Modern Youths (1931) Weakened by Too Much Excitement & Ease

13 Sep

I have read with interest some of Elsie’s published articles written many years ago. By 1931 Elsie, Jack and my mother Catherine were living in the city. But Elsie’s article written for a teachers magazine in 1931 reflects that her heart was still longing for the country life she had experienced on Palomar Mountain. I will share excerpts from that article written 82 years ago.

Our Friend Nature
by Elsie Roberts -June 1931

A thousand years from now historians are apt to declare the parents of this era a paradox- studying the problems of child training as they were never studied before, yet too absorbed in their own hectic rush to come to close to their also over-stimulated children. [I wonder how Elsie would view the overstimulated children of today?] Sometimes this accusation is too true. There is at least one very definite way in which parents and children may not only come to understand each other better but both acquire meanwhile that vital sharing of common interests and joys, sense of leisure and serenity. This is in cultivating the out-of-doors. It need not be done with hoes or tractor, but by being upon more intimate calling terms with nature. Grant that modern life is too complicated and artificial for the greatest good of the coming generation, then go to the direct source for all that is simple and natural.

In California even city dwellers have abundant opportunities to give their children recreation, if not work, out of doors. Yet often these opportunities are neglected. Of course the youngsters play outside. But as they grow older do they always arrange for picnics and mountain weekend’s as eagerly as we might? Is a love of the great open spaces an essential part of their lives, and is it fully satisfied? Is a beach or mountain trip included in the budget even if the renovating of the furniture has to be postponed?

The very recent trend is, fortunately, a reaction back to the land. There is a growing appreciation of the out of doors. We have innumerable nature study groups and summer camps for boys and girls, while out in the rural districts the splendid 4-H clubs are becoming more and more popular, helping the farm youngsters to value their peculiar advantages. Some modern parents, no matter how fond of bridge or business realize that hikes to the foothills with their children are more important. One such admits that she hopes they may prove a specific antidote to jazz.[Remember Elsie wrote this in 1931!]

Like all other good things, a real interest in nature needs to be encouraged and developed. A parent can’t afford to loaf on this job. The earlier he starts and the more fascinating he makes it, the more surely the child will respond. diversions particularly strengthen the bond between fathers and mothers and their offspring. As the youngsters energies are not satisfied by scenery alone, it is well that books, hobbies, and sports should give added contact with nature, and foster a deep friendship with her.

Yet nature in her various aspects is herself fascinating, even thrilling. Here the outside is always available; and though we do miss the novelty of definitely separate seasons; these can always be seen in our own never too distant mountains. Often California families not only stay there while in the summer, but in winter take the children to see the snow. Yet many do not realize how easily they may also let their native sons and daughters know the charm of Eastern Springtime- that burgeoning of bare boughs, bursts of clear streams from every mountain slope to meadows blossoming with butter cups and blue violets and aged with tasseling Oaks and the still white beauty of dogwood trees. Every child has the right to discover for himself that it is anything but boresome!-To leave the beaten trails, to know the forest primeval.

An appreciation of beauty is indeed the greatest asset of culture. An acquaintance with nature is a vital part of education, interpreting and adding to the enjoyment of the formal arts, while in itself it is indispensable. A charming girl lately exclaimed over a marvelous thicket of the azaleas beside a far isolated mountain stream; “they smell like heavenly French perfume! But why did anybody plant all those way off here?”

How many, having eyes see not! It is as true as it is trite that one’s vision is foreshortened by his own limitations, and he sees only that which he knows how to look for. So many a youth, tragically and unnecessarily bored, goes blindly on, never dreaming of the freshness and glory of the out-of-doors. If a primrose by a rivers brim is to him nothing more, it is his loss, but perhaps his parents fault. What better can education do than to train his perceptions and enlarge his capacities?

In this so-called machine age the aesthetic urge needs special encouragement, and with it the inextricable intermingled spiritual values. Nature can add unspeakably to inner resources. Where there is the feeling that a thousand years are but as yesterday, sanity comes out of chaos. The famous surgeon, Dr. Charles May,o is quoted as recently telling a women’s club that the very prevalent mental disorders are caused by our speed of life and the fact that we are an emotional people. Overwrought nerves are considered one great cause of juvenile delinquency. But though the youths fiber may be weakened by too much excitement and ease, his instincts are right. As a reaction to the modern strain he craves the primitive, reveling in “Western” novels and talkies [ By the early 1930s, the talkies were a global phenomenon.] Let him know the figurative West in a literal way!

I would love to hear from you some response to Elsie’s thoughts of 1931.

5 Responses to “Modern Youths (1931) Weakened by Too Much Excitement & Ease”

  1. ritaroberts September 14, 2013 at 2:20 am #

    Well I do agree with you !. But, how do we steer our children away from T.V. Computers and Mobile phones unless there are more NATURE PROGRAMS and Games which do not include violence and drugs televised. HISTORY programmes and many others I can think of would be much better. However I think it will take a lot to convert the youngsters of today. They say T.V. has not influenced them but I think this is so. I do know there are a lot of people out there doing there best to get this generation on the right tracks But OH what a job.

    • Barb Waite September 14, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

      Yes Rita, Elsie nailed part of the problem with her words of 82 years ago. There must be parents willing to set boundaries and enforce them. We do not (hopefully) let children eat just what they want. We must attempt to balance their diet with what they need for good health. Those young minds also need to be experiencing life in the great world around them. When we lived in Antigua my husband took our 4 children on Saturdays to explore and document the numerous sugar mills still standing on Antigua. It was about that time that our oldest declared he wanted to study archeology. I just found it so interesting how relevant Elsie’s words were for today.

  2. Julia Allison September 14, 2013 at 9:38 am #

    This could be written today with little change and be as accurate. Though what would she think about the problems today? Yikes! Oh to get back to what we were meant to be. Family.

  3. Billee Hoornbeek September 14, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

    I was born in ’29 – so, belonged to the generation that Elsie was concerned about. Remembering my childhood on a family farm, I feel her advice was not necessary – we did all of the above besides milking cows, making hay, cleaning barns, planting and tending gardens, riding horseback———etc. Of course, I was raised on a family farm. A family farm was just that – it took the efforts of the entire family to make it successful. Children had chores, necessary chores. If they wanted to spend an evening at a friend’s house another member of the family had to take on the extra chores. I guess that is what I would add to Elsie’s advice – make the children feel necessary as well as beloved.

    • Barb Waite September 14, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

      What wise advise “necessary as well as beloved.” Perfectly said. In the second “Elsie” book there will be much more said about working together as a team to accomplish “life.” Sadly much of that is missing today.

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