Family Wellness Through the Outdoors
Last updated: April 26, 2023, at 2:19 p.m. PT
Originally published: April 20, 2023, at 9:25 a.m. PT
By Gwen Ichinose-Bagley, Chief Youth Development Officer
I grew up in a military family, and we lived in various places, including in Germany. One of my favorite activities as a child was to sit with the family on Wednesday to look over the various 5K hikes that were scheduled for the weekend. I was most interested in the medals. Each hike had a medal that you received upon completion of the hike.
We would start off the hikes together as a family, and eventually, my brother and dad would begin walking ahead of my mom, and we would reunite under the tent for the traditional bratwurst on a freshly baked roll and a warm soda. This is where my mom and I would connect. Sometimes we talked about life. We talked about school. We would talk about our family. We would talk about the scenery. We often walked in silence together.
The details of those hikes have faded over time. I remember that there was always a long uphill climb at the end of the hike. I remember my mom softly encouraging me to keep going and me looking at the ground, taking one step at a time. I remember meeting up with my dad and older brother, who finished before us under the tent, where we feasted on the free bratwurst in a roll and a warm soda. I remember displaying the medal earned on a banner that hung in our living room. I remember telling my parents that was the last hike I was doing, only to be the first to grab the newspaper on Wednesday to find out what hike we should sign up for next (my selection was based on the medal). Being outdoors on a Saturday with my family was a moment of connection. It was just us, nature, and those that we passed (or passed us) along the way.
As an adult, I continue to see the outdoors as a place of peace, a place of renewal, and joy. When the world becomes too much, I am called to the outdoors. Whether it is sitting in the backyard or walking along the water, I feel a sense of healing, peace, and renewal. This has never been truer than in the past couple of years with the pandemic, the continued violence and oppression against groups who continue to be minoritized, the economic turmoil, and the devastating impact on communities.
As a youth development professional, I look at how the past several years have had a devastating impact on youth’s mental, social, and emotional health. The isolation from peers, the lack of access to their school community, and the missing out on formative experiences have impacted who our youth will become as adults, from missing kindergarten to never attending middle school in person. The percentage of youth who experience depression, social isolation, and lower self-confidence has increased to alarming levels. According to this study, parents of children 8-12 years old said that their children spend 3x as many hours with technology each week as they do playing outside.
While the outdoors may not be THE solution, it is certainly a part of the solution to support the mental and behavioral health of youth. Disconnecting from technology and societal comforts and reconnecting with the outdoors is an important part of promoting positive, healthy outcomes and strengthening family connections.
I invite you to make the space and time to be outdoors. Below are some resources to help you get started:
- Climbing & Challenge Programs | YMCA of Greater Seattle (seattleymca.org)
- Outdoor Adventure Day Trips | YMCA of Greater Seattle (seattleymca.org)
- Free Entrance Days in the National Parks (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)
- Essential Washington: 20 Must-Do Hikes — Washington Trails Association (wta.org)
- Outdoor Adventures With Outdoor Afro
- Chelsea Murphy Diversity Outdoors (shecolorsnature.com)