Train Up A Child

By Earl Taylor

When I was a child I had my life, and my parents had theirs; they did not try to weave their lives into my life; we were not best friends. I did what was normal for a nine-year-old boy, while my parents worked, mowed the yard, went to church suppers, and made sure our homework was done. There were no $500 birthday parties, no designer shoes, and there were no extras; we were called to the table, and we ate what was placed before us.

Not today; parent’s lives are weaved into their children’s lives; running to ball games and gymnastic practices, followed with more activities back at school. Life is lived on the run in the back seat of the car and in line at the local drive through. There is little time for unscheduled, unplanned, play time; life is controlled by the overflowing schedule of programmed activities.

My dad took me fishing. I never heard him say anything about quality time; he just said we are going fishing. I don’t remember him smothering me with attention or actual teaching time. I had my pole; he had his and we divided up the night crawlers and fished. If we were lucky, we caught fish, and we cleaned them together. These fillets were to be the next day’s supper and all of us children were going to eat fish.

I thought we were just fishing, but I actually learned about how some fish are predators and the weak are eaten by the big and hungry. I learned that sometimes lines break, sometimes fish throw a hook, and sometimes you get skunked. I learned success, and I understood disappointment and failure. There were no lollipops to sooth my disappointments; I learned to deal with it.

I was 12 when I took the 410 and walked the mile to the creek to duck hunt. I had never duck hunted but figured I would fill my carefree Saturday with trying. I missed teal after teal until one finally fell on the opposite side of the creek. I stripped down to my shorts, waded across the cold water, and retrieved my first green wing teal, and redressed myself. I learned perseverance.

I waded creeks checking trap lines by my fifth-grade year. We trapped out of necessity. My dad was a new preacher making $3000 a year, and every muskrat pelt added to the family’s meager budget. I jumped at the opportunity to check the trap line twice a day: once around 9 p.m., and another time in the morning before school. I learned that when you are eager and available, you can be rewarded with fur and fun.

We trapped. And when we were done trapping, we skinned muskrats. 542 muskrats one year. Every rat was stretched and dried and sold for a dollar a piece. I learned thoroughness.

Saturday after Saturday we pheasant hunted in November. There was no bow hunting possibilities known to us then. We shot our three pheasants each, and we went home. There was no discussion of shooting more and hiding some in the trunk. Three was the limit. Our bird dog was treated as a part of the hunting family; he rode in the back seat of the 1950 Chevy. I learned ethics and self-control while pheasant hunting with dad.

My dad has been gone for eight years now. He gave my brother and myself a special gift when he took us hunting, fishing, and trapping. We grew up understanding hard work pays off. We saw the perfect design in the animals and their habits. We learned that there was a God who created these animals and gave us authority over them. My brother and I grew up with a healthy mindset.

Our mental health is controlled by chemicals that are produced by the brain. Serotonin and dopamine are two of the major players in a child’s mental health.

According to medical experts, “serotonin is thought to be especially active in constricting smooth muscles, transmitting impulses between nerve cells, regulating cyclic body processes and contributing to wellbeing and happiness. Serotonin is regarded by some researchers as a chemical that is responsible for maintaining mood balance, and that a deficit of serotonin leads to depression.”

Whereas, dopamine is described as follows: “Dopamine has been identified as the body’s reward activator, controlling the pleasure center of our brain while encouraging us to engage in thrill-seeking activities. People with low levels of dopamine in their body have been hypothesized to be more prone to addictive behaviors. It has been observed that somebody with lower levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine are more likely to use and abuse drugs or consume too much food. These unhealthy behaviors release dopamine into the body, thus contributing to a cycle of addiction.”

Dopamine is produced with the screen. Screen time with fast action shoot-em-up action creates a burst of dopamine. Just as it sounds, dopamine is a stimulant, much like the effect of drugs. (dope) The quick release of dopamine brought on by the screen is addictive.

Serotonin is produced when you eat comfort food, when you sit on the lap of a parent reading together, and it is produced sitting in a boat or a deer blind with dad. Serotonin creates a sense of well-being, of belonging, of being cared for and loved. Serotonin creates a sense of “all is well with my world.”

I have never seen a youngster leave a boat with a stringer full of fish who was not laughing, talking and engaging themselves with the adult. I have always seen a youngster act disrespectful and un-engaged after a 2-hour stint with the screen. Children learn nothing staring into a screen. In my opinion, the screen makes the child surly, unresponsive, disrespectful and belligerent.

One of my favorite things to do is to take my grandchildren hunting or fishing. Time in the outdoors removes them away from their virtual reality of smart phones and video games… a great sunset, a bass breaking the water, or a strutting tom is a reality that gets burned into the mind of a child.

After a successful turkey this past spring with my 12-year-old granddaughter, she wrote on her Facebook post and included three pictures: herself with her turkey, a beautiful sunset, and wild plum blossoms. Her caption read: “this is my life- sunsets, flowers, and turkeys.” Her serotonin cup runneth over.

I don’t need to be successful, but success creates interest and the desire to return next time for a child. A well-planned hunt provides action that is carefree and enjoyable. A great ground blind or an elevated shooting house allows the adult and child to discuss and process the hunt as it unfolds. Explanations can be given as to why animals are reacting or behaving as they do. Science is learned; this is a field trip that has actual value.

Virtual reality vs. reality? I will take my time in the timber or on our boat with my grandchildren every day over the screen. Now you do the same: go and produce more serotonin while catching supper. If you have to justify your time to anyone, just call it “mental health therapy.”