Steve Wilder is the founder and creator of Adventure Youth Mentoring in Roanoke, VA; a 501-C3 nonprofit bent on getting excess adolescent energy focused on outdoor pursuits. With a background in therapeutic mentoring, Steve gives his insights on why it’s important not to just get “at-risk” children outside, but all children a healthy dose of vitamin adventure:
Brad Lane: Can you give us a brief overview of the Adventure Youth Mentoring Program (AYM). Why is it focused primarily on adolescence (ages 8-12)?
Steve Wilder: Well our mission statement is: “using outdoor adventure as a catalyst, AYM will provide guidance, opportunity, and leadership to young people in need of positive role models, ensuring that each child finds his or her unique pathway to success.” Simply put, it’s to provide opportunities for children to develop with an outdoor appreciation and to have role models to respect and emulate. We work with primarily adolescent ages because that is the age where habits, good or bad, or really starting to form. Our work force is all volunteer, and the time and energy to mentor teenagers who are stuck in their ways is rarely available. We look at the program as more of a preventive measure for high-risk behavior, rather then a combatant of delinquent actions.
B.L.: What role do you believe outdoor experiences plays in childhood development?
S.W.: Outdoor experience is just something that sticks with you. It provides great memories. Even if you spend your time getting soaked in the rain, eating soggy oatmeal, and pushing your physical limits; afterwards it effects you in a positive way. The outdoors provides healthy, inexpensive activity that can be done at all levels from beginner to expert, and kids today seem to be missing out on some of that. It’s great because you don’t have to “try out” for the team or pay membership dues to enjoy the outdoors. Kids can go out and learn about the world at their own pace and make personal discoveries about the world around them.
B.L.: So what is it about the outdoors in your opinion that facilitates this learning?
S.W.: The outdoors is simply a powerful force. When your out and amongst the natural world you are always learning. Their is a wealth of knowledge and lengthy textbooks about the ecology of the world your exploring, but even if your not learning the different genomes of trees, your still being affected by this powerful force. You can’t avoid it, and whether you realize it or not, when you’re outside you’re learning about the world and how it functions, and how you function within it. Our program likes to infuse that experiential learning with positive role models, which illustrates to kids that the world may be big, but their are resources available to help them achieve.
B.L.: Do you see the community/state/nation responding positively to the idea of the outdoors as a means to solve delinquent adolescent behavior, in contrast to medications for ADHD, ADD, and depression?
S.W. This is a tough question, and I can only give my opinion on the matter, which differs from other parents. But I’ve seen a trend of rushing to diagnose children. Every child, and everyone as a child, has excess energy. And with the advent of new technologies, schools of thought, and social norms; kids don’t seem to get out and play as much. Their isn’t enough releases for this energy which then gets bottled up, and then gets labeled into a category of delinquent behavior such as ADD or ADHD. Once a child is labeled like that, they believe it themselves, and then a self-perpetual cycle kicks in. Our program and similar outfits (Outward Bound, NOLS) have seen significant results, but it’s hard to say if it will ever replace the modern-day diagnosis.
B.L.: For a parent in this modern-world you speak of, are their resources available to get their children outdoors in between busy schedules?
S.W.: Sadly, as of right now, the resources are limited. Scouting has lost a lot of momentum over the