WHEN I was younger I was lucky enough to have a pony and spent my entire childhood loitering with mates at the stables, mucking around with four-legged friends.
Hours before (sometimes during) and after school we would gallop around the countryside, terrorising dog walkers and mowing down anything in our path.
But this fairy-tale lifestyle was not just about ponies and jodhpurs and posh friends called Pippa. It was largely about the fact that we disappeared off from dawn to dusk to explore the great outdoors on our own.
Armed only with our packed lunch – a sandwich, crisps and a chocolate biscuit(this was pre-Jamie Oliver), we were all freckled and sunburnt (pre-factor 50) and would spend hours roaming in adult-free bliss, (pre-health and safety).
As we got older we learned how to smoke (pre-smoking ban), swear, drink (pre-drink awareness campaigns) and snog boys. But probably the biggest “pre” of all – was this all happened pre-mobile phones.Apart from a few whispered jokes, all of our misdemeanours, shameful behaviour and embarrassing moments, went totally un-noted.
Sadly for teenage girls these days, growing up and making mistakes is a much more public affair. The most recent example of this is the case of Paris Brown, 17, who had to resign as Britain’s first youth crime commissioner, after being caught making offensive Twitter postings.
However, she is certainly not alone. Many teenage girls today are permanently locked into the virtual world of tweeting, Facebook and other social networking sites.
Embarrassing photographs are being posted on-line, shameful behaviour written about and misdemeanours flagged up and commented on by hundreds of their so-called “friends.”
Little wonder then, that last week, Girl Guiding in Scotland reported an increase in the number of girls signing up in a bid to get back to being just “girls” again. Analysing the increase, organisers cited a reaction against what has become known as the “Rihanna Effect.”
For those of you not in the know about such things, Rihanna is raunchy singer who is fairly, or maybe unfairly, blamed for the over-sexualisation of young teenagers. As a result, it appears that more children and teenagers, with perhaps just a little pressure from parents, are trying to find a more balanced attitude to life – by getting back to basics.
In a refreshing antidote to the crazy social-media fuelled celebrity culture, Girl Guiding sells itself as “providing opportunities for girls and young women to be challenged by new adventures and experiences and achieve a sense of pride in accomplishment.” All very wholesome stuff.
In addition to this growing mood, the National Trust launched a campaign last year to get kids away from the computer screen and into the great outdoors.
Compiling a list of 50 things to do before you are 12, the trust claimed that fewer than one in ten of today’s children has played in a wild place compared to half their parents’ generation.
With this in mind a group of us decided to take our kids on a gadget-free camping trip for one night only on a picturesque beach in East Lothian. Mobile phones, iPads, iPods and hair straighteners were out – and tents, sausages, marshmallows, footballs and fishing nets were in. As were, of course, a few bottles of wine for the adults.
In just one night we managed to strike off a whole dose of National Trust “things to do” list.
These included burying someone in the sand, watching the sun come up, lighting a fire without matches (I’m hoping a lighter counts), climbing a tree, skimming stones, hunting for treasure on a beach, swimming in the sea and checking out crazy creatures in a rock pool.
The added beauty for all of us, the teenagers in particular, was that no-one had a phone to snap some of the slightly dodgier moments; sea swimming in greying underwear, how hideous we all looked emerging from our tents the next morning, the amount of crisps and sweets we had munched, not to mention the pile of empty wine bottles. There was no tweeting, blogging, posting, phoning or face timing. So we all just got on with hanging out together in the great outdoors and having a fantastic time.
And best of all – it was totally free.