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Things I hope my kid learns from climbing

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Take a moment to reflect on what has shaped you throughout the course of your life. What has made you the person you are today? What lessons have you learned about life and the world? These are big questions with no easy answers. Most would agree there are millions of small events that occur throughout life, all of which contribute to making us who we are as adults. The decisions we make and events we experience each slowly (or swiftly) affect who we become.

Most climbers can reflect back over years of adventure and recall many an escapade that might have changed their perspective on life. When putting on a harness for the first time it’s impossible to predict all the lessons that will be learned from climbing, but there are a few that children (and adults) commonly develop over time as they immerse themselves in the sport. As I watch my kids grow and put on a harness, I wonder at what adventures this sport will bring them and what they will learn along the way.

The following are a list of things I learned from climbing in adulthood; my only hope is that my children may be lucky enough to learn them now:

Confidence

Once I watched a climber solve a difficult bouldering problem, it was a crimpy overhanging move that impressed everyone in attendance. Stupidly I asked him “how did you do that?” and his simple yet the perfect response was “I have confidence in my body and what it can do.”

Any parent would be proud to hear their child speak with such certainty. It’s a mindset that develops in one part of life (maybe climbing) but builds on itself and affects every action a person takes. Success creates confidence, and confidence builds more confidence. Climbing involves pushing your body beyond perceived limitations, completing tasks you might have previously doubted were possible. In time, this instills an inherent self-confidence that is carried on to all aspects of life.

Delayed Gratification

Bring a brand new climber to the base of a 5.10 on their first day of climbing and they will likely say some variation of “that looks impossible.” If that novice climber trains consistently, there is a good chance she will send that route within a year.

Experiencing the effects of gradual improvement is an invaluable lesson that can be installed in any child. Climbing is perfect for teaching these values because it is easy to see and feel improvement as you progress through more difficult climbing grades. We live in a world where instant gratification is the norm. There is nothing immediate about climbing a 5.11 for the first time, but there is a far more gratifying feeling when it is over.

Attention to Detail

It’s undeniable that climbing is a gear-intensive activity. Climbing even the most basic sports route involves systematically checking and rechecking various knots and equipment. Failing to do so can result in catastrophic danger. Therefore, climbers are a fascinating culture of adventurers who both love to have fun but recognize when it is time to become serious and meticulously complete necessary tasks.

Every parent has at least once chided their children for failing to pay attention. Climbing can teach adults to pay attention to the little things; it can teach children as well.

To deal with stress

Every climber feels some anxiety or outright fear on climbing routes. Just like every middle schooler feels a little (or a lot) of anxiety as they navigate the complex world of adolescence. Interestingly, social interactions can cause the same hormone response as experienced when humans are in actual physical danger (DeVries, 2003). For some children climbing may serve as an outlet for stress relief, but for many it can also serve as an environment to learn how to cope and deal with a natural stress response.

If a child learns to stay calm and collected while navigating a challenging route while several stories off the ground, they just might remain calm and collected while interacting with the social pressures of childhood.

Life begins when you leave the couch

Between television, smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, and video games kids are getting a lot of screen time. On average 65% of children aged 4-11 spend two or more hours per day playing video games, watching television, or staring at computer screens (Anderson, 2008). It’s simply the social norm.

Life is short. Climbing brings to both children and adults feelings of excitement that ground them firmly at the moment. Climbing is one of the last bastions where humans put down their phones and live exclusively focused on the adventure at hand. The freedom of the mountains, the experience of a big climb, the thrill of being up high amongst the birds; these aren’t experiences that can be accurately replicated by electronics. Embracing the excitement of a big climb removes the distractions of daily living, and is the fastest way to unplug a child from electronics.

Once someone feels the adrenaline and peace of the mountains, they know what it is to live rather than just exist. It can ingrain in a child a love of life, and all things adventure.

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