Hiking is one of our favorite family activities. While our skill levels don’t often mesh when we mountain bike or run, hiking is something everyone can do.
Here are some tips for getting and keeping your teens on the trail, adapted from an article I wrote for the Oboz Footwear Trail Tales blog in May.
When your children are babies, it’s easy to get family trail time. Pack some snacks and diapers, pop brimmed hats on everyone and pop the littlest member of the family into a backpack. Can you say nap time?
Toddlers are pretty easy, too, excited to ambulate under their own power and intrigued with every twig, rock and flower they find along the trail. Bribe them with apples and soon you’re at your destination (okay, so their little legs only went one mile – but that’s ONE MILE!)
And so it goes for outdoor families.
You start with baby in a backpack and before you know it, your grade school kids are racing enthusiastically up the trail.
The days rush by, the years roll on. Suddenly you have teenagers. Family outdoor fun can come to a screeching halt as your teens develop their own preferences, personalities and priorities.
But it doesn’t have, too.
It’s All About Adventure
Adventure means a lot to teens. Since adventure is relative, what you’re aiming for are activities and outings that are out of the ordinary. Detach the family from routine, offer everyone a new experience and you’ll find your teens more excited to spend time with you.
Explore new trails in familiar destinations, or strike out in an entirely new landscape. Target trails that offer something different, whether this means exploring an old mining town, relaxing by a high alpine lake, or appreciating the force of nature while scrambling over wind-shaped rocks.
Hike during your vacations when everyone has more time. Take advantage of unscheduled days in unknown places and explore.
Put Your Teens in Charge
Parents can be pushy, bossy and opinionated. So can teens. But unlike parents, teens need to build self-sufficiency. Let them pick trails and plan adventures. Be open to exploring new places and hiking at different paces.
Many adults hike for exercise. Not so, teens. Younger teens, especially, are captivated by diversions and detours. This doesn’t mean you turn a blind eye as they trample off trail or take risks climbing rocks. It’s important for you to model and teach excellent safety and trail skills.
But don’t stress if you don’t reach the end of the trail because your teens decided to toss rocks (or themselves) in a lake. They may almost look like adults, but they remain kids at heart.
Friends Can Make it More Fun
Most teens are social and peer-oriented. Take advantage of this predisposition to hang out with friends. Encourage your teens to invite friends on your family hikes. Offer to drive, loan gear and generally facilitate these expanded outings. The young adults will inspire one another; you’ll learn more about your children by watching them interact with their peers; and by introducing more kids to the great outdoors, you may change someone’s life for the better.
Don’t Discount Guilt and Obligation
Yes, it is clearly manipulative, but I’ll admit that I’m not above guilting my sons into doing what I want.
Several years ago, we started a mandatory Mother’s Day hike. There was some grumbling and a bit of rumbling, but because it was Mother’s Day, and I’m the Mother, my sons went along with the plan. Now they look forward to this Sunday hike. So much so that when I couldn’t go this year, thanks to a fever and a cold, their disappointment was greater than mine.
The Family Hiking Payoff
Because hiking generally takes you into the wilderness, or at least away from many civilized distractions, it’s a great time for everyone, mom, dad and offspring to disconnect and unplug. Teens get a bad rap for always being connected, but we adults are just as bad. Relish this uninterrupted time together.
We’ve found that nothing inspires conversation quite like physical activity. Start off in silence, enjoying the meditative rhythm of boots on the trail. Resist the urge to fill in the spaces. Don’t question your teens, wait for them to share with you. While I have no idea if this works with girls, physical activity and proximity work wonders with monosyllabic boys.
Best of all, any time you spend outdoors together helps build a family portfolio of shared memories, experiences and accomplishments. Even if you don’t take a single picture (because you turned off your phone!), you’re building family bonds.
Do you have tips for hiking with teens? What works for your family? Anything you’d like to share with other families who will be hitting the trails this summer? Thank you!
- Parenting Teens: Off the Couch and Into the Outdoors, July 8, 2013.
- Keep Family Hiking Fun, April 29, 2013.
- Hiking Colorado’s Western Slope, May 16, 2016.
- Costa Rica Rainforest Hiking: An Experience in Sight, Sound and Touch, July 21, 2014.
- Spring Escapes: Tropical Hiking on Maui, Snow-Filled Family Time at Alta, February 26, 2014.
- Climb High and Touch the Sky: Hiking Courthouse Mountain, September 15, 2011.
- Getting Outside: Family Hiking on The Colorado National Monument, June 23, 2011.
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