The Weekly Forced March

Getting kids to disconnect from technology and reconnect with nature.

By Hank Osborn, East Hudson Program Coordinator

KidsHikingNoTech

Enjoying the woods–no iDevices necessary. (Photo credit: Hank Osborn)

Almost every weekend, year-round, my wife and I enjoy a good hike with our adolescent children. We love our local trails, the exercise, and getting out into nature. The children do not share our views. They require encouragement to join us every time. They actually enjoy each hike, every weekend, but then they seem to forget by the following Saturday or Sunday that they had fun in the woods. There seems to be a powerful force affecting their memory and motivation.

We have to work to get the children out of the house. They resist us. “Do we have to go? Can I stay here? I went last weekend.” To which we respond, “Yes, you went last weekend and you loved it; and no, you cannot stay home; and yes, you have to come on the hike today.”

KidsHikingFishkillRidge

Without iPhones, Lila and Callie take a break during a hike they thoroughly enjoyed on Fishkill Ridge. (Photo credit: Hank Osborn)

I think our children are representative of many kids in this modern age of miniaturized and highly powerful in-your-face-technology. The children would rather sit around on the couch and zone out on their iDevices then walk through the woods—or do anything at all.

It takes cajoling. We have to repeat ourselves and be firm and not give in to their desperate offers to negotiate. “I’ll go on the hike if I don’t have to do the dishes tonight. I’ll walk the dog if you let me skip the hike. I can’t hike now, I just took a shower, can we do it later?” To which we respond: “Nope. No, and no—get in the car now.”

We drive to the local trailhead, unload ourselves, and announce, “leave your screens in the car.” There is often surprisingly little fuss at this request—except for the consistent rebuttal of, “but we need our phones to take pictures.” To which we respond: “Sorry. Let’s go.”

The next hurdle is the hiking-through-the-woods part—and guess what? The children love it! They laugh and run and smile and joke and play and absolutely enjoy themselves. See the accompanying photos as proof.

KidsCrossingAStream

Maya has a great time crossing a rushing stream–even with her iPod back in the car. (Photo credit: Hank Osborn)

Sometimes we hike a loop, other times we go out-and-back, and sometimes we drop a car and hike from point to point. At the end of the hike, when we all pile back into the car, the children are often subdued and a little tired. They gobble up their iDevices and stare at the screens. We sometimes hear, “Mom, Dad, that was awesome.” We don’t hear it every time—but sometimes.

My wife and I are not changing the world, but it feels as if we are fighting against it. The power these little machines have over our children is very, very strong. It wants to keep them inside on the couch and out of the woods. We feel we are doing the right thing by fighting against that corruptive power, getting our children to disconnect from technology and reconnect with nature through our weekly forced march.

Want to get your kids unplugged and into the woods? Find a family-friendly hike in your area using our hikes database.

About Trail Walker

Since 1920, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference has partnered with parks to create, protect, and promote a network of more than 2,100 miles of public trails in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan region. The Trail Conference organizes volunteer service projects that keep these trails open, safe, and enjoyable for the public. We publish maps and books that guide public use of these trails. The Trail Conference is a volunteer-driven nonprofit organization with a membership of 10,000 individuals and 100 clubs with a combined membership of 100,000 active, outdoor-loving people.
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9 Responses to The Weekly Forced March

  1. Hank,
    That was a fascinating and important..also amusing …post.I hope lots of people see it.You have very attractive children who are lucky to have parents with your clarity and will
    Lucy

  2. Bill says:

    I completely agree with Hank. Kids need to spend time using their brains and not relying upon the internet to answer all their questions. Great way to raise your kids. Keep at it. You will end up with children how can think for themselves.

  3. Lois Applegate says:

    Hank,

    I enjoyed reading your blog and seeing the pictures of very happy children. Keep up the good work and fun family adventures.

  4. Ed Goodell says:

    Great subject, Hank. Keep with it. You won’t regret it and neither will your kids !

  5. lynn osborn says:

    This is a great article about the addiction of these devises and how hard it is for parents to constantly be negotiating. I just spent a week in Cuba, where adults have regular old phones and kids have nothing. And guess what- there is life in the streets, music everywhere, people give you eye contact and smile and are happy to take time to talk. Once I got used to not checking my smart phone for emails or texts, it was so liberating. The only way for parents to achieve that disconnect is to have strict lock up rules or something – good luck on that score and with continuing to get outdoors.

  6. B'sie says:

    From your Godmother, B’sie
    Way to go, Hank and Lexie. So happy for you all. Like saying grace, being outside together keeps the experiences shared. Eyes are looking ahead and up, legs and arms and bodies are moving, kids are noticing the mysteries of the natural world and feeling the fresh air in their lungs. The devices will be waiting for them, but maybe the kids will deal with them differently. Keep up the marching!

  7. Pell Osborn says:

    Hey, Hank. I really admire you for sticking with it, and “getting your kids unplugged and into the woods!” It sounds like you’re making it work! We certainly aren’t the first generations to deal with being disconnected from nature. Re-read William Wordsworth’s powerful sonnet, “The World is Too Much with Us,” (from 1802, yet!), and you realize that this is an ongoing battle of the ages — the insistent little screens of our iDevices are just the latest distractions in the battle. Your Great-Grandfather was a singular raconteur, and I remember, occasionally, being swept away by the straightforward, unadulterated power of his voice as he told a story. No TV, no radio, nothing was as powerful as this living voice, engaging everyone’s attention. Because of this, even as a young child, I understood the connection to great narration, to ancient times, to epic poetry and the strength which the human voice — unfiltered — commands. It’s the same with nature, unfiltered. Take a moment — tell your hikers to pause for three minutes, that’s all! — to listen, just listen, to the woods around them. They’ll learn a lot from those three minutes! Maybe, one day, your hikers will expand it to five minutes! Keep it up! Way to go! The best thing is that you’re taking them out there and connecting them with the natural world.

  8. kiscodad says:

    I started hiking as a way to get my kids out of the house and then expanded it to longer more challenging hikes by myself, so in that way they helped ME get out of the house. I too have trouble getting them in the right mood to go and usually have to resort to dragging them. Some things that I find help: find hikes with something besides ‘the great outdors’ whether it’s a bridge, nature center, fire tower, big rock…anything that provides a tangible goal. A post-hike ice cream bribe doesn’t hurt either. My kids range in age from 15 to 7 so finding something for everyone is key. Last year I started taking them out individually on age appropriate hikes. It’s a great way to get one on one time with them.

  9. Hannah says:

    Thank you Hank for expressing what so many of us feel. Living in town again with the all powerful wifi has become a challenge for us as well. You are on the right track!!! And are setting an example not only for your children, but for other parents. I am looking forward to getting my kids out in the woods this summer in America!

What do you think?