Young people in Muskoka have opportunities that are not available to their urban counterparts. They have ready access to nature: clean lakes, night skies and fresh air. They go to small schools that nurture a strong sense of community. They grow in an environment where the pace is less frenetic, less congested and in many ways simpler than their city cousins.
They don’t fight traffic and crowds nor are they subjected to the kind of noise pollution that can assault young ears on city streets.
But it’s not all roses and sunshine. In Muskoka we have more than our share of social problems – children grow up witnessing substance abuse, domestic abuse and poverty. Unless the family can afford a car and the gas it guzzles, children are denied access to sports, programs and cultural events due to a lack of public transportation.
Recently two young teenage girls were picked up by a member of our staff hitchhiking in Port Sydney. The decision to give them a lift was automatic – in the same way that you wouldn’t walk by a baby with a sharp object, it wasn’t possible to leave these vulnerable children on the street with their thumbs stuck out.
Worse yet, they weren’t looking for a ride to the other side of the village; they wanted to be dropped off at the highway so they could make their way into town. Not willing to dump two young girls at the side of the highway, our staffer drove 20 minutes into town and back, dropping the girls off in a safer place, near the home of one of the teens.
Was there a lecture on safety? Sure there was. Were promises given that the girls would think twice before putting their well being in jeopardy for a lift again? Absolutely.
Did we believe them?
These girls were bored and wanted to put some miles under their feet. Left without any kind of public transportation, they accessed a resource teens do have in quantity - their bravado got them from point A to point B.
There is not much as dangerous to itself as a bored teen. They are risk-takers and will put themselves in harm’s way rather than endure the torture of nothing-to-do.
And while we can offer them many things in our patch of heaven, we have to understand that they need challenge, risk and change. They’re hard wired for it.
What we need to do as a community is find ways to challenge them, to give them acceptable risks to take so they don’t take stupid ones – like hitchhiking.
So hats off to the Summer Company program.
Thanks to the Government of Ontario, the Muskoka Small Business Centre is offering full-time students between the ages of 15 and 29 an opportunity to take a good risk. The young people can bring their business ideas to life with financial support of up to $3,000 from the provincial government, training and mentorship.
They are taking proposals right now from teens interested in putting their bravado to a better test.
So if there’s a teen or young adult in your life, understand that their brain is wired to test their boundaries, leave the comfortable nest you’ve built for them, spread their wings and fly. And if you don’t want them to crash in any of the many ways a young person can go wrong, you need to point them toward the kind of excitement and fear that will give them positive life experiences they can build on. Like the terrifying leap of starting a small business.
Wouldn’t you rather see them hang up a shingle than stick out a thumb?