3 Tips to Get Teens Outdoors
Uprooting your teens from their addictive devices and getting them outdoors is a difficult prospect at best. Younger kids are easier to engage and are usually more enthusiastic and open to trying new things—they still think hanging out with Mom and Dad is cool! But when it comes to teens, not so much. It may take a little more convincing and perhaps a bit of bribery to get them moving.
The problem is, you’re not just competing with screen time but also the time they could be spending with their friends, and of course, they’re on their devices as well. On average, kids spend up to 40 hours/week in front of a screen, and just minutes a day playing outdoors—and that was before the pandemic! Being in nature can be healing, and help to ease childhood stress, so let's get kids off-screen, reconnected with nature, and back on the trail. Here are my top three tips to get teens offline and outdoors:
1. BE A TRAILBLAZER!
Lead by example and log out, power down, and give your teens your full attention. Tell them about the amazing adventures you had as a teen. When you set a good example by getting outside and participating in life, they’ll be more likely to follow suit. During your screen-free time, you can brainstorm some great adventure ideas for you and your family to go on together. They’re not likely to remember the time they spent on their devices during their childhood, but they will remember the highs and lows of these shared experiences.
Our family embarked on a month-long environmentally educational sailing expedition to Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest. Our trip took us along the shores of the misty, temperate rainforest on the coast of British Columbia. The Great Bear Rainforest is part of the largest coastal temperate rainforest in the world, where some parts are very remote and sometimes dangerous with hidden rocks, fierce tides, fast currents, and quickly changing weather. Most days we were without cell service and didn’t see a single other person. During the expedition, our boat unexpectedly required repairs and was side-lined for a week. This was the perfect opportunity to pivot and add an unplanned side trip; so, we jumped on a seaplane and ferry up to Alaska!
It was an amazing adventure overall, partly because we factored in the fact that my 15-year-old is into fly fishing and my 13-year-old loves bears. We planned opportunities to fly fish in The Tongass National Forest Lake outside Ketchikan, Alaska, as well as explore a stream in the Great Bear Rainforest, which leads to the bears. Yup, we saw bears alright! We even had one close encounter with a grizzly walking up the stream my son was fishing in! We remained calm and remembered the bear encounter instructions we had learned from other explorers we’d met along the way, and we lived to tell the tale. This reinforces my earlier point—the best adventures have moments you will never forget.
2. LIMIT ANXIETY—PLAN AHEAD
With the recent pandemic and climate change fuelled stress, teens are generally becoming more self-aware, and anxiety for them has soared to new heights. That’s why it’s so critical to research your adventure ahead of time to identify hazards to reduce potentially stressful situations—not just for them, but for you as well.
Pack, prepare and plan accordingly. Have backup emergency plans too! Check weather reports and adjust your plans to see if you could be forced to take unnecessary risks. I know from experience that teens can become very frustrated by poor planning and lack of communication. Let your kids know the plan ahead of time so they can be prepared for what’s to come and sometimes offer suggestions. It’s important to let your teens know that their safety is your main concern; this will give them confidence that you’re solidly prepared. And follow through: keep them safe.
3. TEEN-FRIENDLY FOOD!
Growing teenagers are always hungry. They can also be very grumpy or downright hangry if you haven’t packed enough snacks. Pack food that teens tend to like, and pack more than you think they’ll eat. Some of our favourite snacks include dried apple and mango, banana chips, apples, S’mores, trail mix with Smarties, crackers and cheese with sundried tomato, and homemade pineapple pizza bagels.
Once you’ve returned to civilization, have an “Après Adventure Dinner” to recount some of the best (and worst) moments, as well as articulate all the newly acquired life skills they’ve gained along the way. Make sure to take everyone out to a restaurant with food your hungry teens will appreciate. For mine, that included vegetable cheese pizza, fries, and ice cream banana splits.
I live by the Hellen Keller quote “Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.” That means my teens are fairly adventure savvy. They have hiked the Rockies, the coast, the San Jacinto Mountains, have skied everywhere, participated in children’s tree projects in a remote part of Zambia, lived on a mountain in the Kootenays for a year, participated in the world’s biggest climate march in Denmark, and so much more. Adventures don’t have to be weeks or months long, or require such resources. They are a state of mind—a short hike near your home can be an incredible adventure your family will never forget. The most important thing is to get outside, explore, and have fun!