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Camp Out

Outside Magazine recently wrote, “America’s kids are caught up in one of the largest mass migrations in human history: the movement indoors.”  This really struck a chord with me. Now, you might know that parent, who allows unlimited screen time at the supermarket, in the car, or while running errands… but I am not one of them. I have rules in place in hopes that my kids can sustain a conversation while addressing others by looking them in the eye.  I even hope my kids experience self-inflicted urges to trade watching Ninjago for running wildly in the backyard.

When I pass other families toting dazed toddlers staring into iPads, I think — smug but terrified — my kids aren’t that bad.

Or are they? And, to take this idea one step further, is my relationship with my iPhone passively teaching them that screen time is worthy of a great majority of our precious time and attention?

After all, I’m running a digital business that requires spending a significant amount of time on Instagram, often glued to my phone, sourcing new content ideas and engaging with many of you. Yes, I’m guilty of excessive screen time. Not to mention, I post about topics that fall under the vapid, self-help variety, whether I’m sharing my latest hair care must-haves, what shade of lipstick suits my fancy, or trying to be clever in working through my (self-admitted) love affair with shoes.

Needless to say, I’ve been living a life where my value system isn’t always necessarily reflected in my work. And while I love self-care, and recommending products, and shooting my latest back to school collaboration, I sometimes neglect to hold space for many of the life lessons I picked up on this wild, emotional, complicated-yet-beautiful journey. You see, I got my greatest life lessons while facing nature. I accessed a sense of inner-strength while learning not to panic, swimming too far out in the ocean.  While camping solo in Moab at 16, I gained lessons in self-reliance and found a sense of bravery within myself that I had never known.  While getting my hands dirty in my backyard, I cultivated patience, compassion, and how to play nicely with others in making mud pies.  And as a young lady in my tweens, my dad took me fishing, where I grasped how to gut my own fish that we ate for dinner, just in case I ever had to “feed” our family.”  


With so much mass exodus into the inside and in finding comfort within our screens, I wanted to give my kids the opportunity to experience the rich appreciation I have for unplugging in nature, sans Netflix, social media, and video games.

 

In August, I took my family on a camping adventure into the Sawtooth Mountains. My goal was to share the value system of immersing in the outdoors with my children, and instill a sense of responsibility, independence, and creativity that being in nature can bring. Call me old fashioned, but my intention was to let my kids “just be kids,” accessing their imagination through hiking and camping, stripping away all of the excess and electronics at arm’s length.

I’ve been struggling for a while, trying to write this piece. I was reluctant to share my parenting tips on how I managed to wrestle iPhones out of their tiny, grubby little hands. In no way am I trying to project how “progressive” I’m being by teaching my kids the benefits of unplugging, or how kids should take an “electronic sundown,” or any of the other self-helpy buzzwords we’ve adapted in being cope aesthetic to the digital age. But I decided to share, because I realized that kids today are suffering burnout just the way we are, plain and simple.


What was initially constructed for my kids – a retreat onto the trail for 3 days with backpacks and tents – suddenly took on new meaning. As I was trekking into the mountains, without the quiet confidence of my text and social notifications going off every two minutes, I realized I was in a state of crisis. At first, I anxiety as we hiked further away from a WiFi signal. Slowly but surely, I was releasing toxic emotions from my body – confusing my IG likes for my sense of self worth, or being stuck on the number of blog subscribers defining my purpose, or feeling self conscious about what I was putting out in the world. Does anyone care? Is anyone listening? What am I actually doing with my platform – is it actually helping people?

 

I realized that technology provides comfort because it creates a sense of connection, even when we have people right by our side who are craving our connection the most. It provides a soundtrack that speaks loudly over our deepest fears, it comforts us when we need to drop right into the lives of others to forget about our own. And, instead of increasing our creativity, technology can provoke it, provide it with feelings of not-enoughness, and leave us more confused and anxious than we were when we woke up this morning. I realized that I never want my kids growing up with  the deep sense of comparison or judgement that technology can matriculate. If I didn’t set this example, of teaching my children real coping skills that come from beyond the screen, how could I be a positive example to my children?

 

So we embarked into the mountains, and, to be honest, my kids were reluctant. Adventuring into the unknown can be frightening, but I found it important to gently push my kids out of their comfort zones. Our trip was lead by Nigel Whittington, a lifelong friend and former teacher of mine, as well as mountain guide extraordinaire. Our tribe consisted of Cody Edison, a brilliant photographer, Christine, Cody’s beacon of light and all around optimistic partner, my brother Johnny, who I still baby and absolutely adore, his philanthropist wife Liz, who has the biggest heart and is all around awesome for putting up with my brother, and my two squeaky clean, wide eyed sons, Tom and Shep, and of course my husband, Jared, who was the poor sherpa of the group but gave all of his heart and muscle (as he tends to do).  Nigel thought it would be smart to venture close to our town of Ketchum, Idaho, just in case the littles proved to feeling too far from home. We settled on a 2.5 trail up to Mill Lake, where we set up camp.

 

So, instead of a weekend spent in front of Apple TV, my boys learned to problem solve and stack branches together to build makeshift forts, dig in the dirt for shiny rocks, and traverse across fallen logs over streams. They hiked with heavy backpacks and learned to pitch their own tents.  They sang silly songs and howled at the night sky trying to attract (or scare) whatever animal lurked in the woods. I watched my husband just get be a dad, and I saw my boy just get to be boys. I, too, found my stride in teamwork, connecting with my tribe, teaching my kids skills of braving the wilderness, and accessing my own memories of childhood camping trips. I let go of being self conscious and taking the right steps. I let my worries go to the wayside and got dialed back into nature, which felt so nourishing and wild and full. During this adventure, I returned back to myself. I finally felt whole.

 

John Muir once said, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” Life is, in a lot of different ways, like a long and challenging trail. And while technology truly provides us with so many gifts, it can also saturate our lives with emotional, physical, and even spiritual noise that we don’t properly detox from our system. In taking this trip, my initial intention was holding this space for my kids, but I slowly discovered how much I needed to overcome a number of  challenges, disappointments and dejections that were showing up for me, both personally and professionally. But on the hiking trail, I learned that as long as you’re putting one foot in front of the other, you are getting somewhere. This may sound incredibly simple, but when it is applied to your life, it can produce profound reward and connection.

There’s more to going into nature than the crackling of dry twigs under your feet, bearing witness to the perfect sunset or feeling the humbling exhaustion of snuggling into a sleeping bag. So here’s what I know for sure: Slowing down is important. Nature is powerful and teaches you humility. There is a secret language of solitude. Unexpected turns can lead to life changing moments.

And, of course, as I’m writing this, I’m back in front of a screen, only this time feeling recharged, re-energized, and renewed. Life is truly a balancing act, so in no means do I denounce technology – it’s a love / hate relationship that reaps more rewards than harm. However, I’m reminded that small breaks are necessary for the ultimate connection – one that’s much stronger than WiFi.

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31 Comments

  • Isabel

    Wow Gen! Just one more profound blog post for the books. This is what I respect about you so much. You’re not afraid to admit that you’re NOT perfect, but you’re trying. So many people pretend to be perfect and put together and gorgeous 24/7 over their social media and/or blog, but you’re addressing real problems with a real outlook on them. I find myself inspired to do better and try harder when I read your posts. You’re not perfect, but then again, none of us are, and if what you’re writing and saying touches even ONE person, and inspires them to do better, then I think it was worth your time.

    • Angela Nevin

      Thanks, Jen for your point of view and sharing such a valuable experience. My family, whether out of necessity or by design, camped much of our childhood. As kids we learned to braid rope to hang the food away from the bears, to gut our own fish and fry over a fire, and to lie on our backs in the dark in awe of the infinite unknown. My husband of 31 years and I have spent most of our celebrations together in the woods. And while we chose not to have children of our own we continue to teach our nieces and nephews of the importance of meeting each other on common ground – whether that is sand, or rock, or dirt. My refuge will always be the woods. Thank you again for teaching your children important values in life. Afterall, they will be the adults that will make decisions for us.

    • Ali

      That was so sweet Gen, you all work so hard for us and your family that you deserved a day of R&R. I love going hiking, I went on a road trip with my family up the coast of California. We were out of school for spring break and I had no phone because I broke it. I was sad at first because I couldn’t take pictures but being in the moment was so more meaningful than seeing things from behind a screen. Of course my parents had phones but those two weeks with just the roads and the surf crashing against the cliffs was unexplainably eye opening and wonderful. I’m glad you’re teaching Tom and Shep early on😁❤️ where was Odette?

  • Amy D Dorse

    Awesome article! Admittedly, we dropped the ball with my oldest two boys. And began to with the younger two boys. Now, I am seeing the results and I do not like it one bit!! So, eules have been slowly changing (mainly so they won’t go into shock! 😂) and my younger boys are now spending less time onscreen!
    Good job, Mom! You are awesome!

  • Jenna Friedland

    Gen that was truly wonderful to read. Thank you for sharing your experience with unplugging from technology and plugging into nature, connection and family. It has inspired me to try and do the same. Just so wonderful.
    Love
    Jenna

  • Jenni

    I agree wholeheartly! Your entry is pretty on point how hard it is how to spend the day without checking the phone. Of course it is a habit that kids will probably copy. We did not have that problem when we were kids (I’m 33years old), so we are kind of the first generation who has to solve that problem. How are we going to teach our kids that the time off screen is so important? How can we as grown ups find ways away from our phones? Most of us (me included) still have to figure that out.

  • Shauna

    For the record I think you’re doing an amazing job.❤️ I love your honesty. You have the same insecurities as the rest of us and that only make you more relatable. Weather you’re behind the computer, on your phone or out in the wilderness just keep on being real.🤗❤️❤️

  • Regina

    That post reminded me of everything I loved about growing up on a farm and how important it is to get out and reconnect with nature. Thanks! And thanks for keeping it real and honest and human.

  • Haylie

    We have pretty strict ‘No devices during the week’ rules here, but as a Mama that also relies on social media and a phone in her hand to answer clients and market her business online, I also find myself worrying about the examples I’m setting in front of them. This post has inspired me to strip it all back whenever we can and go explore our beautiful surrounding more often. Thanks Gen! Xx
    http://www.hayliedphotography.com

  • Yvonne

    Such a wonderful blog. It’s hard to believe how reliant we are on technology. This year I’ve put a lockdown on my daughters pc time. She focuses on school, reading, dance and her imagination. She sleeps a lot better too.
    I have to stick to the same with my 18 month old when he comes of age.

  • Jacqueline

    Hi Gen – first time commenter. I can’t tell you how much this post spoke to my heart. My kids are young adults but I am raising my granddaughter; a fiery, brilliant 4.5 year old. The importance of knowing you are self reliant is, I think, one of the most important things you can impart to your children. I think my son struggles with that and although he is grown, your post and it’s ponderings has given me ideas and inspiration to help him and to encourage in my granddaughter. Thank you for sharing some of your life with us.

  • Lynn

    There’s actually research that shows the benefits of humans (children and adults alike) being immersed up close and personal with the natural world. Dirt is good for us to dig our fingers into or to run on barefoot, forests and tress are therapeutic to stand under, and as much as we all are anxious without it, technology is something we do need a break from sometimes. Glad you all had a peaceful time!

  • Shannon

    It’s funny to me, I never considered myself an outdoorsy type. If I don’t see the sky, however, I feel claustrophobic! I just feel better outside. My fall allergies are a mess, but I work through it.

    Fyi, in the paragraph after the photo of you with two other people, you’re missing a word. After “at first”. I don’t want to be obnoxious, and please let me know if you don’t want the feedback. (I’ve done this to you once before, so I’m feeling bad.) I’m far from perfect. Far… lol.

    • Shannon

      *I’ve never.

      See? Far from perfect.

  • Kimberlie

    Thanks for another insightful post. I grew up in the country, and loved it! (Ok, I was a little jealous of my friends who lived in “ town” that could get cable…😬) I roamed nearby woods all by myself, and learned to hunt and fish with my Dad. I agree that everyone needs to step away from the phone or computer and just be. Go outside. Get back to nature. Actually talk to a person near you, not just through your phone…. Pay attention! I resisted being on any social media until a couple years ago, and lately think maybe society would be a better place if we all lived a more unplugged life.

  • Sandra

    Wow just love that. I agree 110%. Kids need a happy medium and family time. Reminds me of the days when i grew up. The good ole days x Thank you for a great article. ❤

  • Heidi

    Amazing ❤️🙌🏻 Thank you for sharing and being so open and honest … I literally smile every time I see a new post from you… I started out being a ridiculously obsessed SPN fan (which I still am and always will be) to a HUGE follower and admirer of yours and your blog… thanks for always giving me something to look forward to and to better my life and the life of my kiddos with 😘

  • Jessie

    I thoroughly enjoy your blog especially these kinds of posts. Nature is and will always be my therapy. This summer I tried to go do something outside at least 1 day a week. Most times it fell on the weekend because work and then working out during the week takes up my time. My favorite thing I did was go swimming up in the mountains. I grew up a water baby and took lessons at a young age plus my element is water. So it’s just ME to feel at peace when surrounded or in it. Every time I would go I’d force myself to truly unwind and focus on the here and now. Breathe in and out and soak in the sun thinking of happy thoughts while just enjoying it all. I think if more people did this and with their kids too it would help with alot of unneeded stress and worries in life.

  • Lisa

    This blog really hit home! I need to get my “short people” out into nature!

  • Sara

    Nature is such a healer. I’ve recently been through pregnancy loss and getting outside into nature has really helped ground me, and slowly helped me start to heal. I know the reason I turned to nature is because that’s how I was brought up; walking as a kid then scuba diving as well from teenage years. My teenage years were as technology and social media was starting to become a big thing, but before it all was on mobiles. Having that connection with nature has been an absolute life saver, and I am so grateful I was brought up with it as a big part of my life.
    I hope when I do have children I can bring them up with nature as their ‘go to’ when they need to destress, rather than turning to apps, or worse just ignoring it. And I hope they can have the close connection with nature that I have felt. I think a lot of that will come from me and my husband turning our phones off and leading by example by going outside, just like you have!

  • Elena Alkhimova

    Hello, Genevieve. I live in Ukraine, and we have the same problem as in the whole world. Children and adults grabbed the Internet (facebook, instagram, twitter, youtube ……) People stopped communicating looking each other in the eyes. In the cafe, in transport and even at work, the look is directed into the iPhone. Unfortunately my family can not afford to often go camping, but sometimes we walk to the park or go to the river or to the sea. We very much like to be by the water, in the evenings to observe the starry sky. Away from wi-fi, TV, computer …..
    Genevieve, you are absolutely right, to watch how the children are reborn after staying in nature, how their eyes shine, their cheeks flush. How many impressions remain after traveling. Thank you Gen for inspiration, having read your blog so wanted to go out again to nature wiht my kids. With love to you Elena from Ukraine.

  • michaela

    Love this gen 💜👌 you are so right. My parents instilled so much of my adult personality through going to different mountains, caravaning and whst I will always treasure – adventure!!! I lost my dad through lung cancer 3 years ago and I flashback to all of those memories to remain close to him. Thank you for your blogs, you a treasured by me a lady from the Uk 🙏✨

  • Janice Parrott

    Lovely story thank you for sharing your trip 🙂 I brought my son camping for the first time when he was 10 and we start hiking, which turned into camping. I had never done either before. My son is now 25 and we are still hiking and camping every year. It is always fun, we always learn something new, and it always an adventure 🙂

  • Priya

    This has to be one of my favorite blog posts here. There are so many points I relate to in this article.  I actually read this piece early in the morning today and it stuck a cord with me. But then I had to rush for office and couldn’t delve much on it. Now I am sitting at my workplace, staring at the computer screen for hours and hearing the pitter-patter of raindrops on the windowsill, while all I want to do is to rush outside and feel the cool droplets on my face. I have a special love for rains. But I cannot do that now as I am working and trying my hand at adulting. [Well I am 23, and have been trying and mostly failing to match up to my version of an ideal grownup for many years now]. But that’s not the point, sorry I just end up rambling a lot whenever I start to write or talk.
    Much like you mentioned in the blog, I too have a love hate relationship with technology. I mostly shop online these days, for items ranging from furniture to food.  It is only due to technology that I am able to continuously stay in touch with my childhood best friend who is many states away and have my mother teach me how to bake a cake on video chat. And most importantly, technology is the key reason I actually have the job I do. So yeah, technology is very important to me.
    But then somewhere down the line I ended up measuring my self-worth on the basis of the likes on my Facebook pictures and traded my weekend picnics with Netflix binge watches. And honestly, to see that you and many others face the same problem does kind of make me feel a bit less guilty.
    Recently I visited my nephews during their summer vacations, and saw them playing random games on their PlayStation and tablets the whole time. It surprised me quite a bit, cause I remember my vacations being every different. They were spend playing football [or soccer depending on where you stay] on the neighborhood playground and going for picnics in the city outskirts. But then those were my school days, and unfortunately now I tend to lead a largely sedentary lifestyle.
    While I might just end up ordering pizza and binge watching some random show this weekend, there are very things that still gives me more joy than finding a waterfall after trekking for hours on a rocky trail.
    I have actually been planning for trek in Ladakh for a year now. But then I keep on procrastinating because I am inherently a lazy soul.   But after reading your blog some of my motivation did come back. So I might just end up going through with the plan sometime next year. Hopefully.
    Anyway, one of the major points of this too many words of rambling was that I really love this blog post, and many more as well. Do keep writing more.
    Also, if possible do write something on the domain of everyday style tips or so. I like how your style is a great blend of classy and cool.
    So yeah, that’s it for now.
    Lots of love. <3

  • Angela Nevin

    Hi Jen,
    Thank you so much for the point of view and for raising your children with values and morals. As a child, my family camped for most of our vacations – just the basics, nothing more. I’m not sure if it was necessity or desire, but we learned to step outside our comfort zones – braiding rope to hang the food high in the trees away from bears, catching and cleaning the fish we caught, and laying on our backs in the dark in awe of the infinite unknown.

    As a wife of 31 years, my husband and I have spent most of our significant celebrations in the woods, reconnecting with each other, relearning to play cribbage, and sharing the silence far from the world and its chaos.

    We don’t have kids, but we teach our nieces and nephews the importance of connecting as humans – be it on the playground, the beach, or the dirt. For me, my refuge will always be in the woods.

    Thank you again for raising your children to be good humans. After all, they will grow up to be the adults that will someday be in charge! We need more of this.

    Angela Nevin

  • Priya

    This has to be one of my favorite blog posts here. There are so many points I relate to in this article. I actually read this piece early in the morning today and it stuck a cord with me. But then I had to rush for office and couldn’t delve much on it. Now I am sitting at my workplace, staring at the computer screen for hours and hearing the pitter-patter of raindrops on the windowsill, while all I want to do is to rush outside and feel the cool droplets on my face. I have a special love for rains. But I cannot do that now as I am working and trying my hand at adulting. [Well I am 23, and have been trying and mostly failing to match up to my version of an ideal grownup for many years now]. But that’s not the point, sorry I just end up rambling a lot whenever I start to write or talk.

    Much like you mentioned in the blog, I too have a love hate relationship with technology. I mostly shop online these days, for items ranging from furniture to food. It is only due to technology that I am able to continuously stay in touch with my childhood best friend who is many states away and have my mother teach me how to bake a cake on video chat. And most importantly, technology is the key reason I actually have the job I do. So yeah, technology is very important to me.

    But then somewhere down the line I ended up measuring my self-worth on the basis of the likes on my Facebook pictures and traded my weekend picnics with Netflix binge watches. And honestly, to see that you and many others face the same problem does kind of make me feel a bit less guilty.

    Recently I visited my nephews during their summer vacations, and saw them playing random games on their PlayStation and tablets the whole time. It surprised me quite a bit, cause I remember my vacations being every different. They were spend playing football [or soccer depending on where you stay] on the neighborhood playground and going for picnics in the city outskirts. But then those were my school days, and unfortunately now I tend to lead a largely sedentary lifestyle.

    While I might just end up ordering pizza and binge watching some random show this weekend, there are very things that still gives me more joy than finding a waterfall after trekking for hours on a rocky trail.

    I have actually been planning for trek in Ladakh for a year now. But then I keep on procrastinating because I am inherently a lazy soul. But after reading your blog some of my motivation did come back. So I might just end up going through with the plan sometime next year. Hopefully.

    Anyway, one of the major points of this too many words of rambling was that I really love this blog post, and many more as well. Do keep writing more.

    Also, if possible do write something on the domain of everyday style tips or so. I like how your style is a great blend of classy and cool.

    So yeah, that’s it for now.

    Lots of love <3

  • Missy

    Love this! I have a sudden urge to turn off my phone and make mud pies! My mom always said mine were the best!

  • Ana Clara

    That is very sad, but is totally true. My cousin is seven our eigth years now, and he was that kid who loved play hide and seek, runnig and play soccer. And, when i was with he, i feel like i was a kid again. For a moment, a just let my cellphone on the table and just be a kid. So one day, someone gave him a phone and all that magic feeling i had just gone. He continuos play all this games but prefer the cellphone. And I fell sad because i remeber of my childhood when i played dolls, running, i used my imagination for criate my games.And i saw him, and i just feel he lost their childhood. And i know, he isn’t the unique. Has much more kids and teenagers in the same way. We don’t play anymore, we just stay in our cellphone and we forgot of living.
    Ps: I’m sorry, English is not very good. I’m Brazilian

  • Liz Brown

    I so agree with all that you said and that the kids of today don’t know what its like to get out there with Mother Nature even if its only for a day. I is so engergizing and lets you think and clear your mind and just relate. I love the outdoors and hiking and feel so much better after a hike to my favorite water fall where i find a nice large rock and just sit there and listen to everything around me. You are raising your kids right in teaching them there’s more than eletronic devices even TV. When I was growing up I was outside more than I was inside. I roamed our farm and the woods and streams and loved every minute of it. Kudos to you for doing this for your kids and for yourself Liz

  • Janice Parrott

    This is a lovely piece. I started camping with my son when he was 10. We started hiking, which tunred into camping and we never looked back. Every trup is an adventure – some good, some not so much. We always have stories to tell. He’s 25 now, and we still go every year and it’s still an adventure. Thanks for sharing yours.

  • Sarah Poingt

    Hello,
    I just read your article, I find it very interesting and true.
    You have great values. You are a wonderful mother because you are trying to set the best example for your children so that they do not fall into it.
    I’m 19 years old so I’m from the electronic generation and I like that because I feel connected and it’s kind of a drug … but I try to enjoy life as I can, going out for discover new landscapes and share memories with the people I love. I like to learn new things, I have never traveled anywhere yet but I hope I will have the opportunity.
    Today, no one enjoys life and as you say children are on the screens, they will never know what is real life because they follow the example of their parents but it is not necessarily good.
    You are an inspiring woman and you tell us that no one is perfect and you are right we all have our weaknesses.
    Thank you for sharing your experience, I would like to live this adventure and cut me off the Internet.

    Have a good day,

    Sarah Poingt, French

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