The lure of the world of technology in our modern world is strong, especially for kids.  So how, as well-meaning parents, do we successfully (and happily) tear our kids away from all that plugs-in and instill a LOVE of being outside (not just a “I will do it since you are making me.”)  How do we convince them that they WANT to set out for a 2, or 3 or 10 day trip with no attachments to their friends, computers, etc.? How do we make sure that outdoor, family time is something to look forward to as a kid?

The author as a teen and finally starting to love the outdoors. Backpacking the Chilkoot trail with family and friends.

No, I do not have teenagers (yet.)  However, I have been a teenager fighting my own nature-loving parents to get me away from everything.  I have worked extensively with teens (including at-risk) in recent years and I know that all those i-Things are almost literally appendages of their own bodies.  And my husband and I are constantly in conversation about how we will raise our children outside.

As a family, we believe that habits certainly start young and know that this time with our todder will (hopefully) kindle a lifelong love of nature.  But, all hope is not lost.  Kids of all ages watch their parents intently and base their own opinions on what they see, like it or not.

Only now am I finally coming to appreciate those weekends when my own parents dragged me and my brothers out to a remote cabin, took us on ski trips, and used chocolate to bribe us to the summit of Alaskan mountain trails.  Truth be told, as a younger kid, I was not too keen on any of it.  I fought it with passive aggressive moodiness and typical pre-teen stunts.  And yet, here I am, going back to my roots and loving the outdoors with a passion.

Kids and Electronics

So I bring here some tips I have seen work and some that I am putting to use in my own family:

–       First and foremost, join your children outside.  Don’t expect them to develop their own love of the outdoors without you as their model (however stumbling you may be!)

–       Set aside outdoor time and work hard to make it fun.  Plan a picnic hike in the mountains and bring a picnic lunch (and don’t forget to include some sweet for energy: cookies, granola bars, trail mix, or even a little candy for bribery.)

–       Give kids a camera to capture their own viewpoints.  In our digital world, they are cheap and worth the small investment (and don’t forget a case of some sort to make it last a little longer!)

–       Destination Adventure: Rent a cabin you can hike into, ski into a yurt, snowshoe into a lodge, etc.

–       Join other families with kids of similar ages.  Companies across the country are rising to the challenge of putting together outdoor family groups to help you find like-minded people.  Use technology and search facebook for groups in your area.  Stores like REI often do excursions that are great exposure!

–       Be consistent and be firm (in a fun and gentle way, of course) about getting outside.  Make a plan and stick with it.  Plan enough in advance so kids can be ready, and even invite other friends to join them.

–       Set a weekly time as a family that you unplug.  It could be an entire day (for us it is Sundays) or even just an evening or dinner time.  Make it clear that cell phones, ipods, etc. are not welcome on the trail (except maybe for an emergency call out) and then explain why: missing out on nature, safety reasons, taking some time for silence.

–       Sing, sing, sing.  However silly you ALL may feel – sing away!

 I would love to hear what other families have done to get their kids excited about the outdoors.  Do you bribe?  Do you plan special events?  What battles do you fight?  Do you unplug as an entire family?

The author hiking as a child (not shown is the chocolate that bribed her and her brothers to the top!)


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