Raising Kids in the Outdoors



I am a proud dad of…a kind of lifeguard at our local pool? What? Well, Morgan doesn’t turn fifteen until after this article hits the newsstands and can only work the front desk until she turns that magic number.

Yes, there are rules and regulations that we live with in public places, but this is not the case in the outdoors. In the outdoors, there are only the laws of nature. These laws are true regardless of whether we like them or not, and they don’t change based on age or certifications. This is why the outdoor principle of “act with decisiveness” is important to understand and live out in front of your kids so that they can learn from your example. This article isn’t about fear, doom and gloom; it’s about perspective and teaching about the importance of appropriate, measured action.

This last weekend, a gal fell off the dock into the water over her head while getting off her boat. It was a miserable, rainy, wet day and she fell in with a lot of clothes on. A guy on the dock took action and kept her safe the best he could with a lot of boats loading around them in the rain. Another person ran down and aided them, getting her safely on solid ground. The second person passed multiple people who were watching everything play out, and these bystanders didn’t know what was going on or what to do. It was the two people that acted with decisiveness that kept her from getting hurt worse than her pride did that day.

It’s easy for us as adults to classify outdoor activities in different levels of safety. Typically, the safest activities on each of our lists are the ones we are most familiar with. The activities that we classify anywhere from more dangerous to most dangerous are the activities we are less familiar with. What’s more dangerous? Rock climbing or shooting, water skiing or downhill skiing, a bonfire or a propane grill? The reality is, more people are killed in fishing accidents than hunting accidents, and car accidents are more common than both. What I’m getting at is, life in the outdoors can be dangerous regardless of the activity or our comfort with that activity.

Mother Nature also doesn’t care who a person is, how they live their life or who a person is related to. Mother Nature has no feelings and doesn’t care about ours. This is why it’s important to explain to our kids the cause and effects of our actions when we’re in the outdoors. Like many things in life, one honest, simple, bad decision in the outdoors can lead to injury or death. This is equally true if we hesitate or have to figure out what’s going on around us when immediate action is required. When it comes down to it, hesitation can be just as dangerous or more dangerous than a bad decision.

As a dad of a future lifeguard, the question that I am asking myself isn’t, “What should I teach her?” “It’s, “What have I taught her?” As a lifeguard, she has all of the lessons and skills she’s learned in the outdoors that will enable her to apply the principle “act with decisiveness,” just as the guy on the dock did this last weekend.

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The first skill is situational awareness. As we raise our kids in the outdoors, it’s important to have them practice this skill. It can be a lot of fun if you just ask them a lot of questions. What bird is that? Where’s the boat ramp? What color was that truck? What’s the speed limit? Where’s camp from here? How far away is the storm? When you are consistent enough with the fun of the questions, your kids will catch on and start asking you before you can ask them. Over time, they will even start catching you not paying attention to your surroundings. Thank and praise them when this happens, because it’s the time you know that they get it.


The next skill is understanding cause and effect. If I stay out in the lighting storm, then what? A couple of years ago my son, Peter, was out on the water fishing a tournament, when he got a shock from a thunderstorm off in the distance. He said he looked at the boat captain and said, “We are going to shore now!” He said, looking back, they wouldn’t have made it back to the ramp if they would’ve tried to race the storm back. He’s now an unpaid meteorologist on the water, and I have no worries of being caught off guard by a storm when he’s with me.

This is where our comfort in outdoor activities gets us in trouble. The more comfortable we are with an activity, the more likely we are to become complacent with the power of that activity. In other words, we don’t respect the effects of Mother Nature.

Regardless of whether Morgan is a lifeguard or out hunting in the Badlands, she will be confronted with situations that will require decisiveness based on the situational awareness that she has at the moment. In these situations, both her life and those she has committed to watch over are on the table. This is because hesitation and uncertain actions leave you in danger for a longer time. Decisive action made with situational awareness and a solid understanding of the cause and effects of your surroundings reduce exposure to bad outcomes. When it comes down to it in the outdoors, decisive actions keep us safer and allow us to help and save others.

As parents, we need to live out principles like this one, and make it a habit to always teach our kids the practical information that they need to make the wise decisions. This way, they have the skills and understand the principles to apply when they are presented with the time to act. They won’t always get it right, just like us. So, don’t scold them for acting; work with them on how to act more