What can young people do?
I wish every teen in America could saddle a horse.
I’m not a champion saddlerer myself, but standing next to a gigantic animal (way bigger than your dog, so watch your feet) and strapping on a heavy leather seat is always a daunting task, especially if the horse turns his head to watch you; it never gives an encouraging look. Finishing, tugging confidently on the outfit, and then sitting in it, feels like you’ve done something that not many people have done.
That’s the point: I wish every teen in America could do something that not many of their peer group have done.
I worked with an organization in Colorado that provided backcountry hiking and mountain climbing trips to church groups. Most of the church groups were from Texas, which means that the teenagers who came were experiencing life at around a thousand feet above sea level one week and standing on top of a rock at 14,000 feet the next week. Getting those teens up and down, all in one piece, was challenging, but each one who made it to the top, and almost everybody did, had memories to last a lifetime. It broadened their horizons, convinced them that they were capable, made them feel strong, and gave them scenery not seen from the valley.
For most, it was a significant experience; they felt different returning home. They felt like they stood out, that they had done something that people around them had not. They felt special.
Climbing a mountain peak, rafting a wilderness river, hiking in Anasazi ruins hundreds of years old, exploring abandoned gold mines, eating fish fresh caught from a backcountry mountain lake – doing things like this removes the acceptance of some boundaries and gives teens a broader sense of options in what they choose to do. It gives a data point about what might be accomplished versus what might be settled for.
Our teens hear that they have infinite options in life, that they can be whatever they want, do whatever they want, whether they actually can or not. There’s always someone yelling “Follow Your Dreams” in their ears. But doing something adventurous, accomplishing something rather than being coached about it, realizing a goal instead of a dream, translates into reality better than slogans.
I write stories about teenagers who sometimes do extraordinary things and I hope my readers understand that they are not performing magic, that there’s no extreme giftedness involved, and that they are not inherently privileged for some reason or other. My three sons climbed mountain peaks, hiked slot canyons, guided their own rafts down wilderness rivers, drove race cars, and won adventures beyond their peer group.
Mogi and Jennifer Franklin, from my books, are no different. I want my readers to know that they can do those things, too.
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Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.