Pre-teens like the Abernathy boys may not be crossing the country alone anymore, but there are plenty of ways our young people can mature and grow while having fun and adventure.
The most amazing story I’ve heard in years is told by H.D. Miller in “The Abernathy Boys Go for a Ride.” In 1910 when Bud Abernathy, age 10, and his brother Temple, age 6, saddled up their horses and rode without adult supervision from Oklahoma to New York City to see their hero, former president Theodore Roosevelt, give a speech. Recently returned from an African expedition, Roosevelt invited the boys to ride with him in a parade.
Bud and Temple then shipped their horses home, bought an automobile, and drove back to Oklahoma. A year earlier, they had also ridden by themselves from Oklahoma to Sante Fe, New Mexico and back, a 1,300 mile odyssey.
Though not nearly as spectacular a feat as that which the Abernathy boys pulled off, my younger brother and I had a similar adventure in independence when we took several overnight canoe trips down North Carolina’s Yadkin River during our teen years. We’d paddle along until suppertime, pitch camp on shore or on one of the small islands that dot that red clay river, and paddle the next day to the prearranged spot where Mom or Dad would pick us up.
No one in my long-ago youth—not my parents, not my friends, none of the people we met on the river—regarded two boys alone on the water as anything strange or misguided. Today, I suspect, someone might call the cops and charge my parents with child neglect.
Those days are long gone, but if we use some imagination, we can encourage independence, responsibility, and creativity in our kids, all without breaking our bank accounts. And now’s the perfect season to do just that with summer upon us, that time of year when most of our children are free from textbooks and the classroom.
Here are just a few ideas to train your child to be independent. I’m sure readers can come up with plenty more.
Recreation and play. Give those pre-teens a tent for the backyard. Have them set it up without supervision and camp out. Invite their friends over for some playtime, and unless they’re in real danger, take a hands-off approach. Let them figure out whether they want to kick around the soccer ball or build a Lego fort. Have a scavenger hunt in which kids go off in groups of two and three to track down a penny, a bird’s wing, a golf ball, and so on. This hunt will involve knocking on neighbors’ doors, which builds confidence in the young and creates bonds with the neighbors.
Day camps are another great place for kids to learn while having fun. Organizations like the YMCA and 4-H often offer these camps at a reasonable price.
Responsibility. Give your 11-year-old a cookbook, the ingredients for lasagna and a salad, and have him make supper. Unless it looks as if he might burn down the house, he’s on his own. Teach him how to do his laundry. When he’s old enough for his driver’s license, explain to him how car registrations and license plates work, and show him how to check the tires, the oil, and the water.
In short, teach skills that last a lifetime.
Work. Businesses around the country are begging for workers. Encourage your older teens to find employment at a restaurant or on a construction crew. Younger teens can advertise babysitting or cleaning services, or get together with some friends and cut lawns in the neighborhood.
Barter is also a possible way around a tight budget. The 12-year-old who wants to learn to ride a horse might offer to muck out the stables in exchange for lessons.
Internships offer avenues for the young to explore possible careers. A summer stint in the local animal hospital can give that budding veterinarian a real-life view of that profession. And who knows? Maybe that will lead to a summer job the next year. The same holds true for any number of professions.
Pre-teens may not be crossing the country alone anymore, but there are plenty of ways our young people can mature and grow while having fun and adventure.
In George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” we find these lines about a child:
One of these mornings You're going to rise up singing Then you'll spread your wings And you'll take to the sky.
That’s the goal, and we can help our kids win those wings.
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