Growing Up with “Captains Courageous”

Ask a sensible older person about the state of today’s children, and they would probably groan, roll their eyes, and bemoan how the current youth is wasted in selfish indulgence and expectation.

One might argue that kids have always acted thus, but I think it’s fair to say that the attitude is getting worse, not better. What are we to blame it on? Parents? Overprotective measures from all points of society? Entertainment? Overindulgence? Etc? Maybe it’s a mixture of these things, perhaps we’re degrading as a society.

Regardless of where we fall on this point, I dare say that we don’t push kids enough to experience things, to take ownership and responsibility for something. A great example of this is found in Rudyard Kipling’s classic Captains Courageous.

The story follows Harvey Cheyne Jr., son of a wealthy tycoon, who is washed overboard from his luxorious liner and rescued by uncouth fisherman. They don’t believe his claim to wealth and refuse to turn back at the start of their season just for him. After a temper-tantrum that doesn’t end well for poor Harvey, he becomes a temporary member of the crew, experiencing life, death, and hard work on the high seas.

Through the course of the novel, Harvey morphs from a selfish brat into a wiser young man. He comes of age and discovers his qualities and passions, befriending the misfit crew he’s reluctantly joined. You can’t repress a smile as you read; something feels right about Harvey’s experience, not necessarily in how he grows, but that he does indeed grow.

Children are stubborn. They want their own way and think they know best. I still remember my rebellious days of yore. When my parents signed me and my sister up for 4-H, I was loathe to comply. But I didn’t really have a choice. I can’t say that I fondly recall basket weaving or painting ceramic pumpkins, but I did get a great view of tractor pulls and demolition derbies at the county fair. While I may never force my kids to endure 4-H, I think it wise to force them to do something!

Left to their own devices, kids will watch TV, play video games, and gallavant about the safety of their neighborhood. These things aren’t bad taken in moderation. But a little forceful participation in other activities will do them good, too. Make them learn a skill, take responsibility for a project, or expand their knowledge. It takes a serious investment of time and energy from the parents’ part and I think the pay-off will be a great reward worthy of the sorrows it took to get there.

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