Parenting Teens: Off the Couch and Into the Outdoors

fishing granby ranch coloradobraveskimom logoEveryone once in a while, my husband threatens to throw away the cellphone. Not his, of course, but our son’s iPhone. Watching our son lie on the couch and follow his friends and sports heroes on Twitter drives my husband crazy.

“Get up and do something,” he’ll suggest.

This doesn’t usually work. But when he says “Hey, let’s go mountain biking,” it’s amazing how quickly the phone issue goes away.

Make Time to Get Out

When our kids were little, we were always taking them places, organizing outdoor adventures and getting out of the house. It was the only way to stay sane. With older kids, who are much more independent, it’s easy for parents to fall into some bad habits.

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Our teens crave independence and are busy with school, sports, volunteering and jobs. Since they can mostly get themselves to and from their activities, its easy to assume that they can keep themselves busy and don’t need or want parental engagement.

But this is wrong. In our experience, our boys are much more likely to get out and about in the outdoors, if we’re there to help facilitate the adventure and make it happen. This doesn’t mean they want us to tag along every time, but it does mean that, as parents, they still have a lot to learn from us. They need some outdoor adventure guidance. And, sometimes this even includes parental companionship.

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Five “Get the Teens Outside” Tips for Parents

1. Lead By Example. Your teen is much more likely to get up and out the door with a friend or a parent. Don’t just suggest that your teen go for a bike ride. Go with them. And when they don’t want to go, go yourself, anyway.

Stay active and keep inviting your kids on adventures with you. Active parents will have more active teens.

2. Play a Supporting Role. If you don’t ride a bike, help your teen plan a bike ride with his or her friend and make it happen. As you know, all parents are busy, but if getting your teen out and about is a priority, a supportive and active parent can make all the difference.

3. Stick to Your Plans. Put something on a calendar and it’s more likely to happen. Plan an adventure with your teen. Make sure the family is committed to that date. Tell your kids, your spouse and your friends, “This is the day we’ve agreed upon.  Nothing’s gonna stand in our way.” Then make it happen.

mountain bike white rim

4. Leadership Training. Your teen probably has strong opinions about what he or she enjoys doing.  Enlist your teen in planning an adventure, whether for a day, a weekend or a week. Give your teen specific responsibilities and let them contribute to the success of the trip. If they’ve got ideas about where to go or what to do, jump all over that and follow their lead.

5.  Just Listen. Adults and teens often look at outdoor activity differently. Sometimes for adults, it’s all about exercise, goals and accomplishments. For most kids and teens, it’s about having fun.

In my experience, kids are more into the sights along the trail and the overall experience. They don’t care much about burning calories and they usually aren’t interested in “training.”

What they do enjoy is getting your attention, enjoying a shared experience and talking. Whether you’re on a bike, sitting ’round a campfire, or kayaking on a quiet lake, outdoor time is a perfect time for your teen to open up and share their dreams and concerns.

So don’t worry if you don’t get to the summit of the mountain or the end of the trail. Just enjoy the conversation and fun along the way.

A Few Ideas to Inspire You

No matter where you live, you can always find some way to get outdoors. Here are four ideas that currently strike my fancy.

1. Rafting.  I’ve yet to meet a teen who doesn’t love the thrills and spills of a raft trip. Find a river, choose an outfitter and get out there! With the guide in charge, there’s no worry and plenty of fun. Start with a few hours and maybe someday you’ll be running the Grand Canyon — together.

idaho rafting

2. Climbing. Climbing takes skills, knowledge and a good partner. So it can be a perfect activity for parents and teens to do together. Start with instruction at a climbing gym and you’ll be out on a crag before you know it.

3. Snowshoeing.  If you live somewhere snowy, try snowshoeing. Snowshoes are inexpensive to rent and it’s an easy sport to pick up.  You basically just strap the shoes on and go. Cross-country skiing is a bit more challenging, but the learning curve is still lower than downhill skiing. Take a lesson together!

4. Camping. Whether you go for tent camping or prefer a camper with solid walls,  camping provides a break in your normal routine. Depending upon where you are, you may have opportunities for hiking, boating, fishing and more. Visit a National Park, a state park or find a remote campsite in a forest. Unplug, slow down and tune into what makes your family special.

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Portions of this post originally published at Bon Bon Break on March 7, 2013.

© 2013 – 2014, Kristen Lummis. All rights reserved. Any use or publication of content, including photos, requires express permission.