How To Keep Teens Interested In Camping

I’ll never forget our camping trip several years ago to Hartwick Pines State Park in Grayling, Michigan. Actually, a better way to say it is my family will never let me forget that trip, for it was here that we coined the term “free information.”

Here’s the story: Among other amenities, including a superb logging 800px-Camping_Wildernessmuseum, Hartwick Pines State Park offers a leisurely hike through towering old growth pines. “What a great idea!” said me and the missus. “Shoot me now!” said the teenage daughter.

Disregarding her eye roll, we armed ourselves with a brochure and best intentions and set foot down the path. At various points along the way, a marked post directed us to the brochure where information about a particular aspect of the forest was detailed. I was the narrator. The daughter was the comic relief. Her brothers were her laugh track. For example, while I was reciting the DNR’s insightful information, my daughter was parroting a paraphrased synopsis, typically along the lines of, “Here we have a tree. It’s a tall tree. With branches.”

From that sitcom came the term: “free information.” Now, anywhere we go, if I think something might be interesting for all of us, more Hartwick Pines State Park (MI DNR photo)often than not I’m told it’s nothing more than “free information.”

We learned our lesson. What may sound interesting to me and the missus might not necessarily be as fun for a teenager. Since we have three teenagers now, there’s triple the potential for “dumb old dad and his free information.”

That said, here are four tips for keeping a teenager interested in camping. Or, at the very least, keeping the eye rolls to a minimum.

1. Don’t force the issue

As we all know, teenagers can be a fickle group. On the one hand, they know everything. On the other hand, they want you to do everything for them. And here’s “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” doesn’t tell you: when your precious little offspring becomes a teenager, you as parents suddenly are the most embarrassing people on the planet.

So, when camping, don’t think for a minute your teen will join the family in singing “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” around the campfire.

Here’s the thing: Don’t make them sing. Don’t make them do anything they don’t want to do. If they want to sit and do nothing while the rest of us are playing cornhole, then so be it. If they’d rather take a nap than take a hike, fine by me. Come to think of it, our kids silently have probably told us to take a hike – in so many words – many times.

There are two exceptions to letting your teen opt out:

  • Everyone in our family has to help unload and set up camp. No matter how much they sulk and sigh, nobody gets a pass on these tasks.
  • We won’t leave them alone at the campsite. If we’re gone, they’re coming with us.

2. Leave the electronics at home4212144_f520

We don’t allow the kids to use their iPods, computers, video games, or other electronics while we’re camping (they can use them while we’re driving to and from the destination, though). They can stare at a screen at home. When we’re camping, they need to put that way so they can truly enjoy all that camping has to offer.

That’s just us; you might feel different. But we have determined that when we go camping, we disconnect from the real world so we can reconnect with each other.

If our teen wants to sit out a game of Apples to Apples, then they had better have brought something to read. And if they didn’t, then go sulk somewhere else

3. Bring a friend, and a tent

For teens, it’s all about their friends and the social scene. Camping takes them away from that. But when they bring a friend, the social scene goes camping with them. Instead of texting their BFF, we encourage them to invite one friend to camp with us.

By the way, it’s typically never a problem for our children’s friends to go camping with us, as their parents are eager to enjoy a weekend without the teenage drama.

If you go this route, then it’s a must that they sleep in their own tent and not the RV. They’ll take advantage of the privacy of their tent, and you’ll appreciate the uninterrupted sleep in the RV.

4. Have them help plan the trip

Have them make some of the trip decisions, such as the destination, or the campground, or the activities, or the meals. Our sons might want pizza pies over the campfire; our daughter might Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping, Mackinac City, July 2013want hot dogs. That’s fine. If it makes her happy to go camping with us, that’s an easy compromise. Not to mention that means I get pizza pies AND hot dogs for dinner.

An even better example is if you let them help decide the destination. Offer this option and all of a sudden amusement parks, water parks and other places you might not have otherwise considered are suddenly in play. Word of warning: As parents you must maintain final say in the matter, otherwise you could be camping in Manhattan.

This concept, of course, is borrowed from the corporate world. On any group project, if your coworkers aren’t on board, then the project will fail. But the corporate example fails to take into account the volatile addition of a sulking teenager without their electronics.

So there you have it: Our 4 ways to keep teens interested in camping. Now, don’t be misled into thinking these tips will have your teeny-bopper all giddy with excitement every time you go camping, but they should make the experience more enjoyable for everyone.

Do you have tips? With teens, you can never have enough coping mechanisms.

See you next week,

Rick Kessler


Gr8LakesCamper celebrates the world of RV Camping in the Great Lakes region. Gather around the campfire and share tips, ideas and stories on RVing, camping and travel destinations. Follow Gr8LakesCamper on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and the Gr8LakesCamper blog.



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