Outdoor adventures with teens are worth the struggle

wilderness adventures for teens

3 Tips to get teens offline and outdoors even in a pandemic

OUTDOOR PARENT March 1, 2021 • Author: Andrea Koehle Jones

Uprooting your teens from their addictive electronic screens to do something physically demanding outdoors can be more hazardous than the great adventure you are attempting to launch. It’s a lot easier to get young kids engaged, they are usually still so enthusiastic and open to trying new things and they still think hanging out with Mom and Dad is fun. When it comes to teens, not so much. It may take a little more convincing and a bit of bribery.

You are competing with screen time or time they could be spending with their pals. While you can always invite their friends to come along, getting them de-screened takes courage which leads to tip one. On average, today’s kids spends up to 40 hours / week in front of a screen, and just minutes a day playing outdoors, and that was before the pandemic! Let’s get kids off-screen and on-trail!    

#1 Lead by example and get off your screens!

It’s really pretty simple, log out, power down and give your teens your full attention. Tell them about amazing adventures you had as a teen. When you set a good example by getting outside and participating in life they follow suit. They will never remember the time the spent on their screens but they will for sure remember the highlights and lowlights of their adventures. You can even spend some of that screen-free time brainstorming adventure ideas.

Our family embarked on a month-long environmental education sailing expedition to Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest. We sailed along the misty temperate rainforest along the Pacific coast of British Columbia plus our adventure included a side-trip to Alaska too.

The Great Bear Rainforest is part of the largest coastal temperate rainforest in the world, needless to say we were sailing into a very remote and sometimes dangerous region with hidden rocks, fierce tides, dangerous currents and fast-changing weather. Most days we were without cell service and didn’t see a single person.  

It was an amazing adventure but partly because we factored in 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 a stream in the Great Bear Rainforest which leads to the bears. Yup we saw bears. We even had one too-close encounter with a grizzly walking up a stream my son was fishing at! We stayed calm and remembered the bear encounter instructions we learned from other explorers we met earlier on the trip and we lived to tell. Which brings me back to back to “the best adventures have moments you will never forget.”

#2 Plan ahead to ensure a safe and fun adventure

Many teens can be anxious and are becoming more aware of danger.  Research ahead of time to identify hazards and reduce stress. Pack, prepare and plan accordingly. Have backup emergency plans too. Check weather reports and adjust plans if you could be forced to take unnecessary risks. Communicate your plans ahead so they can be prepared and sometimes offer suggestions. I know from experience that teens can be very frustrated by poor planning and lack of communication. Instill confidence in your teens that they are safe – and above all, KEEP THEM SAFE.

#3 When all else fails, bribe them with food

Growing teenagers are hungry a lot! They can also be VERY grumpy or down-right hangry if you haven’t packed snacks. Pack food teens like and more than you think they’ll eat. Some of our favorite snacks include dried apple and mango, banana chips, s’mores Bars, trail mix with smarties, c&c (crackers and cheese) with sundried tomato and homemade pineapple pizza bagels. Once you have returned to civilization, have an Après Adventure dinner to recount some of the best moments. Make sure to take everyone out to a restaurant with food your hungry teen will appreciate like 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 savy. They have hiked the rockies, coast and San Jacinto Mountains, skied everywhere, participated in children’s tree project 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. Eve but sometimes they get but my teens can get “Adventured-out.” That’s where they are at now in the months after The Great Bear Rainforest sailing expedition. Fair enough, I will just wait a while before I pitch the next great adventure.

These days many children have less time and fewer opportunities to connect with nature. This is a real loss because research shows that contact with nature makes kids feel better about themselves. Don’t wait too long or before you know it your teens will be off to college or on some adventure of their own.

In many places, children’s access to nature has been cut off. That’s why it is important to support accessible outdoor learning opportunities for kids everywhere.

Adventure is a state of mind and 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! 

Andrea Koehle Jones is the founder and executive director of The ChariTree Foundation, a national registered Canadian charity dedicated to supporting accessible environmental education programs for children and youth.