Are children in rural areas happier?

Generally research states that people who live in urban areas are happier than those in rural areas.  Most indicators of health mirror this research; urban children generally have brighter health status than rural children. Unless the question of crime comes up, most indicators of happiness and health status are higher among urbanites.  That begs the question then:  if you have the choice, why raise kids in rural areas if the odds are that they are not as happy or healthy?

My friends and I, my husband and I have talked about this many times. We think it comes down to experiences.  It is true that my son does not have as many high quality sports programs to choose from as he would in the city.  His schooling options are certainly below standard of just about any city we would live in.  He even has less options when it comes to the sheer number of people he can choose to develop a peer group with.

But given these downsides, I beg you to find an urban area where a child can begin skiing at age five and grow up feeling like he has a mountain as his backyard.  My son knows his ski mountain, every run and bump in it.  He’s skiied it, biked it, hiked it and this summer he ran it.  Two weeks ago he ran it, a 10k over it.  He’s twelve.  I was feeling a bit nervous for him because he was the only person under the age of 23 signed up.  His comment for me was: “Mom, I know the mountain. I’m not scared. It’s easy.  I’m scared of middle school, but not the mountain.”   He ran up and over 11,500 feet.  For him, this mountain is his neighborhood.

I ask you to find a place where a child can experience the wide open spaces of wilderness and challenge himself intellectually and physically within the natural world.  He understands the practicality of fixing a car and building a treehouse.  He knows how to care for livestock and his dog.  He studies geometry and language arts, and his cross team runs national forest service trails after school.  He’s played championship chess with masters who seek solace in the mountains, and plays guitars with others who do the same.   If we were urbanites or suburbanites, lessons, I’m sure would be more regimented and would end with recitals.  Here, guitar recitals are around a evening fire singing with friends and food.  Certainly there is something to be gained from both approaches to learning.

My child faces a life that is not presented in manicured lawns and fenced in playgrounds.  There is not money for that in our schools.  Sometimes I feel bad for that, and I also am reminded that the real world can get pretty dirty too.  It is about struggling to understand your place in a harsh landscape, and diversity and disparity are the unspoken norm.  I hope that with my guidance he can grow to be a stronger more compassionate human being from learning to navigate the world from a real place. And that he can find beauty in real places because his place, rural places, are places of grand beauty where skies are open where he can run over mountains and mesas with no roads.

There is something to be said for research and statistics–and I cannot ignore the very real challenges that rural areas face because of the lack of resource parity in our country.  But I would hate to abandon the open spaces and the experiences to be found in open spaces and the small nooks and crannies found out here because of that research.  Kids need those spaces and those spaces need kids.

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