Crawford Family standing together with their packs on on the AT


Stop Limiting Your Kids  

Empowerment Parenting Lessons from the Appalachian Trail


Living life to the fullest is different for everyone. For one father, it’s even a bit extreme.  

The story of Ben Crawford and his family’s journey of self-discovery spanned thousands of miles, thousands of challenges, and thousands of gummy bears.   

So, what’s it like spending more than 2,000 miles with your family in the wilderness? It’s filled with obstacles, pain points, trials, and tribulations. But most of all, plenty of life lessons.  

The following is adapted from his book, 2,000 Miles Together: The Story of the Largest Family to Hike the Appalachian Trail.





Ben Crawford climbing a ladder with his son in a backpack



Imagine a teacher told your child they were too dumb to read a certain book, or a coach told them they were too small and weak to ever play on the team. You’d be outraged, right? How dare someone tell your child what is and is not possible for them! 

Yet this is exactly what we do with our own kids in a thousand little ways:  

“Watch out!” 

“Be safe.” 

“Do this. Don’t do that.” 

We have good intentions with these warnings. We simply want what’s best for our children. But in this pursuit, we inadvertently set limits on them.  



Three women standing on top of a rock, facing away from the camera



In general, kids are capable of far more than you think. My wife, Kami, and I discovered this firsthand when we took our six kids on a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail (AT). In hiking a total of 2,189 miles together, we got a lot of blisters, ate a lot of gummy bears, and learned some of the benefits of empowerment as well as how to do it. 


Embrace Risk and Let Your Children Fail 

As parents, we’re taught that part of our duty is to minimize risk for our children. Some of this is innate, as it’s difficult to see your child get hurt or discouraged. And some of it is societal pressure, because we don’t want people to think we’re bad parents.  

If you want to empower your kids, though, you need to let them discover their own limits, and that means letting them take risks and fail. 

When Kami and I announced our plan to hike the AT, a lot of people told us not to do it. “The AT is no place for kids,” they said. They told us it would be too difficult physically, and there were too many dangers—everything from inclement weather to bears and snakes. 

There was some truth to the things they said. Hiking the AT was a risk, and anytime you take a risk, there’s a potential cost—namely, failure. 

But there’s also a cost to not taking risks. This cost can be harder to see, which makes it easy to ignore, but it’s often a far more damaging cost in the long run. When you don’t allow risks, you stunt your child’s growth. You prevent them from rising to their full potential, and you encourage the formation of harmful habits, like always staying in one’s comfort zone or not striving toward big goals for fear of failure.  



A kid in an orange jacket backpacking in the snow



Instead of hiking the AT, my family could’ve chosen the less risky option and stayed home. They would have risked little, and also gained little. Instead of having a life-changing experience that helped them grow and learn about their personal strength, they would have played video games and watched TV all day—activities that largely leave us unchanged. 

Ultimately, risk and failure are part of life. You’re not doing your children a favor by shielding them from these realities. You’re actively disempowering them. If you want them to succeed as adults, you must teach them how to manage risks and failures, not how to avoid them.  


Help Your Kids Find Purpose 

Few things are more empowering than having a purpose. It inspires us and makes us feel valuable. Kids crave purpose, just like adults. They want to contribute to their family, their community, and their world, but they don’t know how.  

Instead of helping them to contribute in a meaningful way, we dictate asinine chores. Make your bed. Take out the trash. Fold your clothes. Nothing about these tasks screams essential or valuable. 

Part of this is simply the nature of modern life, but subconsciously, we often deprive our children of the opportunity to have purpose because we don’t trust them with the important tasks. We don’t want to give them meaningful tasks that have a purpose, because we’re worried—or even assume—that they will do a bad job. It’s easier if we do it ourselves. 



Aerial shot of people laying on a beach



As an example, the first couple of weeks on the trail, I cooked all the meals myself. I didn’t want my sixteen-year-old messing with the stove and the boiling water. She could hurt herself, and if she spilled the pot, we’d lose our entire meal and have to go hungry. 

I told myself the stakes were too high, but really, my trust was too low.  

After the first couple of weeks, Kami and I were overwhelmed by trying to do all the “important” tasks ourselves, and we finally began to delegate. We let our sixteen-year-old cook our meals for the rest of the trip, and she absolutely killed it. 

All of our kids contributed. When we rolled into a campsite, they would start setting up the tent, fetching water, and gathering firewood. We didn’t have to badger them to do these things. They did them because they knew they needed to be done, and they could see the real-world value their actions had. 

What we found is, if you give your kids the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way, they will rise to the occasion. 


Let Go of Control 

A few weeks into our hike, we were already falling behind schedule, unable to meet our daily mileage goals. I was the one slowing us down, because I was carrying our two-year-old, Rainier. His pack, at forty-four pounds, was by far the heaviest pack we had. I was carrying him exclusively and losing weight like crazy—close to thirty pounds in the first five weeks. 

Finally, about five hundred miles into the hike, in Shenandoah National Park, our oldest asked me, “Can’t you go any faster?”  

“No, I’m carrying your brother. This is as fast as I can go,” I told her. “If you think it’s so easy, why don’t you do it?”  

It was meant to be a rhetorical question—a way of shutting down the conversation. My daughter took it as a challenge, though. “Fine,” she said. “I’ll do it.” 

Great, I thought, she’ll learn her lesson once she realizes how hard this is

It turns out I was the one who needed to learn a lesson. She carried Rainier for the rest of the afternoon without a single complaint, and she did it faster than I could have.  



Ben Crawford's daughter carrying her brother in a backpack on the AT



As parents, we establish a one-way power dynamic. We are the parent; we provide and care for our child. We give. We do not take. A relationship like that is largely about control: as long as you are the only one providing value, you’re in control. 

One of the most difficult parts about empowering your kids is that you must give up this control. You must let your kids have the power that you normally wield. I had a mindset of “I’m the strong dad. I’ll carry the heaviest pack. Stand back and let me save the day.” But by clinging to my own power, I was disempowering my kids.  

After that day, the oldest three kids and I started a rotation carrying Rainier. Our mileage jumped up immediately by 20 to 25 percent. That single change is what allowed us to finish our trip on time. 



Three backpackers walking through a field



Get Out of the Way 

To empower your kids, the best thing you can do is simply get out of the way and let your kids discover their power.  

Of course, this is easier said than done. As a parent, all sorts of fears, anxieties, annoyances, guilt, and discomfort will arise in your effort to get out of the way and empower your kids. But all those emotions are yours to deal with, not your kids. 



Little girl with a backpack that has shoes tied to the outside



Empowering your kids is difficult, but worth it. I’ve seen the effects in my own kids. Deep down, a lot of kids believe they can’t do things. Not my kids. Because I’ve let them take risks and make mistakes, they know their true limits. Because I’ve let them do meaningful tasks, they know that they can have an impact on the world. Because I’ve let go of control, they know they have power. 

And because of all that, I know that my kids are going to go on to accomplish things I could only dream of, and I can’t wait to be there cheering them on. Now, when people say the AT is no place for children, I think with pride, They haven’t met my kids.  


The Crawford family at the northern terminus of the AT



For more advice on empowering your kids, check out the book 2,000 Miles Together

Ben Crawford is an entrepreneur, author, and influencer who, along with his wife, Kami, and their six children, set the record in 2018 for the largest family and youngest female (7-year-old Filia Crawford) to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. His greatest goal is to discover the full potential of the human family, and to empower people to find freedom by questioning the status quo. Ben’s previous book, Unleash Your Family, details the Crawfords’ approach to turning the chaos of quarantine life into structured creativity. On his YouTube channel, Fight For Together, Ben aims to challenge existing perspectives on marriage, family, parenting, and self-awareness--through everything from running ultramarathons with young children, to experimenting with authority by living a year with no rules. The Crawfords live just outside Cincinnati, where they are currently planning their next adventure. 



Selfie of the Crawford family hiking along a road