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Teens Outdoors Tips

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.

A kid with a black shirt and backpack on holds a small brown lizard while outdoors. Teens outdoors.
Even surly 13-year-olds can turn into curious explorers out on a hike — here my nephew makes a new lizard friend.

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.

My oldest (Atticus) reading To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time while camping last fall. A special moment, made even better together as a family in the outdoors.

Tips for getting outside with tweens and tweens

Bring friends

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.

tweens outdoors with a snake
Bring friends, make friends with snakes… whatever it takes to stoke their enthusiasm!

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.

A kid with long hair stands on a paddle-board next to a river, with a tree-covered hill in the background.
Paddle-boarding has been a great activity to get my tweens motivated to go outside!

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.

Two kids sit in a wooden wind shelter playing a game.
Bringing a game (here, Sushi Go) is a great way to stave off sibling fights and boredom on a backpacking trip.

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.

A portable chess game (we have this one from REI) comes with us on most outings.

Incorporate tech into outside time

Walkie-talkies

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)!

Rocky Talkies are a great option for a way to keep connected with a tween or teen in the outdoors.

Fitness tracker

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.

E-Readers

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!

Both kids reading their Kindles while Dad cooks breakfast one morning while camping in a Swedish forest.

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.

A long-haired kid listens to headphones while at a camping outing.
It’s not an uncommon sight to see one of my tweens with headphones on at our campsite or on a hike. It fulfills their need for intellectual stimulation or entertainment, while allowing them to continue to participate in family outings.

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.

I insist on PFDs, even on calm open water and for my kids who are good swimmers. This is not always a popular demand with the pre-teens, but is important for my own enjoyment of our activity and their safety!

But beyond these safety necessities, I try to take a step back and let them test their boundaries.

A kid stands on a rock out on the water, it appears to be fall with leaves changing colors in the background. There are roots from a giant cypress tree in the foreground of the photo.
Letting older kids test boundaries is an important part of their outdoors exploration.

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.

As our kids get older, they start to explore more of their passions and interests as individual people, rather than in the family unit.

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.

Related Articles:

Teens Outdoors

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