Joseph Campbell, in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces, makes a compelling argument that the world’s greatest hero stories follow the same basic arc.
Whether the stories connect to religion or mythology, whether they come from the Eastern or Western traditions, they spin the same tale of an ordinary human being who gets called to adventure.
At first, the person ignores the call, but usually after a mentor convinces them, they take up the task.
A journey both inward and out follows. On the outside the hero-to-be defeats dragons, wars with witches, battles brigades. On the inside, they face their deepest doubts, overcome obstacles, and transform themselves from coward to courageous.
When we look at the Hero’s Journey as a model for how to live, we learn how important it is for children to fully embrace their call to adventure.
As parents, it’s difficult for us to always support them. Despite our own youths spent wilding on the train tracks, roof hopping, or loitering schoolyards—all without a digital leash—we still see the world as a dangerous place for a child to venture into.
When children live adventurously, here’s what happens.
Children Escape the Mundane
When children set off for adventure they escape the safe, mundane world we adults have created for them. Adventure always involves a level of risk. But the tradeoff is a thrilling and exciting experience that lets kids know they’re alive.
Children Meet Influential People
We raise our children, but throughout their lives they’ll meet other people who’ll influence them in positive ways. By embracing adventure, children befriend other adventurous people who become mentors or advisors to them. They’ll show our children a perspective on life we overlook as their parents.
Children Differentiate Allies from Enemies
Children who live adventurously meet their allies and enemies, whether they’re people, animals, nature, even the structures in their neighborhood. How much can children know about someone unless they’ve faced difficulty together? How will children deal with life pulling them in different directions when they’ve never experienced the pull of a river’s current? Children learn who and what they can depend on through adventure.
Children Face Their Dragons
When children embrace adventure they confront their inmost dragons, those obstacles that go unconquered through a sedated youth and haunt us through our adult lives. They learn to overcome limits and embrace discomfort. Not everyone works through his or her fears. Some get to the edge but never jump. But it’s better to get the chance to see what one is made of than to never get the chance at all.
Children Become Empowered
Children learn something about themselves when they answer the call to adventure. They won’t conquer every fear they face, but the process changes them. They grow more confident and become more empowered. And the confidence and empowerment helps children excel in all areas of life, from school to work and from family to social life.
Children Return Anew
When children set out for adventure and overcome fear, they gain valuable insight into their lives. Most heroes who answer the call to adventure embark on a journey and face something dreadful, they overcome, and they return home with new power, new wisdom, or new knowledge. They share what they learned with their communities. By living adventurous, children become the heroes of their communities.
Encourage your kids to embrace adventure
Make adventure a part of your life and your kids will do the same. Adventure can include anything, big or small, as long as the risks reap excitement. Take your kids camping for a weekend. Go on a challenging hike. Visit an amusement park. Ride the go-carts. Rock hop in a river. Adventure doesn’t have to be about crawling through secret floor passages, finding pirate ships filled with gold, or befriending a Baby Ruth eating Sloth. Adventure can be found right in your backyard.
Stop telling your children to be careful
We see our children as fragile beings who need our help the second they arrive in the world. As they grow it’s hard to rid us of this image. Even after they’ve become toddlers we still want to protect them. But we can’t shelter them from the world. If we see them doing something adventurous, let them be (unless it’s extremely dangerous of course). If they’re climbing rocks, let them climb. If they’re chasing frogs, let them chase. We can’t always tell them to “be careful” or “you’re going to get hurt.” It’ll deter them from pursuing an adventurous life.
Give your children space
Let your children do things on their own. Let them take risks. If we constantly hover above our kids, they’ll never be self-reliant. Give kids the space they need to answer their call to adventure. I’m not saying you have to let them play on the train tracks alone, but don’t hover over them like a helicopter in close proximity. Let kids, be kids. Let them explore their words.
Risk and reward coexist in a myriad of activities. Find something that resonates with your children, and let them have a go. There will be bumps and bruises and sprains and maybe even breaks, but who they become along their journey will outlive any of those mishaps. Because when they travel into their inmost cave and confront the things that scare them most, they become heroic. They become, adventurers.
About the Author
John is a father, husband, English teacher, and the mind behind The Offbeat Dad. As a fatherless father, his goal is to do fatherhood, differently. Connect with John on Twitter or Facebook. John is based in Thailand.
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