The benefits of going bush with your boy
As a father, spending quality time with your son is one of the best things you can do, both for his overall wellbeing, and to improve your relationship with him.
When you spend this quality time with your son, you may find that you seek to get away from home and into nature. Whether it’s camping, hiking, going on a retreat, or simply sitting on a together on a beach, you separate from your usual environment (school, workplace, home) and embrace a more natural one.
Dr Arne Rubinstein, youth development expert and author of The Making of Men, chooses natural remote settings within which to run his Rites of Passage programs (ROPs) for young men. These ROPs are designed to facilitate the transition from boy to man.
Dr Rubinstein believes that the element of separation and crucially, separation into nature, is fundamental to this ‘boy-to-man’ transition. Indeed, many indigenous cultures’ ROP ceremonies have this element of separation into nature in common. The Kurnai people of Victoria, Native American Indians and indigenous people of the Congo are among those cultures whose ROPs involve elders removing boys from their communities and taking them into the natural environment in order to help them begin their journey into manhood.
So, what is it about a separation, and particularly a separation into nature, that helps put the ‘quality’ into spending time with your son?
- The magic of the great outdoors
There’s something that nature does for our body and soul that is completely tangible, yet inexplicable. It just feels good. This ‘magic’ is part of the reason I became an outdoor educator. For me, and for many of the boys and men I’ve witnessed taking part in ROP programs, time spent in nature takes on an almost sacred dimension.
Much research has been done on the benefits of spending time in nature, for children and for adults, including this experiment by cognitive psychologist David Strayer PhD, which recorded the positive effect of 3 days in nature on mental and physical wellbeing.
Perhaps it’s because nature helps us de-stress from our day-to-day lives. The slower pace of the natural world allows some perspective so your son (and you) can really consider habits and behaviours (healthy and unhealthy), and how he chooses to interact with the world.
- It creates separation from the habits of the mind
When you go away into nature to seek quality time of any sort, you are seeking to facilitate change. You may wish to improve your relationship with your son, to unwind and de-stress together, or to talk to your son about a particular issue or behaviour.
By changing your physical environment, you break your normal routine. As Charles Durhigg discusses in his insightful book The Power of Habit, our brains are made to create habits. And habits, for the most part, are good.
Unfortunately, the human brain doesn’t discriminate between useful habits and destructive habits. So the way you respond to stressful or challenging situations, even the simple day-to-day ones such as your son refusing to clean his room or getting cut off in traffic, all become habits. And habits are hard to break.
Moving to a new physical environment breaks your daily habits. You find that you get more choice about how you respond to scenarios. And the longer you spend away from your regular environment, the more mental space you get from your habits.
- It enables presence: the key to quality time’s power
Leaving devices out of sight and out of mind and heading to a new physical location helps you and your son forget about the worries of your everyday lives and be more present with each other. When you are close to home, there is always the inclination to think of school or work to-do lists, social commitments, or even what to pick up on the way home. Again, the longer the time spent away, the more you are able to focus on each other.
When it comes to spending quality time with your son, simplicity is key. You don’t need to do anything in particular for this time away in nature to have benefit for your relationship. However, I would urge you to share your stories, and listen to his. No lecturing, no judgements. Just sharing of stories between two men, both on this curious journey we call life.
Andrew Braddy is an educator and has taught 12 to 15-year-old boys in the classroom for the past 5 years. He is currently an outdoor educator and Rites of Passage facilitator who loves taking boys on journeys of personal growth into the outdoors. This article is about Wellbeing
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