Teens Outdoors: Tips for Getting them Out
We here at TMM know how important the outdoors is for our little kids (and for ourselves)! But we don’t talk as much about the importance of time spent outside for kids as they grow into young adulthood. With little to no recess during the school day and new stressors like academics and socializing, adolescence is perhaps one of the most important periods in a kids’ life to get them outside.
We know since the start of the pandemic, mental health concerns in our younger population are more present than ever. Getting your tweens and teens outside—while not a panacea or a replacement for competent, professional mental healthcare—can be a way to alleviate mild ennui in our older kids. Giving them outdoors adventures can also help them focus in school, gain confidence, and make friends.
Teens Outside: Handling reluctant teens
In today’s world, the outdoors might not seem fast-paced or exciting enough to keep the attention of the social media and gaming generation. Going camping with your family might be among the least attractive recreational options for older tweens and teens.
However, we have found some things that work for our own kids and can offer a few tips to get teens outside and enjoying the outdoors, even if they are initially reluctant to the idea of going on family outings.
Tips for getting outside with tweens and tweens
As kids get older, it’s developmentally appropriate for them to crave more time with peers and less time with their parents and siblings. Bringing along a friend or adventuring with other families with similarly-aged children can make a huge difference in your tween/teen’s enthusiasm and enjoyment of the outdoor activity.
We have started camping almost solely with other families who have kids to keep ours entertained, and it’s been transformative for their enthusiasm and willingness to keep participating in family time.
Choose activities they enjoy
My oldest son is my most reluctant outdoors kid. He is a computer-obsessed Minecraft champion, and he derives a lot of his pleasure and makes most of his social connections in an online world rather than the real world.
This has been a huge struggle for me, but I have tried to relax and embrace his passions while he has adapted to going on adventures with us that he sometimes he doesn’t particularly like.
What I have found though helps too is to find things we can do together that he does like. He doesn’t love hiking or backpacking, but he does enjoy paddle-boarding and biking, so I try to incorporate those activities as often as possible to get him interested and happy.
If your kid doesn’t seem enthusiastic about going outdoors and doing the activities you are choosing, it could help to offer alternatives that get them outside and spending time with family and friends.
Let them plan the itinerary
Along with choosing activities they enjoy, you can also involve them with planning the itinerary. Download apps that track trails and distance (we use AllTrails, but there are a number of different ones), and let them choose routes or spots to explore.
Getting them more invested in the outing or letting them take the lead on planning and guiding could help even a hesitant kid to not only enjoy the time spent outdoors but gain more confidence in the outdoors than if they were simply along for the ride.
Bring books and games
When my kids were toddlers and preschoolers, everything was a toy. They made elaborate stick and leaf homes for their acorn families, collected stones they considered the most beautiful, and had an interminable ability to splash and play in even the smallest body of water.
However, as their brains and bodies have developed, they crave more complex games or activities even when we are outdoors. To satiate these cravings, we bring portable games with us while camping or spending a lengthy period of time outdoors. Chess is a favorite for my nearly-13-year-old son, and my tween daughter likes to play Sushi Go and Spot It with her younger sister and friends.
Incorporate tech into outside time
My kids have so much fun with these, plus as an added bonus you get to keep in touch with them and make sure they are doing ok! We have these Motorola ones, but other team members swear by Rocky Talkies for backcountry skiing and other adventures (see our full Rocky Talkie review here)!
Who doesn’t love seeing the stats of their active time outdoors? Activity/fitness trackers are a great way to get older kids motivated to move their bodies and go on an adventure.
My older kids are avid readers, so we have had many sad moments with damaged (or forgotten!) library books in the outdoors. A couple of years ago, we passed down to them our old Kindles when we upgraded, and it’s been amazing to see just how much they read now when we are out. Bonus, some Kindles (like the Paperwhite Kids) are waterproof and have a longer warranty period, so taking them outside is a lot less stressful!
Podcasts, audiobooks, and music
This one has been huge for my kids, especially on longer hikes and backpacking trips. We download audiobooks from our public library and playlists of their favorite music from Spotify. We don’t have special devices for them, they just use our old phones with no cell service (which is why they have to be downloaded beforehand!)
Letting them listen to pass the time when things get “boring” on a long hike can shift the entire experience for the whole family from one of drudgery to one of excitement.
Let them take (reasonable) risks
As kids get older and into the teenage years, their brains crave new, risky situations. One important key to keeping them safe is facilitating risky play and adventure while giving them important safety knowledge and tools.
I am a bit more anxious than many other outdoors parents, but I am learning to let go and trust my kids that they know their boundaries. I do, however, insist on safety equipment still, even though they are getting older and may think they are invincible. Helmets are a must when biking, PFDs (personal flotation devices, or life jackets) in wild water (even for good swimmers!), and communication devices when in the backcountry.
But beyond these safety necessities, I try to take a step back and let them test their boundaries.
It’s ok to go without them sometimes too
Where it’s safe and your kid is developmentally ready to be home alone for hours at a time, leaving them home alone may mean you get the outdoor exploration you crave with your partner and younger kids, while giving your teen some independence and solo time.
I’ve found that forcing a truly reluctant tween or teen can make for a rotten day in the outdoors, and so I’ve been trying to balance both leaving him alone sometimes to do his own thing and encouraging him to come with us on outdoor adventures. I find that when I give him the choice, he will actually choose more often than not to come!
Encouraging your teen to get outside
The adolescent years can be some of the most challenging and the most rewarding. Teenagers especially have so much interesting growth and development happening in their brains and bodies, and channeling that intense energy into productive venues can be difficult and frustrating.
While they can occasionally have sassy attitudes or be reluctant to hang out with their parents in the outdoors, they can also be the most fun hiking or paddling buddies too! As they get older, they can hike farther, carry more, and help pack in a way they could not as little ones tagging along. Learning to embrace the challenges along with the new skills can help parents go on even more adventures with their budding adults.
I think it’s also important to keep in mind that we all go through seasons of our lives that look different both from previous or future years, and different from those of other families. When my kids were little, and they were home with me or their dad in the early years, we were able to have near-daily low-key, nowhere-to-be time to explore and be outside.
Now that they are getting older, they have school, after-school activities and sports, and friends they want to hang out with. We have to be much more intentional with scheduling time together in the outdoors, when it was previously simply part of our everyday lives.
I vacillate between feeling guilty about how little time we get outdoors compared to those younger years, and proud that we were able to set that foundation of comfort and knowledge about being in the outdoors that I hope they will carry on with them even as they transition into adult life.
- Exploring National Parks with Teenagers
- Outdoor Gifts for Tweens and Teens
- Best Tips to Get Kids to Wear Life Jackets
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