parks.

Lucky are the children with access to a farm or a big back yard that consists of something other than manicured grass and a plastic swing set–although kids tend to make do with whatever they’ve got. More varied terrain does tend to help get the creative imagination going.

Creative adults, especially those who grew up with access to interesting natural play areas, almost invariably get a smile on their faces when they think about kids playing outdoors–but in fact that’s getting harder for children to do as years pass.

There’s a record number of kids in developed nations–kids who seemingly have all possible advantages going for them–who suffer from depression and anxiety disorders. As Peter Gray has written in Psychology Today, “Rates of anxiety and depression among children and adolescents were far lower during the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, and the turbulent 1960s and early ‘70s than they are today.”

Gray and many others point to the decreasing amount of play time children are allowed, these days–especially unstructured play time–as a source of the trouble. Running wind sprints or practicing your pitching skills on a flat field–while possibly enjoyable and valuable–are WAY different from unstructured play in a natural play area.

But all too often we see parents or other caregivers worry more over the potential dangers of outdoor play–from overexposure to the sun to air pollution–than about the ill effects of too little outdoor play. “Supervise your child carefully,” parents are warned. Supervise, certainly–and not all areas are equally safe for all ages. A little common sense, especially where toddlers are concerned, is well-advised.

But when they grow out of the toddler stage, don’t forget that appropriate developmental needs change. And, believe it or not, there actually are physical and psychological benefits to doing things such as sledding, walking barefoot in the woods, or rolling down a hill. Even simply getting dirty can be good for the immune system. Of course, kids have known this for eons.

We adults should relax a bit, and let them do it.

IMAGE: Many thanks to CafeMom for this image. It’s taken from the excellent article by Jacqueline Burt Cote, 6 Reasons Your Kid Should Play Outside, According to Science.

A place for kids “gleefully doing their worst”

The Artdog Image of Interest

Welcome to Imagination Grove in McLean, IL, a place where more unsupervised play is allowed.

What if kids were allowed to pick flowers, build forts, break off branches, and carry away rocks from public parks? To make extra trails through the undergrowth, to dig holes? What’s the worst that could happen?

If you’re like a lot of grownups, you’re probably envisioning hard-compacted soil, hillsides denuded of flowers, and desolation. In some settings, particularly the more fragile, endangered areas, you’d be right.

But a lot of the current kid-generation’s parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents have memories of being at large and creatively free, in wild or semi-wild places, where they did all of those things and came back from largely-undamaged natural places with a new and deeper appreciation for the natural world we live in.

Matthew Browning, a former Park Ranger, sought out an area in Sweden where he cold study natural play zones where kids were bound by very few rules. And no, these places did not escape unmarked. But Browning found that “after millions of kid-hours of use by children gleefully doing their worst, these play zones remain functioning natural areas. The damage wrought by kids was comparable to that from hiking or camping.”

Grownups being grownups, they’ve now created an acronym for areas reserved in public parks for such use: NPAs, or Natural Play Areas. But it’s a positive movement all the same. As Katherine Martinko of Treehugger writes, “It’s time we let the children play, let them cultivate relationships on their own terms with the beautiful forests around us.”

We won’t save what we don’t value. A few beaten paths and play-forts are surely worth the fate of the planet, wouldn’t you say?

IMAGE: Many thanks to Slate’s article Let Kids Run Wild in the Woods, by Emma Marris, for the photo from Sugar Grove Nature Center in McLean, Illinois

Into the storm

The Artdog Images of Interest

Three major signals of climate change’s onset are increased rates and ferocity of fires, deepening drought, and increasingly violent storms. Today’s image focuses on storms.

First, a little “storm porn,” because dramatic, high-contrast clouds plus lightning and panoramic skies make for jaw-dropping storm photos. Here’s a mini-portfolio from American storm-chaser Mike Mezeul II:

Thunderstorm outside Cheyenne, WY by Mike Mezeul II
Thunderstorm over Big Spring TX – Mike Mezeul II
Thunderstorm with internal lightning over Graham, TX, by Mike Mazeul II

I could look at these all day, but a little reminder may be in order that gorgeous clouds can contain devastating downpours, tornadoes, and/or hurricanes that can do millions of dollars’ worth of damages in just a short time. Havoc such as that shown in these photos:

This is what we denizens of Tornado Alley call “a real toad-strangler.” This storm hit the San Fernando Valley in February 2017.
The website didn’t give a location or date for this photo, but I hope that truck had water wings!
Stormy surf at Porthcawl Harbor, South Wales, in 2014. (photo: PA/Mirror)
A man in Northern Ireland excavates his sheep from a snowdrift in 2014.
Dramatic flooding resulted in 2015 from Tropical Storm Etau in Japan.
2016 flooding and mudslides in Victory, WI made for some arduous cleanup afterwards.

As the EPA is still so far able to say on its website, “Extreme weather is typically rare. But climate change is increasing the odds of more extreme weather events taking place.” 

One thing’s clear: we’d better batten down the hatches–and make sure we have an emergency plan. Unfortunately, we never know when we’ll be caught up in the next disaster.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Mike Mezeul II and The Daily Mail for the gorgeous “storm porn” series at the top. I also am grateful to Climate 101 with Jason, for the San Fernando Valley storm photo by David McNew/Getty Images, to Insurance Advocate for the hurricane-swamping-the-road photo with the pickup truck, to the Mirror for the stormy surf South Welsh photo from 2014, and to the BBC for the photo of the Northern Irishman excavating his sheep from a snowdrift the same year. Many thanks to Young Independent for the Tropical Storm Etau image, and to WXOW Channel 19 of LaCrosse, WI for the mudslide photo.

Water stress

The Artdog Images of Interest

Three major signals of climate change’s onset are increased rates and ferocity of fires, deepening drought, and increasingly violent storms. Today’s image focuses on drought.

A woman in India still can get a little water from her well, but she’s one of 300 million affected in the country during 2016.

As my Images of Interest series in February emphasized, the United Nations has identified access to safe, clean, affordable drinking water as a basic human right. Yet as drought gets entrenched in regions, this basic human need is not being met. India is one of those areas, but as the map below shows, it is far from alone in its plight.

A serious issue in India is the continued heavy water use by multinational corporations (MNCs) such as Pepsico, without recharging the water tables (as required by law). This is despite the “worst drought in living memory” and dramatic drops in local water tables near their bottling facilities.

The 2015 level of California’s Lake Oroville at the height of the recent drought was pretty impressive-looking, but as we know, once the drought broke the lake refilled to overflowing. More troublesome and long-lasting was the hit the aquifers took.

Plunging levels of surface water or snowpack during times of drought are often dramatic (see California’s Lake Oroville, above). Longer-lasting damage is done, however, when aquifers are depleted and not recharged. What has been happening in India is not an isolated case of industrial short-sightedness. Aquifer depletion is a problem in California, the US Great Plains, Australia, China, Africa, and all over the world. Few people are paying much attention to it yet, but it’s a ticking time bomb we all should be working NOW to defuse.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Global Research for the photo of the Indian woman by her well, to the World Resources Institute for the Water Stress map, and to PBS NewsHour for the 2015 photo of Lake Oroville. 

Fires gone wild

The Artdog Images of Interest

Three major signals of climate change’s onset are increased rates and ferocity of fires, deepening drought, and increasingly violent storms. Today’s image focuses on fire.

Firefighters worked for days to control wildfires around Mecklenberg County, NC in November 2016. I hope this photographer didn’t get singed, taking this behind-the-burning brush photo! Unfortunately, I couldn’t locate a photographer’s credit.

This North Carolina fire was only one of hundreds (it’s surprising, how difficult it seemed to be, to find a definitive total) that burned in the US in 2016. An interactive map of 2016 wildfires in California shows general locations by date range.

Total number of fires may be down, but total acres burned have doubled in 30 years.

A study released last October (2016) concluded that “human-caused climate change is responsible for nearly doubling the number of acres burned in western United States wildfires during the last 30 years,” according to Bill Gabbert, of the Wildfire Today website.

IMAGE: Many thanks to WSOC-TV Channel 9 in North Carolina for the dramatic fire photo, and to Wildfire Today for the chart, compiled by Bill Gabbert, showing acres burned.