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Children And The Craving For Adventure

( Originally Published 1916 )

EVERY little while the newspapers shock us with an account of a girl from an excellent home disappearing mysteriously, to be found later as a waitress in a cheap restaurant, or as a " hand " in the factory of a neigh boring city. The corresponding escapades of boys are not quite so shocking to us, and if it appears that the child's home is not all that it should have been, we shake our heads and say, " Well, what could you expect? "

But we have no right to shake our heads, or to discriminate against the boys. All healthy children are born with a remnant of that racial restlessness that led to the migrations of whole peoples in ancient times, that started the knights on their errant quests in the Middle Ages, and that swells our "tramp " population after every wave of economic depression today. The impulse to wander from the familiar to the unknown appears about as soon as the child can walk, and is re-strained chiefly by the fear of the unknown. At one time or another, every one of us probably felt the desire to run away from home—girls as well as boys. And if you and I did not run away, it was not because of our superior virtue ; more likely it was because of our inferior courage.

To say, however, that the impulse to fare forth in search of the new and exciting is a common heritage of the race, will hardly satisfy the parent who receives a note from the venturesome son announcing that the latter has departed for the " West " to kill Indians. Nor will our understanding of this deep-seated instinct help at all if it merely leads us to bolt our doors and bar our windows. The child who has been carefully guarded at home is in just as great need of an outlet for his impulses to seek new experiences as is the comparatively neglected child who may come and go without the obligation to account for his time. Indeed, it is the closely restrained child that is more likely, when the opportunity presents itself, to break his bonds and escape his solicitous but rather tiresome guardians.

The monotony of a well-regulated life is obnoxious not only to the spirited boy or girl; it is equally obnoxious to more " settled " adults. But burdened as we are with responsibilities, or with conscience, or with a lack of imagination, we seek to make a virtue of necessity and preach the righteousness of humdrum and convention. Yet all the time we remain true to our deeper instincts and attempt to compensate the tedium of the common life through vicarious adventures on the stage or in the book. The masses of cheap fiction, the lurid melodrama, and the moving picture shows appeal to, millions of grown-ups not so much as pictures of life to be appreciated or criticised; they appeal chiefly as substitutes for the romance and adventure that every person craves.

It is a common mistake to attribute to the highly colored detective stories and wild-west literature the boys' desire to forsake the happy homes we have provided for them. It is true that these tales help to stimulate and encourage the inclination to experiment with life. And it is also true that the reading and the theater will largely determine the form that the adventures take. Boys who never read about killing Indians will never set forth to kill Indians; boys who never read tales of the sea will not run away from an inland town to seek out the mysteries of the fo'castle. But the restlessness that drives us from our routine is one thing; while the path we follow once we start is quite another; The kind of reading that children get and the kind of theatricals they witness, are important because they serve as guides to the land of high romance, and they should therefore be. carefully selected. But the books and the shows are not to be blamed for the heart's desire to explore beyond the border of bore-dom.

We must recognize that the nomadic instincts that make many tribes and races incapable of developing a high type of civilization, are of the same stuff as the spirit of research and adventure that have made progress and civilization possible for the more settled peoples of the earth. The explorers and scientists and investigators are those who departed from the beaten path, those who cut trails where there were no paths at all. At the same time we must also recognize that it Is extremely inconvenient, to say the least, to have John or Mary leave the home we have tried to make so attractive, in search of more excitement than we have provided. The child that runs away from home and is then left to his own resources may indeed turn out to be a great inventor or discoverer; but he is more likely to turn out a worthless wanderer on the face of the earth.

In facing this deep instinct in our children it is well to abandon all attempts to overcome it. The way to prevent the burglars from blowing up the safe is to leave the safe unlocked; and the way to prevent Johnnie from breaking out of the home is to leave the door wide open. We must provide, in other words, for an abundance of experiences and adventures that carry the boys and girls into new surroundings and that bring new stimulations. Long tramps and camping expeditions, trolley rides into the remoter corners of the county and visits to distant relatives, opportunity for boating or a tent in the woods—these are the things that will make life so interesting that the temptation to go beyond will be minimized. If children do not so frequently seek to escape from the homes of the more prosperous, it is not because of better training or more comfortable surroundings; it is because those who can afford it travel with their children or send their children on travels, and thus open the door that can be kept closed only as a temptation to youth to force it.

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