Why kids do not climb outside

It became normal to see kids and teenagers spending long hours in climbing gyms. But you would not see them outside much. In fact most of them have never climbed outside on a real rock. Of course, we can’t blame them for that, even if they would like to go outside they can’t do it without adult help and supervision. Please note that here we are talking about situation in USA.

Who can bring kids outside? First of all parents. If you see a kid climbing outside then 99.9% odds are that his parent brought him out. But usually only parents who climb or used to climb do it, “normal” (in comment sense) parents do not do it (no offence). All right, so we have kids that love climbing and lucky to have parents that bring them outside. What other options do kids have?

Go with other family. If a kid makes a friend in climbing gym who has climbing parents then theoretically he might join the adventure going outside with other family. Even though this scenario might occur in places where climbing community is strong and enthusiastic, in practice it is not something usual. Well, at a local crag with an easy access, you would see time to time a group of kids and parents where kids hang on 5.8 in sneakers while parents scream all over the place on the top of their lungs “nice job!”, but it usually does not go farther than that. And it only makes sense in our days, because for most people it is hard to manage their lives and plan climbing trips with their own children, to take responsibility for some other kid, to coordinate things with his parents is something most people do not want (or afraid) to do.

Youth climbing teams. The situation with climbing teams is actually very tricky. To train kids in relatively safe environment like an indoor climbing facility is one thing: gym has liability, working hours are fixed, responsibilities are well defined. Bringing group of (usually misbehaving) kids for climbing outside is different thing: hard to always maintain maximum safety for everyone at once, hard to organize, climbing teams or gyms usually can’t afford to be liable for accidents. So this option does not work too (again, we are talking about climbing outside really often, not once a year).

Conclusion: most kids have to wait till they grow up and can go outside on their own. But will they keep their passion for climbing for that long (seeing only artificial holds illuminated by equally artificial light)? Perhaps it is only rhetorical question as some will and some not. What is more interesting that follows from it…

Teaching to see Nature as Climber and following rite of passage is usually performed now days by the parent or someone close, for good or bad. Or a person gets it on his own (i.e. without teaching) when he is adult climbing outside often; due to natural barriers not everyone is capable of becoming regular outdoor climber.

Climbing is more than a sport or even lifestyle, climber intimate relationship with the rock he climbs unites him with Nature and thus turns climbing into some sort of spiritual exercise or journey if you will. So it seems we have 3 categories of climbers:

  1. those who learn to climb outside from their parents;
  2. those who learn to climb outside on their own (as grownups with friends);
  3. and those who never learn to climb outside and mostly hang out inside indoor climbing facilities.

It seems not completely unreasonable to assume some differences between climbers who climb outside and those who not. Based on what was said before, as number of indoor climbing gyms grows so grows ratio of people who never climbs outside to those who does. Not that it is good or bad, just an observation.

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