Bear Grylls is back with a great new kid’s show on Netflix. It’s all the rage in second grade; my sons love the adventure, the great outdoors and the challenges Bear tackles on his show. And the surprise catch: the show is interactive! Kids use their remote to make decisions for Bear, and watch him reap the benefits (or suffer the consequences).
For example, in one episode, Bear needs to choose between paragliding over an icy mountain, or take his skies and hit the slopes. Both decisions involve danger, and kids have to weigh the risks. It’s definitely a high-heart-rate moment. My kids often make the wrong decisions (mushrooms vs. worms for protein?) and Bear ends up with horrible stomach pains and needs to call the helicopter (show over, try again). They’ve chosen to let him repel down a mountain with an undetermined amount of rope, enter dark caves in search of rattlesnakes… friends, the show is fun! Other times, my kids make the right decisions and Bear completes his adventure. Heart rate returns, all is well.
They have watched their hero battle stomach cramping, freezing winds and watched him flip backward out of a helicopter. Bear earned the right to be heard, and my kids soaked up his words. Bear gets my approval.
Parenting advice warns us of protecting our children too much. It’s not very helpful to be raised in an insular, padded world and then tossed to the real one with zero coping skills. I watch You vs. Wild and I sense the thrill of danger and suspense, and it feels like a nice counterweight to our protected culture. I know we are behind the TV and not actually exposed, but the show reminds me that risk is part of childhood, and their little brains delight in decisions that have to do with wolves and cliffs, ice climbing and venomous spiders.
What’s going on here? Bear has gifted our culture with something rare: a show that brings danger and risk to our living room, and Bear Grylls fosters a love for the great outdoors in our starry-eyed children. He shows us that decisions can be risky, and at times we need to make hard choices (and in the end, call for help). It is the great outdoors, dramatized and fun, and my kids love it.
In another episode, after a hard day of winter trekking, Bear casually leans over the fire and tells his audience that when things get really hard, he focuses on his “Three F’s”: Family, Friends and his Faith in the Almighty. My living room fell silent as his campfire lesson made it through the TV to the little boys on my couch. They have watched their hero battle stomach cramping, freezing winds and watched him flip backward out of a helicopter. Bear earned the right to be heard, and my kids soaked up his words. Bear gets my approval.
For myself, his decisions (although very dramatic) feel faintly like the lose-lose decisions I’m faced with on a daily basis. It’s hard to watch a child be left out, misunderstood, struggle with reading or argue with siblings. In my wilderness, I also have risky choices (sunscreen with toxic chemicals vs. sun exposure! Get speech therapy or wait it out! Discipline for bad language or pretend I didn’t hear!) and like Bear, sometimes I just need my three F’s. Friends with whom to commiserate, family to pass off burdens, and my faith in the Almighty, who is ultimately in charge and is a far better, more loving parent.
Our terrain is just as wild, and we parents need to have courage to let our kids make mistakes, to fail, to be sad, to be lonely. We have to work through losses and let-downs and embarrassment alongside our kids, letting them feel the pain of it all while teaching them to look it all in the eye and carry on. We can’t protect them from everything, but we can give them a safe home and loving parents who listen. Sometimes we are looking at two bad decisions, both risky, and we may just have to call for help.
What are ways we can expose our kids to real life risk, age-appropriate challenges and give them autonomy to make decisions and fail? When our kids are walking through hard times, how can we teach them to cope?
You vs. Wild is a great show to begin the conversation with your kids; and all you need is a bowl of popcorn and possibly a heart rate monitor.