My friend and colleague Pierre duPont, Partner at HPM Partners in New York City, recently wrote a great piece entitled, “Raising Children Into Wealth – Hungry, Productive and Compassionate.” I hope you will read it.
One of his points really resonated with me and brought to mind the work I do coaching parents with significant wealth and working with them and their kids together:
“…show your children that life is not about the things in it but about the people in it and the individual moments lived and shared. Money can sometimes enhance those, but it cannot buy them.”
Simply put: People and Experiences matter.
One of the most meaningful experiences for families working to demonstrate the wonderful aspects of life having little to do with material possessions and everything to do with simplicity and who you are with is camping. Not “glamping” but simple, old-fashioned tent camping including gathering wood, cooking over a fire and preferably in the middle of nowhere (beyond cell towers and Wi-Fi).
While camping, kids are exposed to sights, sounds and animals they don’t often encounter or to which they simply do not pay much attention. The best night sky I’ve ever seen was at a campground in northwest New Jersey. Really. It was a perfectly clear night and the Milky Way was more visible than I’ve ever seen it – breathtaking. One need not always venture far.
The natural world, the basics. And: sharp knives and fire.
Sharp knives (basic folding pocket knives) can be purchased for $10-$15. When a child is old enough to understand knife safety (5-10 years depending on maturity and dexterity), the power of giving them this responsibility is incredible. I’ve practiced this myself and am happy to say (knock on wood) my sons never cut themselves.
They had hours of fun carving sticks. And I’m convinced it boosted their confidence when my wife and I would explain the potential danger of the knives AND let them have their own when we went camping. Giving children challenges – with managed risk – is important for all kids to learn and grow. For affluent families in particular, where there are so many opportunities to make life easier and more risk-free, these types of experiences are essential to developing responsible, confident and self-motivated stewards.
Fire has similar power. Dangerous if not managed carefully, yet soothing and beautiful with its warmth and practical value for cooking. Even 2-year-olds can gather small sticks used to start the fire even if not old enough to safely help manage the fire itself. Older children can also collect small kindling, medium-sized sticks and eventually larger logs on the forest floor. Again, based on age, maturity and dexterity, children can be taught to safely handle matches, start the initial fire with kindling and grow it to a roaring blaze. There is no better place to share family stories.
Entrusting children with sharp knives and fire while camping, in safe and responsible ways, is an incredible opportunity for any child of any socioeconomic background. And there is a special opportunity for wealthy families whose financial situation risks offering too robust a safety net; so that there is not ample risk and danger of the kind that stimulates growth, independence and a sense of confidence about their ability to make their own mark on the world.