How to keep teenagers interested in the outdoors

A few times now, I’ve been asked how to keep kids interested in the outdoors as they age. “My kids are teenagers,” I’ve heard. “And I can’t get them away from their phones long enough to get them on the porch, let alone a hike!” “These are great ideas,” someone wrote, “but my kids only want to play video games.”

I’ve avoided this question pretty deliberately because, well. My kids are five and seven. They still like me. They actively seek time with me. They aren’t yet leaving the room as soon as I enter, sighing huffily when I speak to them, or avoiding every single activity I show a slight interest in. In other words: I have absolutely no right to give advice in this area.

However! Good news. I know people who have successfully transitioned their outdoorsy youngsters to outdoorsy teenagers, so I asked them how they did it. Here are some of their thoughts:

Let them bring a friend with them on a hike – they learn that hiking is a social thing.”
Take them places with their friends and drop them off! With snacks.”

I’ve noticed the power of bringing a friend along with younger kids, so it only makes sense that this would work for the teenagers of the world, too. If you start this trick early enough, you can get them in the habit of associating outdoor activities with hanging out. Another option? Many high schools in the state have an outing club. If you don’t think your teen is ready to be on their own, but they don’t want to go with you, either, this may be a good opportunity. Club advisors–who are doubtlessly much cooler than you if the memory of my own club is any indication–help plan trips that may be outside the scope of an individual teen.

Really, it’s about providing the critical ingredients–friends, opportunity, adventure–and then stepping away so they can experience it on their own terms.

“Encourage hobbies that involve the outdoors.”

One parent of a dedicated Inside Child decided to encourage her daughter’s interest in photography and bought her a camera. A camera, of course, requires subject matter and instantly hikes, snowshoeing, and other outdoor adventures took on a new, more interesting, less grumpy angle. Other cool and outdoorsy hobbies: kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding, trail running, or found-object or plein air art. I’ve even known more than one teenager who explored the art of taxidermy, but you’ll probably want to consider the family appetite for having random animal parts stashed around the house before you suggest that one.

We have taken them outdoors for adventures all the time since they were babies, and now they want it as much as we do.
I just didn’t give my kids much choice for awhile and they got used to it.”

You’re still the parent, right? You still have a certain amount of influence, right? Then make that family trip happen. In my family, we were forcibly removed to the woods every summer for a week or two where we bonded in an 24-foot Prowler camper. How about an extended stay at a fishing lodge or a multi-day hunting trip?  One family I know takes their teen girls sailing for two weeks every year–an idea that makes the Prowler seems downright luxurious. Sure, some of this may border on entrapment, but all in the name of family fun, right?

In all seriousness: don’t confuse outward complaining with their actual feelings. They do appreciate and value the time with you, deep down. Really, really,reeaaally deep down. They do. I did.

And finally…

Never, ever, discourage a child from getting muddy and dirty…no matter how young or how old….being covered in dirt makes for a good day whether you are five…or fifty-five…

Those are just good words to live by.

Do you have teens who love the outdoors? How did you manage the transition?

Cherie Galyean

About Cherie Galyean

In a perfect world, Cherie Galyean would spend hours every day chasing her kids up hiking trails, pretending to garden, and baking things. Instead, she works full-time in the non-profit sector and fits those other things in-between loads of laundry in her free time. A Maine native with multiple hometowns, she currently lives on Mount Desert Island with her husband, seven-year-old daughter, five-year-old son, and the best shelter mutt in the world.