It is not uncommon for teenagers to be overly confident in their abilities to be independent. During those important years of growing autonomy, they often miscalculate how much and how fast they can take on responsibility. This can easily turn into resentment and then defiance of parental boundaries. I knew one such young man that was feeling all these things at 17 years old. It is not easy helping a 17 year old, who is almost an adult grow autonomy without burning important bridges to people that can be supportive and uplifting. In his haste towards the independence, he would not receive the message that the ultimate evolution in autonomy was a balanced and healthy interdependence, not independence. So, I gave him an assignment that I hoped would help him feel the importance of a healthy interdependence compared to an unhealthy independence.
After arriving at camp one day late in the afternoon, the boys dropped their packs and began setting up camp. But this boy was told that his camp was going to be elsewhere, so he put his pack back on and followed the staff a few hundred yards outside of main camp and into the middle of a meadow. There, he was told that he was going on solo for two days. When he asked where he could set up camp, they told him that his campsite was right where they were standing. He immediately protested, complaining about the lack of trees to make his tarp shelter with or to collect bark from for his fire. The staff did not solve these problems, but instead told him that his campsite was there and that they would be back to check on him regularly to ensure he was safe. The first day and night were fine. He slept a lot, spent large amounts of time cooking and really just doing nothing. When the second night came, a small storm rolled in and he found himself wrapping his sleeping bag up uncomfortably in his tarp so he would be protected from the rain. When he awoke the next morning he was stiff from an uncomfortable night’s sleep and found that some of his gear was wet because it had not been properly covered under his makeshift shelter.
During the second day, he found himself straining to interpret the mumbling voices of his peers, laughing and talking in the distance. He became bored and angry that he had been given such a stupid assignment. “What am I getting from this anyway?!” he asked in frustration when I eventually arrived to his campsite to process his experience. He was asked what he missed about his group, about the trees, about the shelter that he did not have in the same way? He talked rapidly about the things he enjoyed about those things. He was then asked how often he thought about those things and how often he felt the same type of appreciation he does now. “Not much”, he replied quietly as he began to see the direction of my questioning. “This is a physical representation of what you’re doing with your family. Because you have their love and support you take it for granted and rarely think about it or feel grateful for them. But one day, you might be successful in pushing them away, and then you might feel as you do now, uncomfortable, sad and lonely. Just as you’ve taken the trees for granted until you no longer had them to secure your shelter to or provide you with materials for a fire, you have treated your parents with a similar entitlement. Finally his eyes began to show recognition of the principle being taught. After leaving him alone in his treeless solo campsite for one more night, he wrote a letter of appreciation to his parents expressing humility and understanding.
Outback Therapeutic Expeditions is heavily focused on the family and relationships.