Growing Up Conquering the Outdoors - Paddleboards with kids

City kid, Aayanna S. (16), finds peace and comfort in the outdoors

Growing Up Conquering the Outdoors
Posted 05/19/2022 by Aayanna S. in Youth Voice, Partner News


I would call myself a city kid. 

I live in Boston and have been coming to my Teen Center at Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston every day since the summer of 2017.

Living in a city, it can feel so crowded and loud. Social media, your phones, all the technology. Everyone is so connected, but it can be overwhelming at times, and it’s so easy to forget that you can put all of that down and just go outside. The outdoors can do so much for your mental health and wellbeing. You just have to remind yourself to get up and get out there. 

Mental health benefits of spending time in nature

For me, I’m constantly overthinking everything. That’s where my stress comes from – it’s in my brain. It almost feels like bottled-up anger. 

And as time goes on, if you don’t address it, something might accidentally trigger your stress and it’ll just flow out of you without warning. When that happens, the words you’ve been wanting to say may not come out the way you would have wanted them to, and you might hurt someone in the process. 

But once you’re outside, it’s a whole different feeling. You could be by yourself or with your friends just having fun and you don’t even notice that your stress went away.

When I was younger, I would play outside all the time. But as I got older, I went outside less and less. Probably because of technology. But this past summer taught me to cherish the outdoors. 

Getting outside – and out of my comfort zone

Last summer, our Mattapan Teen Center got to participate in L.L.Bean’s Outdoor Discovery Program. I got to try so many new activities I hadn’t done before. 

I tried paddleboarding, even though I was scared at first. Kayaking was actually my favorite, but I was scared of that too. That’s a common theme – I’m scared of something, but I try it anyway, and I usually like it! Like camping, for example. When I went camping for the first time, I was so scared to sleep outside in the dark, but I truly enjoyed spending time listening to the sounds of nature instead of the sounds of traffic in the city. 

Kayaking was a big step outside of my comfort zone. For starters, I hate getting wet. In order to kayak, you have to really focus on your balance and on the water. 

The more I kept focusing on paddling and balancing, the less I found myself thinking about my fears. Being on the water, surrounded by my friends, taking in everything around me – it was so peaceful. That’s really the only way to describe it. Peace. 

A safe place to be yourself

The hardest part about growing up today is all the judgement. It feels like everyone is so opinionated and judgmental these days. 

No matter what you do, or how hard you try, it seems like someone is going to find a way to hate on it. It’s also much harder for kids to be themselves and still feel like they fit in. You’re stuck feeling like you don’t fit a certain requirement or social standard. 

I try to force myself out of that headspace because I never want to start acting like someone else and lose sight of who I am. 

It's not like I lack confidence. I love who I am. I guess it’s more about coming to terms with the fact that not everyone you come across will want to be your friend. But that doesn’t mean you should change yourself. You should be yourself and find people who like you exactly for who you are.

I’ve found those people at my Club, where I’ve made many of my closest friends and where Club staff are mentors who cheer me on. Where my friends and I play four square outside all the time, and where I’m going to have to do a lot more practicing at ping-pong to get as good as our Club Director, Rick.

At my Club, I’m also building skills and exploring what I want to do one day – I’m super interested in psychology. When I grow up, I either want to be a clinical psychologist or a marriage counselor. I love helping people and being able to give people advice, especially about how to fix their relationships. It has a lot to do with teaching them ways to manage stress, communication skills, trust and overcoming fears. 

And as my summer of outdoor adventuring taught me, I overcome my fears a lot.

Cherishing the outdoors as a city kid

Being on the water, in that kayak, reminded me how much I loved playing outside growing up and I want to be mindful of doing that more often. 

Now that I’ve tried paddleboarding and kayaking, canoeing is next on my list. It’s about trying different boat structures and paddles. Speaking of boats, the top item on my outdoor wish list is to get on a boat in the ocean and catch five fish! 

I’ve gone fishing with my dad before, but once again… I was scared! Especially when I thought about having to touch the fish. So of course, I barely caught anything that time. Well… I think I accidentally caught a small shark and you’re not supposed to do that.

My advice for all the city kids who want to explore the outdoors like me is to just get out there and do it! You might have to leave your comfort zone, but you can start by doing something close to you first. Try finding somewhere nearby where you can get into the water or go on a hike. Even just finding a park and exploring it without being on your phone. 

You’ll see that there is so much to learn when you are outside. It’s important to connect with nature and find your calm, especially when you live in a city.

Learn more about Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s partnership with L.L.Bean. Through L.L.Bean’s support, BGCA will launch the first ever Outdoor Social Recreation Playbook to 4,400 Boys & Girls Clubs across the country this summer. The Playbook is designed to help Club professionals create an Outcome-Driven Club Experience for youth and will help staff create great experiences for youth outdoors.

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