Teach Your Children (and Friends) Well


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On Cesar Chavez Day we spent time in Yosemite. I spend as much time in YNP as I am able and this day was poised to be a great time and as per usual it was. The scenery is unmatched and the trails were alive with students and their teachers, families and their children, and us old retired folks enjoying the day. As the day progressed, I made a mental list of all things that annoyed me or caused me to say, “People need to be taught better than this.”

We have a responsibility to learn about the places we go and to prepare accordingly. In this instance, I’m speaking about a public park that is rough and wild, but this applies to all places outside of our homes. We wouldn’t go out at night without some sort of light source, or into a cold day without clothing to keep us warm, would we?

Going into a place like a national park is a bigger deal than most people understand. While there are a million things to know for a million types of activities, this list is a reaction to behaviors I personally observed on one simple day hike.

  1. Bears don’t care if the box is empty.

As we parked at the Happy Isles trail head parking lot I noticed a family getting ready to embark on the famous Mist Trail. They were feeding their kids first, as all good parents do. What was of concern however, is that they were eating pizzas out of pizza boxes that once empty were being returned to the vehicle. Pizza smells great to human noses, but to a bear, its unbelievably AMAZING!

I know, I know. The likelihood of a bear smashing a car window for a pizza box on the valley floor is minute, right? Maybe. Then again, maybe NOT. The more important issue to me however, is that the parents of these children missed a teaching moment.

Proper disposal of smelly items can prevent you from experiencing the strength and power of a hungry or just curious bear. Whether you are leaving items in a car or in your tent, smells can attract bears from quite a distance. Teaching children how to avoid leaving bait is a simple and valuable lesson. Children do what they observe others do. Teaching by doing is the best method for long term retention and to ensure they actually do what they are taught.

  1. Know the level of difficulty of the activity you are pursuing and determine if you are physically able to participate.

As we walked up the first mile of the trail, I observed a young woman, somewhat over weight, being literally pulled and cajoled into continuing up the path at a pace she demonstrated she could not tolerate. Her friend said, “I know you can do this. I’m not going to let you give up.”

I have been guilty of this myself to a certain extent. Well actually, not really. I believe in encouraging a person to do their best, but if a person is sick or clearly unable to continue, we must honor their decision to stop and rest, or even go back.

I was particularly disturbed by a child that was so terrified of descending the wet granite stairs that he was shaking and crying. Clearly, each parent wants the best for their child, but underestimating their level of fear can be damaging in the long run. Now to be clear, this child was about 8 years old, and I get it, once you are up, you must come down. But the impact on this child could be that he will be unwilling to go hiking again in the future.

Adults can choose, children are not afforded that opportunity simply because they cannot be left alone to wait while others continue.

The young woman mentioned above stood her ground and said, “No! I need to rest!” Knowing your limits is a good thing. Respecting the limits of others is a great thing.

  1. The wild is wild because people aren’t there to tame it, and in a national park, you aren’t allowed to tame it, or leave your mark. Leave no trace.

As we continued up the trail, a small girl about the age of ten carried a large stick. Her adults were slightly ahead of her (a practice that makes a retired peace officer cringe… Always keep your charges in front of you). She stopped and decided to scrape off the lichen and moss from a bolder on the side of the path. I couldn’t help myself and in a firm voice I said, “Oh no ma’am, that is illegal.” She looked at me with wide eyes, and immediately stopped. She ran to her mom and told her what had happened, and her mom agreed.

The lesson was taught, reinforced and learned. Now if only mom had kept her ahead of her and in sight, she could have applied that lesson herself.

  1. Pack it in, pack it out.

On our hike we collected, directly on the path, 6 water bottles freshly cast aside, two gloves (different colors), a head band, a child’s sock, and assorted trash. As I grumbled and shoved it into my buddy’s backpack people would say, “Thank you.” Yet, they weren’t picking anything up themselves.

Teaching children to be on the look out for this obscenity to nature is a way of teaching respect for the earth and our place in it as stewards of the land. So here it is, a recommendation. Stick an extra plastic bag in your pack. If you see trash, and yes orange peels, apple cores, chewed gum, etc is trash, pick it up! The way I explain it is this, if it doesn’t already grow in the park, take it out.

  1. Be prepared for possibility.

As we continued, we met a couple of teens hiking the trail for the first time. They carried backpacks containing food, water, and clothing, but nothing else. Having been unprepared on at least two occasions, I have vowed never to let it happen again. A day hike is meant to be a fun, carefree experience. We all know though, that anything can happen and with spotty cell service, the ability to place a call for help may be diminished. So taking basic measures in preparation of the possibility that things may not go as planned is vital.

Things to always carry include: 1. a headlamp and extra batteries in case you get caught coming out in the dark, 2. plenty of water for the day, 3. high density/calorie snacks to open in case you can’t come out as scheduled (additional to your nourishment for the day), 4. a light weight, but very warm jacket to slip on if needed, and 5. a mylar emergency blanket. These items combined, do not weigh much (except the water) and will prove invaluable in case of emergency.

  1. The park, its staff, and its property has value.

As our day came to a successful close, we passed the trail sign we read earlier that morning on our way in. This time, however, I saw it from the back. The sign (pictured above) was laced with graffiti.   You can only guess my reaction.

This is such a basic discourtesy to the people of this nation who pay for and value our parks that its particularly offensive. Teaching children and others to respect our shared property begins at home, true, but if we accompany others or observe this behavior we should say something. Don’t take it for granted that our kids know this is wrong. In a way, it’s a manner of stating to the world, I was here. However, its just not acceptable and costly to repair.

I know that with myself, and later with my kids, the value of something was made clear if it were purchased or procured through hard work. So how do you teach kids and others that property is to be respected? Help them volunteer to maintain it. Once a person realizes the amount of effort it takes to keep something nice for everyone, the less likely that they will ever abuse it themselves. Seems silly, but its true. People value that in which they have invested.

So if you ever get a chance to participate in a creek, trail or park clean up…take a kid (any kid) and a friend along. You will be teaching someone how to value the world around them, and hopefully, how to be a good steward.

Clearly, this list is not exhaustive. I just thought I’d put my thoughts out there, in part to vent about the mistakes I saw on an otherwise perfect hiking day.

Thanks for being my friends.


About Caro

I am a social worker by training and a peace officer by profession having worked with California’s delinquent youth and young adults for 28 years. I firmly believe that our development as humans depends on our environment and that sometimes we get stuck. As such, I write about those things we sometimes ignore or fail to see until we are forced to pay attention.
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