With so much controversy lately about kids and the river, I thought I'd chime in.
I canoed down a couple of hot Sundays ago, and was privy to a wonderful observation of adolescents.
As we paddled down, I saw bunches of several different groups of teens entering the river at all access points. Once they got situated in the river in their tubes, they would hook themselves together and float connected in cell-like flotillas, dropping a few kids here, and adding others there, continually metamorphosing themselves. These amoeba-like structures inched downstream, full of kids talking, laughing and splashing together. It looked so fun.
Yes, some were drinking beer, and some were using foul language, but generally they were nice kids fully enjoying themselves, each other and cooling waters that day.
Conversations were happening, boys and girls were hooked up together flirting, groups of just guys or just girls were bonding. There were no cell phones. There were no computers or screen games or texting. This was interpersonal communication, real life give-and-take talking, so critical for growing psyches.
Puberty's great task, say many developmental theorists, is social individuation. This is creating a self that is authentic and socially acceptable, and being in an accepted social group that genuinely shares the same views. The goal for the adolescent is to differentiate an individuality that is respected and accepted in a peer group.
The developmentally successful teen understands what she likes and dislikes and what people she feels most comfortable with.
She recognizes her own developing style, interests, attitudes and sensitivities. She knows her own weaknesses and talents. She can express emotions in appropriate ways, has a good level of self-esteem and is beginning to understand the responsibilities of sexuality.
This is a huge undertaking that develops naturally in the healthy teen. It is one of learning by doing, experimenting with situations and people and constructing this first social self, apart from the family, so that it can be built upon in future years.
What better way to explore this very challenging stage of development than to float down the river with friends?
The peer group is the foundation for this age group. Being in nature with real river water, currents, sun, wind and sky offers the mysterious, self-sustaining and wild rhythms of our environment, giving a healthy sense of perspective to personal troubles.
The self-confidence issue is significant. Confidence must be earned through experiences that feed a teen's sense of himself. Successful experiences that help him define himself and grow this esteem, which leads to self discipline. I saw it on the river.
So if you happen to get out there this summer, try to see the positive side of all this water play. Take a moment to observe these kids. Most of them are great kids who are being responsible. What they're doing is so good for them. Toast them with your water bottle and know that they are creating themselves.
Martha McClellan has been an early childhood educator, director and administrator for 32 years. She is currently consulting with and supporting early care providers. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.