Most children have technology, school and extra-curricular activities covered.
It’s time to add a pinch of adventure, a sprinkle of sunshine and a big handful of outdoor play.”
– Penny Whitehouse – Mother, Environmental Educator, Zookeeper
As parents of teenagers, it can be hard to pry our children away from those pesky devices and their teenage schedules. Each time we mention the word hike (and we are a hiking family), we are met with resistance. Despite how challenging it can be to get out of the house, our children are remarkably happy once they are “out there.” We notice their steps become lighter and they quickly engage in meaningful conversations with us and each other. They still discover treasures on the trail and are now up for any kind of adventure.
We have learned to no longer ask, but rather remind our children how necessary nature is for their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. With that said, they know that we hike most weekends and they are permitted one “free pass” each month. Giving them some autonomy in the decision making process certainly helps.
If you too are struggling to get your teens outdoors, listed below you will find a few tips and tricks. We urge you, however, to not give up on the pursuit. Despite how difficult it may be to get your teens out the door, the magic that unfolds once outside will be worth your effort. Keep trying, keep exploring; the rewards are astonishing!
We usually check the weather forecast about mid-week and announce by Wednesday or Thursday where we will be hiking come Saturday or Sunday. By informing our children, there are no surprises and they know what to expect when the weekend arrives.
Bring the Fun!
Our children are much happier when they know a mountain inn, a playground, a rope park or an alpine lake is waiting for them. Now that our children are older, we hear a lot less trail complaining when the destination is a mountain inn that will welcome us for an overnight stay. Mountain inns are pretty incredible places, with bunk-bed rooms, new areas to explore, delicious food and often, spectacular views. Despite their young age, they appreciate the experience as much as we do.
Hand them a Camera!
Children adore cameras. Whether it be the sound of the button clicking or feeling like they are photo journalists, placing a camera in the hands of a child is an empowering. In our second book,
Fresh Air Kids - Hikes to Huts, we provide inspiration for three photo challenges that will keep children engaged and active on the trail.
Do not forget to download the photos your child has taken during your journey. This is a fascinating window into your child’s world and you will better understand how they see the world. It’s truly a beautiful thing!
Give Your Child a Job:
When our children need to feel more engaged in their surroundings or are having a particularly hard time on the trail, we always assign them a task. By allowing our children the opportunity to read a map, keep the time, or participate in a scavenger hunt, they become active participants, not just walkers. Their newly acquired task distracts their attention to focus on something with purpose. This is also a great opportunity to teach your children essential life skills such as how to read a map, how to read a trail marker, how to engage their senses by: listening, looking, touching and smelling their surroundings.
Bring a Friend:
Friends make life so very sweet and friends are everything to teens. If you are having difficulty getting your child outside, invite a friend or even a group of friends. Don’t forget to invite the parents who will benefit from the natural world just as much as the children. We are now in the habit of doing this often and even plan spontaneous trips with groups of friends.
Talk, Talk and Talk Some More:
Nature creates deep and meaningful bonds. I truly believe that we become less guarded in the natural world and are more apt to participate in important conversations.
In our overly stimulated world, it can be hard to engage in quality conversations without distractions, especially with our children. I have noticed that when we are hiking, beautiful conversations almost always unfold. This is your opportunity to foster strong bonds with your children. Use this time wisely and don’t be surprised if your child reaches for your hand or wraps their arms around you. Lean into these calls of affection. Physical connection is an indication that despite their age, children still crave connection.
If initiating conversation can be tricky, we include two pages of questions in each of our books. Some questions are fun, some require deep thought, while others encourage creative responses.
Install an App: Recommendation - Seek by iNaturalist
No doubt about it, we live in a high - tech world and our children are drawn to technology (much to my dismay). I often find myself cringing as my children stare at screens, but we are learning to strike a balance.
For an educational experience, consider installing an app that encourages your children to identify flowers, trees and insects native to your area. Whenever you come across a plant or insect that is new to you, simply snap a photo and within seconds, the app will identify what you have discovered. Children will quickly become enthusiastic about exploring with this new tool.
Expand this activity by drawing and labeling the plant, flower or insect you have identified in a nature journal. Next time you are out, bring the journal with you and see if you can find that same species.
Though getting outside with older children can be more challenging and does require more effort, we assure you, the extra energy is worth it! Nature provides solace in an overstimulated, scheduled world. The outdoors provide the space to move at a slower pace. Remember, the hardest part about spending time in nature, is getting out of the house, but we always feel so much better for having had some fresh air. Oh, and we never regret time spent together in the natural world.