March 23, 2010
I was inspired recently by a lecture that I attended by Kim John Payne titled Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids. Kim John authored a book of the same title in 2009, the ideas of which are catching on nationally at a rapid pace. His message is clear: by reducing the stress in the life of a child we give them the opportunity to flourish; the opportunity to think more clearly, make better decisions, and have the capability to go deeper in to the activities, play, and work that they do now, and will do later. Kim John explained that when children have a series of small cumulative stresses in their lives such as: too-busy schedules, constant media exposure, too many choices, and general chaos in their lives their brains function at limited capability while exhibiting the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. In a time when it seems that stress is the new norm in our society, Kim John challenges us to keep it simple in the lives of our families, for the sake of our families.
Of course, it was hard to listen to this lecture and not make parallels to the ideals of Northwaters and Langskib Wilderness Programs and the reverence for childhood and adolescence that is honoured there. By giving young people the opportunity to unplug, remove themselves from the expectations and norms of their home lives, and be with the land in a safe yet challenging environment, we create beautiful opportunities for personal growth. We don’t need much to have powerful and formative experiences. In the case of NWL, it is the bare necessities: a tent, paddle, canoe, essentials that fit in to the canoe, a small group of supportive peers, and the quiet, solitude, and rawness of the Temagami Wilderness.
At Northwaters and Langskib each participant has an important voice and vital role within the group – it is difficult to blend into the background when one is considered critical to the group. Often, we see young people come to our programs feeling disconnected and self-conscious. But when given the opportunity to be with nature, a supportive community and, most importantly, with themselves in a reflective way, we often see these same individuals head back home feeling strong, empowered, and with a newly-found realization of their unique gifts and those of their trip mates. The skills and lessons learned on a well-thought out wilderness program, such as trust, communication, integrity, honour, discernment, and confidence are skills that will aid young people in the navigation of their lives well beyond their time on trail.
Northwaters is committed to sharing the magic of this experience with parents as well. We believe that the environment, culture and components used throughout youth programs have great value for families and individuals. Waypoint is a week-long program at our Langskib basecamp designed specifically for parents who would like to renew their vision of what is possible within themselves and their family.
I felt compelled to share my experience of Kim John Payne’s lecture and of Northwaters with other parents as a message of hope in demanding times. Kim John’s message reminds us to look at childhood and adolescence as an unfolding process rather than an enrichment opportunity. In this way we can support our children’s healthy development in to grounded and responsible adults. The work of Northwaters and Kim John Payne continue to influence my life, and who I am as a parent, by plainly reminding me that simple is powerful.