Why Is No One Climbing Trees Anymore

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A big reason I decided to do this shoulder surgery has nothing to do with bike racing. It was that there are a lot of things to do in life that are impossible to do if you can’t lift your right arm above your shoulder. One of those is climbing trees.

The last time I saw anyone in a tree is three or four years ago in Lake Geneva, Wis., during Tour of America’s Dairyland. The kid looked just like me and my friends did when we were young. Skinny, as in concentration camp shinny, a little sunburned and barefoot.

I can’t decide why kids aren’t in trees now. They must have the same inquisitive nature and want to get up in them. I think it must be the parents that have decided that it is too dangerous. Maybe their parents didn’t climb trees?

I can’t say I’ve know anyone that has died from climbing trees. I’m not saying it can’t be dangerous. I fell out of trees multiple times. I’ve actually had organs removed because of it. And broken bones. But, I was the exception in my area. I can’t remember anyone else in my block every getting hurt falling out of a tree. Not hurt enough to go to the emergency room. And all of us climbed trees everyday pretty much.

This climbing tree thing is reflective in a lot of things our society has deemed unacceptable for our kids. Playing outside is nearly in that category now. It is some places. This generation of parents seem to think that our children are in more danger than the previous generation of parents. At least they are more attentive, which translates into more restrictive. I couldn’t tell you if that works. To me, as an outside observer, it seems like the kids are getting much less “kid experience”. Here is an article addressing our children not doing things.

Our adults are blaming video games, computers and fast food as the reasons that our children are fat. Maybe we should blame ourselved, the adults, for being so overly protective and selfish, that we don’t allow our children to learn about what is right and wrong, unmonitored by us, the adults. Some of the most important things that I learned didn’t come from an adult lecturing me about it. I learned it by personal experience, by myself or with a bunch of friends.

Maybe I’m just getting old, but on Easter Sunday, it was a delight seeing families outside, having picnics and playing outside games. It was probably more because it was close to 70 degrees, than because it was Easter, but whatever the reason, it was nice seeing people outside doing stuff. I hate to think that we need a religious holiday to encourage us all to do what we should be doing on our own.

Anyway, I plan to climb more trees this year when my shoulder get better. Barefoot.


18 thoughts on “Why Is No One Climbing Trees Anymore

  1. KU

    I’m 25 and quit playing video games when i was young because it kept me inside too long. Fluorescent lights give me migraines. Maybe I’m an anomaly.

  2. Bryan

    Great post. Growing up in the country taught me a lot about climbing trees. My folks even had hung a long rope from one of the trees. My best friend and I used to climb up there, haul the rope to the branch, wedge our foot into the know at the bottom, then step out swinging while holding on for dear life. Once the knot broke and I came down from that rope and hit the ground hard. Did that stop me? Heck no. I jumped up, tied a new, better knot, climbed up and went again.

  3. JW

    “Kids” apparently have moved on from trees to climbing ancient arch rock formations in national parks and swinging for dear life from the top. Videos are on YouTube of kids doing these daredevil stunts from national monuments with helmet cams. Climbing your tree would be perfectly legal, while I’m pretty sure what they are doing is not.

  4. Rad Renner

    I ask this question all the time. You just never see a kid in a tree anymore. When I was a kid, we would climb trees everyday. I even made a trip to my old house in Michigan to show my son one of the trees I used to climb. Strangely, the house was gone, but the tree was still there. Where are all the kids these days who should be playing outside and climbing trees? Where are all the kids who should be riding their bikes up and down the street? Are they all playing “organized” sports or inside playing Nintendo? I feel sorry for these kids today, they’re really missing out.

  5. Linda

    Funny, I was just noticing yesterday that our crabapple is a perfect tree for climbing. If I weren’t have back troubles right now, I would have just hopped on up, and I haven’t been in a tree for more than 40 years. Somehow it just looked like a really fun thing to do.

  6. 82medici

    My daughter practically lived at the top of the magnolia tree in our backyard for a couple of years. After we trimmed a couple of the lower branches, she build a sling that she tied to the tree to give herself the first step up. She could keep an eye on the entire neighborhood, and has the pictures to prove it. This is all the more amusing if you know how risk-averse my wife is, but she couldn’t keep the kid out of the tree. She is 16 now and climbs less often, but she is still up there occasionally.

  7. KRB

    And people line up to pay for “back to nature” workout programs that are little more than what we all did as kids.

  8. Vincent

    On the other hand you didn’t see the kids doing the crazy snowboarding, down hill biking or other crazy Red Bull type stuff. Seems we lost the middle.

  9. james stout

    I turned an ankle falling out of a tree about 8 months ago and got an almighty bollocking from my then team director . Obviously he made me race anyway and obviously i did better than if the tree incident had never happened

  10. The Cyclist

    Kids go to raves. If there’re trees they climb them. On xtc or acid. If not on drugs kids don’t do shit today. They just play video games till the next party.

  11. Bill K

    Not only trees, we had those “death dealing” Jungle Gyms that were placed into rock hard asphalt. If you slipped while at the top, you’d never do it again. When I was a kid, we didn’t have soft surfaces to fall on.

  12. Mike Rodose

    Waxing nostalgic!

    Paper route. 1977 to 1981. 4:45am. Delivered by bicycle with bag slung over front handlebars. By me. To your door. Paid 3 pennies per paper per day. Plus tips. 50 Daily Papers and 75 Sundays. Bike weighed more than I did.

    Dogs off leashes, Sears catalog, Toughskins, wrangler jeans, knee patches, tube socks, fibreflex, road rider 4s, Cutting through yards, Hide and seek, kick the can, capture the flag and the raw excitement of those night-time games in the neighborhood. Ball hockey, pond hockey, hoops, baseball, football, Evel Knievel, bike jumping, Wide World of sports, Breaking away.

  13. The Cyclist

    Me not grouchy. I love raves. And kids who go to raves. Techno prancing is an excellent complement to cycling. I only wish there were more raves when I was younger… 😉

  14. Rad Renner

    Don’t forget Stingrays with Cheetah Slicks, fixing your bike with Vise Grips and using your mom’s 3-in-One oil on your bike chain. Wheat germ, castor oil, fishsticks, meatloaf and Spam. Corduroys, cut-offs, hand-me-downs, tube-tops, canvas sneakers and drawing on your jeans with ballpoint pens. Roller skates in the streets with steel wheels, wearing your baseball hat all summer, riding to practice with your glove on the handlebars, and making forts in the woods. Muhammed Ali and Howard Cosell, the Baltimore Colts vs. the St. Louis Cardinals, the Wonderful World of Disney, and the Charlie Brow special. Fewer choices and more anticipation, more boredom and more excitement, waiting for things to happen and talking about them forever when they did. Kids in trees, all over the place.

  15. Joe_Beer

    My son started climbing trees as soon as he could walk. He was probably 5 years old when he climbed 25ft up into a holly tree that hung over our street,swaying on a 2in diameter branch, giggling and refusing to come down. He knew that up there he was on his terms, not ours. He’s 10 now and lead climbs 5.10 sport routes indoors and out, all on his own…my wife and I don’t climb, he just finds people to take him and ways to do it. He and his little brother climb our trees or up on our roof to stage battles or just to see off into the distance. When their friends come over to join them we’ll inevitably get curious questions from the parents and then the kids never seem to be allowed back over. I understand that we shouldn’t impart our values on other families, but they think nothing of allowing our kids to play video games on a sunny afternoon. What’s more dangerous? I don’t know if all hope is, or is not, lost. I still can’t say. But I know that most of the parents I interact with, particularly the moms, believe that nothing bad can happen if the kids are in front of a screen, safe and comfortable and within sight at all times. And I believe the opposite.

  16. Dina

    great post. There are hardly ever kids outside now. I do think a lot of it is our fault as parents. It’s much easier to have your kid playing a video game or an organized sport or a musical instrument than not knowing exactly what they are doing. Our oldest goes to a play-based pre-school which has a spectacular outdoor/wild space and allows kids loads of time outside with minimal (and pre-historic 🙂 playground equipment. Sadly the school regularly loses prospective customers (its a non profit) because people want reading and math results and lesson plans and brightly colored playgrounds/learning materials. Most folks don’t considering tree climbing and outdoor play as worthwhile experience. I also think our ‘be productive’ culture rarely allows kids (or adults) to be bored. There’d be more tree climbing and family time spent outside if we all would let ourselves be bored (do nothing) more often.


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