By Kimberly Duffy, Keystone Science School
From that experience we’ve seen the benefit of outdoor adventure for teens.
In case you need more reasons to send your teen outdoors for a memorable adventure, here are ten benefits of outdoor adventure for teens.
- Unplug – Isn’t this something we all need these days? In addition to smart phones and social media, teens need to be online to complete schoolwork. The good news is in the backcountry there is no Internet. It will all be there when they get back, but that break is important since half of teens admit to being addicted to their phone.
- Physical Activity – Despite some promising signs earlier this decade, trends on child and teen obesity continue to worsen. One of the groups with the greatest rate of increase is teen girls between 16-19.
The physical component of adventure activities improves cardiorespiratory fitness, builds strong bones and muscles, controls weight, and reduces the risk of developing some scary health conditions such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and even some forms of cancer.
- Mental Health Benefits – All sorts of research show that physical activity reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression. Additionally, there is some research specifically into the benefits of outdoor education and wilderness programs that showed an increase in self-efficacy, mindfulness, and subjective well-being.
- Play – Unfortunately in this era of tight school budgets “play time” is being taken out of school. We all know that recess is important in elementary school, but often play is overlooked, although just as necessary for teens.
Through play everyone from the youngest students to teens and adults develop creative thinking, problem solving, independence, and perseverance. Of special importance to teens, play feeds into their unique developmental needs for increased independence, creative expression, and ability to demonstrate competence.
- Transferable Skills – Sure, mastering whitewater paddling won’t help your daughter in the boardroom and just because your son is an awesome rock climber doesn’t mean his peers will see him as a leader. However, adventure activities such as whitewater rafting, rock climbing, and backpacking help teens develop skills including good communication skills, trust, leadership, and teamwork.
We have seen how working together for a common goal can be an opportunity for extreme growth in teens.
In our Mountain Adventure Camps at Keystone Science School, we have one teen each day be the team leader. For that day they are responsible for the map and compass and ensuring that the group is on course. They are also responsible for making dinner for the group. Often this group management is one of the first experiences teens have where their peers depend on them in such a genuine way.
- Out of Your Comfort Zone – When teens try new activities they learn about themselves. Often, we see this as a great way to build confidence and promote a positive attitude in the teens with whom we work. Additionally, sometimes it is the only way they dig deep enough to break free of negative thinking.
Each time you venture outside of your comfort zone it becomes that much less scary to do it the next time. With all the new experiences teens are going through and will face in their future, we consciously incorporate out of comfort zone experiences through adventure activities incorporating fun and new experiences.
- Appreciation of the Natural World – Getting out into nature inevitably inspires some level of concern and curiosity about the world around us. Every community has something that they need to exercise stewardship over. Here in Colorado, that resource is water. We think it’s important to raise today’s teen with an awareness that they will be the leaders of tomorrow. By having first hand experience with our natural treasures, teens understand why these resources must be managed and why they are worth caring about.
- Having Young Adult Role Models – As teens figure out who they want to be in the world, we have seen that young adult role models can be especially effective. Maybe it is the young professional at your local climbing gym with a healthy hobby, a rafting guide who is finishing a Master’s degree, or camp staff who are choosing to give back to campers and instill a love of the outdoors in the next generation. Teens learn through modeling and these people are modeling in a way that is likely to resonate with teens.
- Life Changing Experiences – Every camper that has done one of our Adventure Camps has been positively changed from the experience. As our Adventure Programs Lead Instructor says, “Twelve days in the backcountry with ten other people, you’re going to grow and change.”
One camper’s story especially stands out here at Keystone Science School.
This camper attended his first 12-day Adventure Camp with us and struggled since he was overweight and out of shape. He admitted that it was the hardest thing he had done in his life. However, he returned the following summer and in the meantime, had started training, going on hikes, and had gained a level of confidence in himself that he had not had when he first arrived.
It was so rewarding for us to see his growth and the person he was actively working to become.
- Establishing Healthy Lifetime Habits – Since teens experience so much flux in this season of their lives it is important that they start laying foundational habits that will assist them through the rest of their lives. All of the benefits listed here will serve them long beyond their teen years. Even if they choose to incorporate fewer adventure activities into their adult lives, they will know what it feels like to have physical activity in their life and that they can go outside of their comfort zone.
Bonus Benefit: Lifelong Friends – At Keystone Science School many of our former Mountain Adventure Camp participants reflect on their experience and new friends by saying, “When you ‘go’ together, you stay together.”
The Keystone Science School is a nonprofit educational center based in Colorado with a mission to change lives and strengthen communities through the lens of science. The Keystone Science School offers day and overnight camps for children and teens. For a list of available summer camps at the Keystone Science School, including Mountain Adventure Camps for Teens, please click here.
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