Camping trips are tons of fun for families and they also offer the opportunity to teach life lessons to teens. Important pieces to a teen's sense of self can be tested and strengthened be when a family is spending time together without a million distractions, like when they are camping. A sense of belonging, independent thinking and self-confidence can all be found by a teen that is on a family camping trip. Here are ten tips on how a parent can help their teen accomplish these tasks:
1.) Limit cell phone and electronics use. While it might be a nice thought to require your teen leave their cell phones and other electronic devices at home, that could cause some bad feelings right from the start of your trip. I suggest you talk to your teen about what 'family time' means in your family, reminding them that it is time together without the outside world creeping in. And then compromise on an allotted time for their cell phone or electronics use.
2.) Involve your teen in planning the trip. Teens will become more involved in a family trip when they are involved in making the decisions on the plans for the trip. First look for things that have yet to be decided on and then, offer your teen the choices so that they can make the decision. For instance, which campsite should you pick? You could ask your teen: Do you want our camp to be in the woods, near the shower house or by the brook? Asking your teen to make important choices shows them that you have confidence in their decisions which will help them make better choices when they are on their own.
3.) Make sure your teen has the right camping gear. All too often our children grow up faster than we realize. If you are a camping family, your teen has had gear since he was a child. So if you haven't already, it's time to replace the Scooby-Do backpack with some real backpacking equipment. It will help your teen feel grown up.
4.) Bring reading material and a deck of cards. Quiet activities like reading a book while snuggled in your sleeping bag adds to the relaxation component of a camping trip. Plus, a deck of playing cards doesn't take up much packing space in the car and brings in some friendly family competition for hours of fun - my family's current favorite card game is Phase 10. Our reigning champion is my husband, as he squashed our previous champion - my 10-year-old daughter - on our last camping trip to Mount Katahdin.
5.) Use the family camping trip to offer learning experiences to your teen about the world around them. Camping gives you the opportunity to teach your teen about plants and animals or green science. Pick up a book on green science, tree identification or birding at your library and try some of the activities suggested in it. Or find ideas using these resources:
- Ideas for Pollution and Green Chemistry Science Fair Projects
- Tree Identification Using a Tree Leaf Key
- National Audubon Society
- Bird Identification Tips
6.) Give your teen some alone time. Nature has a calming effect on people that causes us to look inside ourselves. Quiet time to think and experience the world around us offers benefits to our sense of self as it gives time for introspection.
7.) Do at least one thing that your teen has never done before. Camping trips can often be repeats of previous year trips - especially when your family enjoys going to a certain campground or area. Find something new to do - compass reading, scat identification, etc. - as learning new things helps boast confidence levels.
8.) Get your teen involved in the set up and take down of your camp. Giving your teen responsibilities during the trip will teach them new things like how to secure a tent and make them feel more independent. So, hand them the stakes and the mallet. Be available to answer questions, but avoid taking over the chore.
9.) Remind them to bring their camera, sketch pad or journal. If your teen enjoys taking pictures, drawing or journaling their experiences, you'll need to remind them to take their things along. Even if it is just to take a few snapshots to share with friends on their social network. Digital camera, art or writing supplies are a fun and useful toy for teens to take on your family camping trip.
10.) Enjoy being together with your family and make some memories - your teen will too. There are a lot less distractions for teenagers - and parents - when you are camping. Sitting around a camp fire, hiking on a trail is 'together time'. When our family hikes, my husband will often break out into song, usually the theme from Love Boat. My kids will jokingly moan and thank heaven that there is no one there to hear him. In order to tune him out, my teenage daughter will begin singing one of her favorites from today's Top 40 and my husband and I will moan. We all laugh - together. These types of moments will strengthen your teen's sense of belonging… and you will be able to cherish them forever.