Wanting to give camping a try, but not sure how to convince your (sometimes surly) teen that it will be a fun time? As the mom of a teen and a pre-teen, I get it. In a time when kids are virtually plugged in almost nonstop, it can be tough to convince them that unplugging – and hanging out in the woods – could be even remotely fun. But my teenager (Rowen, 14) and I are here to share 9 tips to help your teenager enjoy camping. And hopefully, make it a pastime they continue to enjoy for the rest of their life.
“Back in my Day…”
When I was a kid, I never imagined that one day I’d look back at my childhood and be shocked by how vastly different it was from the lives my own kids are living.
But here we are.
You see, I spent the better part of my childhood living three miles up a dirt road, on the side of a mountain, in Vermont. While I’m sure the internet existed somewhere, it certainly hadn’t made it’s way to family homes yet. We didn’t even own a computer. In the summer, our TV received four channels. In the winter, we were limited to whatever station the rotating antenna on the roof froze on. And believe me, it was always a scramble to decide which one to leave it on before the first heavy frost.
Needless to say, we spent a TON of time outdoors as kids. (And thank goodness there were no cellphones around to document our shenanigans, and no social media to post it on, but I digress).
Therefore, camping trips were just a natural extension of what we already did in our free time: playing outside. But kids in the 21st century have absolutely no shortage of things to keep them entertained indoors. From hundreds of channels on cable TV, to streaming movie apps, to video games, and let’s not forget social media. Kids are seemingly connected to their friends, peers, and the outside world 24/7 via some sort of “device”. Therefore asking them to unplug from their world and join the family for a camping trip might be received with little enthusiasm.
But not all hope is lost…
Tips to Help Your Teenager Enjoy Camping in the 21st Century
In my mind, I often still feel like a kid. Alas, like it or not, I’ve achieved “lame mom” status at 38 years old. Let’s be honest: I’d be foolish to pretend to write a post about what teens “these days” enjoy. (Just typing that makes me feel old, haha).
So instead, I sat down with my 14 year and asked him what sort of things parents could do to help their teenager enjoy camping. He came up with all ten of these suggestions on his own – I just filled in the blanks with a bunch of words to create a somewhat coherent post. Please enjoy.
Let your Teens Help Plan the Trip
Include your teens in the planning phase of your camping trip. Where to go, what site to pick, etc. Ask them for their opinions, and truly listen to what they have to say. For example: the idea of an isolated, no-other-campers-around-for-miles sort of trip may sound relaxing to you, but a nightmare to your kid. Instead, they may prefer a more family friendly campground, with more amenities available.
Recently, we asked Rowen to research and choose which South Carolina State Park he’d like to visit next. He googled his way through hundreds of pictures until he found a waterfall that sparked his interest. And thus, planned our next trip for us (stay tuned on that one). It was awesome seeing his eyes light up when he presented the reasons why this should be our next camping trip.
Ultimately you have the final say in where you go and when. But including your teenager in making decisions might help them get more excited for the camping trip, rather than dreading being “dragged along” on another vacation.
“Bring Food, so they aren’t Hangry!”
This is a direct quote from my teen. And frankly, I’ve got to agree with him here. Bring plenty of food for your teenager to eat during the camping trip. Nothing makes a growing kid “hangry” (a combination of hungry and angry) quite like not having enough to snack on.
But, also according to my teen: “make sure you put the food away somewhere safe when you are done eating so bears and squirrels and stuff don’t crawl in your tent.” Sage advice.
Let Your Teens be in Charge of Their Own Gear
Giving your teens some personal responsibility for their portion of the camping trip might make it more exciting for them. Our kids (12 & 14) have their own tent that they are responsible for setting up. It’s something fun that they laugh about as they fumble with the tent poles, but take pride in when they see the finished product. The same goes for their sleeping bags, camp lights, and of course, arranging their personal belongings inside of the tent.
Moms and Dads (or other adults): resist the urge to control or micromanage (unless, of course, there is a potential dangerous situation).
These tasks not only keep your teen busy, but leave them feeling that they are a part of the adventure, rather than just being dragged along. Plus, it teaches them life long skills. I’ve met far too many grown adults who have ZERO idea of how to assemble a tent!
Create Camping Specific Traditions
Create fun memories that your teen will associate with camping, and look forward to during the next trip.
- Cooking s’mores
- Taking turns building the campfire
- Card games or lawn games (Here’s a referral link to one of our camping favorites)
- Specific, fun meals that you only make while camping
- Stories around the fire
The possibilities here are endless. While your teen may outwardly pretend some of these things are “lame”, they’ll likely begin to look forward to them. And if nothing else, they’ll be fond memories they look back on later down the road. Like how my mom used to almost always inadvertently catch her sneakers on fire by resting them on the fire ring for too long.
“Make Them Do Stuff Even if They Don’t Want To.”
Another direct quote from my teenage co-author: “make them do stuff, even if they don’t want to”. If your teens are anything like mine, they never want to do the things I suggest. A trip to the beach? Ugh, boring. Hiking? It’s too hot. Bike ride? Come on mom, I’m in the middle of a game!
Almost every fun idea I come up with is met with a grumble…at first.
But I drag them out anyway, and 99% of the time, they have a blast. Better yet, they thank me for it afterwards. Which is likely why my teenager made this helpful suggestion in the first place…he’s catching on to my antics.
…but Don’t Force It.
Alternatively, don’t force your teenager to do something they absolutely do NOT want to do on your camping trip. For example, if your kid is terrified of the idea of getting in a kayak – don’t push it. It’s important that your teens have autonomy and the ability to express when things make them uncomfortable.
Give Your Teens Some Freedom
One of my favorite things about camping and being in nature is the solitude it provides. I feel more grounded when I’m able to wander a trail by myself, or simply lay in a hammock with nothing else to do and no one to disturb me.
Believe it or not: your teenager may enjoy the same, and may develop a lifelong love for the great outdoors while doing so. Not to mention, they sometimes just need to “get away” from their parents and/or siblings for a bit.
Of course, this suggestion will vary based on a number of factors, including the safety of your location, and your trust level in your teen. But if possible: give your teenager some freedom to roam about or some alone time. Let them wander the campground and explore solo. Give them alone time in the hammock or lounging lakeside.
Set Electronic Expectations
We all know that teenagers and technology go hand in hand. So, in order to avoid any disappointment, set very clear expectations about electronics on your camping trip. This includes:
- Making sure your teen understands there may not be reliable cell phone service.
- Making sure your teen understands there may not be electricity.
- Setting any time limits for being on devices.
By being upfront with electronic expectations, you (hopefully) won’t encounter a grumpy teen whose battery died, or one who is devastated they can’t face-time with their friend.
Indulge in their Interests
Lean into their specific interests during your camping trip. Does your teen enjoy history? Take the time to learn about any historical events that may have happened near where you are camping.
How about science? Learn about the local flora, fauna, and ecosystem of the area you are camping in.
Maybe your teen loves to be active – take them kayaking, or hiking. Do they love photography? Encourage them – or better yet, join them – for a sunrise/sunset photoshoot.
You get the idea.
Bring a Friend – or Camp with Friends
Teenagers are social creatures. So, if you’re up for it, offer to let them bring a friend. Or, if you have family friends with teenagers, plan a trip together so your teenager has someone to socialize with.
Teens are unpredictable creatures. I know, I used to be one. So these tips are certainly not guaranteed to make you teenager enjoy camping. But Rowen and I certainly hope it helps.