by Traci Lehman
Like most outdoor activities, hiking offers limitless fun that can be tailored to all ages. From easy nature walks to tiring mountain climbs and challenging multi-day treks, hiking promotes fitness, entertainment and hands-on education to anyone who partakes, especially kids.
But for tweens and teens, however, the outdoors is less alluring than ever before. Whether due to lack of access to natural areas or too much technology, this group is increasingly less active than generations past, especially girls.
According to a 2013 report by the Outdoor Foundation, an Outdoor Industry Association non-profit organization that encourages future generations of outdoor enthusiasts, outdoor recreation among boys ages 13 to 17 has actually increased 3 percent in the last two years. Among girls the same age, however, participation is about 50 percent, the lowest rate since the first report in 2006. And overall, according to the study, the rates drop for both by ages 16 to 20.
Given the numerous benefits for tweens and teens getting outdoors, including developing self-esteem, teamwork and communication skills, says Peter O’Neil, executive director of Colorado Outward Bound School, it’s critical for adults to help reverse that trend.
They learn (these skills) by being in a really healthy environment disconnected from digital devices, O’Neil says. Even at very young ages, being outside the classroom creates a different, very positive energy where we see (youth) open to new ways of learning and interacting with one another. It’s more than just leaves and logs; it’s about life skills.
In this day in age, it is important to get kids off the couch, off their electronics and experience the great outdoors, says Carly Pridham, adapted physical education specialist at Berryessa Union School District in San Jose, Calif. Many teens I talk to haven’t been out of their county let alone the city they live in to see what our world is all about. Sometimes you just need to stop, get out of the house, find an activity that gets you moving and smell the flowers.
And since hiking is an easy activity requiring little more than comfortable shoes and water to get started, it’s a perfect way for caregivers to help kids get outside. Here are five great tips to inspire tweens and teens to hike:
Family and friends are big motivators for kids. Teens especially love hang time with friends, and hiking together is a great place to bond and have fun. Friendships are strengthened through shared experiences, and going on an adventure together is one of the best ways. Kids and parents can also share and grow from spending time with each other.
Get them involved in the planning and preparation
Many of us realize the journey can be more rewarding than the destination. So if you want to motivate teenagers to keep going, let them help you pick a fun destination can. The choices are unlimited, ranging from a waterfall to an amazing lookout or peak, or a pristine campsite for the night.
Look at maps and compare options together, calculating mileage and times. And ask the kids to plan activities playing games, singing songs, geocaching, for example so they’ll be engaged during the hike, or organize the hike as part of hunting for a geocache. Help them feel involved, and they are more likely to care.
Let them explore
Don’t rush the outing. Instead be flexible with time and be willing to adapt to the kids curiosity. Stop and study the scat you see, for instance, or identify edible and non-edible plants. Maybe even discuss the weather. Learning about our natural world is yet another way for kids to engage, so come prepared with kid-friendly discussion topics.
No matter the length of hike or age of the hikers, always bring food. Even if you ate just before leaving the trailhead, someone will be hungry about 15 minutes later. Plus eating on the trail can help boost energy level and mood.
Make it fun and pack a picnic to enjoy at your destination, allowing an extended rest to soak up the scenery before finishing the trip. Finger foods like seasonal fruit, nuts, cheeses and salami work well on the trail.
Encourage them to share THEIR story
Provide your youngster with tools to capture and record thoughts for reference later. Give them a notebook and pen to jot down stats, observations and feelings. Give them a camera to capture the world through their eyes. Applaud creativity and individuality, and they’ll enthusiastically jump at the chance. Discuss their findings and why it interests them, which is likely to encourage further participation in the great outdoors.
Traci Lehman is the Operations Director of Outdoor Families Magazine, publisher of WalkSimply.com, a blog to encourage everyone to go outdoors and view the world up close, and an IT analyst in the healthcare industry. She lives in Southern California with her family where she gets outside daily.