Balancing my love of the outdoors with my children’s need for independence
Spending time together in nature is one of my family’s favorite weekend past times. Or, at least, it used to be.
Fourteen years ago, shortly after our daughter, Anna, was born, my Czech husband and I spent 12 weeks traveling in a van through the US, Canada, and Baja Mexico with 7-month Anna in tow.
In South Dakota’s Badlands, Anna’s knee dimples earned her the Lakota Indian nickname, “chuppa” for “chubby.” Fellow hikers stopped us in Utah’s Bryce Canyon to comment on our baby’s wide grin. On the Baja peninsula, Anna splashed in the sea and paddled in a kayak.
Over the months, Anna progressed from riding in a Baby Bjorn front carrier to a Kelty backpack. She ate outdoors, napped outdoors, and sampled all the pinecones, sand dunes, and pebbles she could reach. She learned to crawl in a campground and slept snuggled in her father’s sleeping bag.
Hiking with a baby, Radek and I became adept at singing songs, taking frequent stretch breaks, and carrying snacks. We drank cold beers by the campfire and talked about the outdoor adventures we’d have as new parents.
Back in the Czech Republic, two years later, our son Oliver enjoyed his first camping experience in Český ráj (Bohemian Paradise). He was four weeks old. When Samuel joined our clan three years later, he jumped into our active family, learning to ski, swim, and hike to keep up with his siblings.
Reading about the increasing popularity of the Hike It Baby movement (a grass roots community founded in Portland, Oregon in 2013 and dedicated to getting families with young children outside), I am nostalgic for the good, old days.
When my children were younger, hiking was simple. Sure, we had extra things to pack (milk, diapers, changes of clothes), naptimes to work around, and the occasional temper tantrum to defuse. But, my kids never seemed happier than when they were traipsing through the woods, stick in hand.
Now, that they are almost teenagers, it’s not as easy.
The majority of our weekends still include hiking, biking, skiing, or camping within a two-to-three-hour radius of our home near Prague, CZ. If anything, our trips have gotten more ambitious (both in terms of length and difficulty), now that our two oldest have legs almost as long as mine.
These days, however, there’s a lot more grumbling before we start.
Why does #hikeitbaby seem more doable than getting my tweens (aged 14, 11, 8) happily on the trail?
For starters, there is the issue of choice. When my children were younger, Radek and I planned our weekends and leisure time start-to-finish.
Now, (surprise, surprise) my kids want their own say.
A few of their reasons for not wanting to spend Saturday walking through the forest, range from eight-year-old Sam’s “Hiking is boring. All you do is walk and walk” to almost-14-year-old Anna’s, “I have 3 tests on Monday, and I need time to study.”
We also hear, “My legs hurt from baseball, do I really have to hike?” And, “You said I could play on the tablet on the weekend, why can’t I do it now?” My favorite, “Walking? Today? Again? Are you kidding?”
The notion of spending the day (or an entire weekend) trudging up a mountain behind Mom and Dad doesn’t suit my children one bit. Listening to their complaints doesn’t put a smile on my face either.
How do you convince older children that they want to spend their weekend exploring nature on foot?
(You don’t. They have to convince themselves.)
However, if you want to increase the chances of having happy teen-hikers, here are a few techniques that work for my family.
Tips for Hiking with Tweens
Let them hike with friends (the younger or older, the better). As Hike It Baby founder, Shanti Hodges, discovered when she was a new mom, getting a group of families together for an outdoor excursion can be helpful for both parents and children.
From personal experience, I believe this philosophy works just as well for older children. Who wants to complain in front of a peer?
When we hike with children much younger, my children get a chance to step into leadership roles. They enjoy showing off their skills (bouldering, leaping over creek beds, climbing trees) in front of an adoring audience. Walking hand in hand with younger children, giving piggy back rides, and even pushing strollers, they take ownership of the hike in ways they never would if we were walking as a family unit.
On the opposite spectrum, walking with older hikers (i.e. grandparents) brings another welcome element to the mix. When my mother joined us for a 16-km hike in the Krkonose Mountains, at one point, she turned to Anna and said, “I think your parents may be trying to kill me.” Anna slowed her pace to make sure my mother could keep up. On the way down, both boys took turns leading my mom by the hand over slippery rocks.
When we finished they said, “Grana, you did it!” They were so proud of her for persevering, they forgot that the accomplishment was theirs, too.
Let them stay home. Sometimes, instead of forcing our teens to join us, the opposite tactic works best. One Sunday afternoon when Anna repeatedly requested extra time for schoolwork, we decided not to argue and left her at home. When we sent Anna pictures of sleeping bats in mining caves and her brothers by the lake named “Amerika” near Karlštejn Castle, she texted back a sad face and vowed to come along the next time.
Let them lead (or design a scavenger hunt). When we’re hiking on a familiar path, as long as the trail isn’t dangerous, Oliver and Sam like nothing more than foraging ahead, waiting behind some trees, and ambushing the group.
They also enjoy planning (or participating in) scavenger hunts. When we hiked a 3-km route with 15 younger children this fall, Anna and another mom hiked ahead of the group, tying paper flags to tree branches and hiding clues. As the next oldest, Oliver was in charge of taking down the flags, and Sam read the clues aloud to the youngest hikers.
Let them bring supplies (i.e. snacks, swords, books, notebooks, etc.). While we do our best to respect nature by sticking to marked trails, not damaging trees or foliage, and packing out when we pack in, my tweens enjoy bringing along their own (non-parental approved) supplies.
A day hike warrants anything from Haribo-brand gummy candies, plastic guns, and toy soldiers to spy notebooks and a Kindle. I used to pitch a fit when I saw my children loading up their backpacks with items I deemed non-essential. Now, as long as they promise to carry their things, I give in.
Let them post a picture from their adventure (and don’t post yours without their permission). Documenting our travels in my blog posts and on Instagram is one of the ways I communicate with friends and family in the US. Although my children don’t mind me taking their pictures, I have learned that it’s better to show them the pictures I plan to post and try to stick to action shots as much as possible.
While #hikeitbaby has over 107K posts, there is no #hikeitteen tag and #hikingwithteens has only 169 posts. Either teens aren’t hiking (which I doubt), or they don’t want to be tagged in pictures with their parents.
Let them bobsled. The day after our successful 16-km hike, I wanted nothing more than to ride a ski lift up the mountain and walk down. At the lift, I saw several families with backpacks headed up, and I could already visualize how much fun it would be to walk back to base. Even my mother was game. However, once our children saw the bobsled track in town, they balked at hiking again. We compromised with a short river walk and two rounds of bobsledding.
Let them veg-out afterwards (with pool, tablet time, or a movie). When we’ve finished a hike or a day in nature, my teens like nothing better than relaxing with a movie, tablet time or splashing around in the pool. While Radek and I are in the mood for a hearty meal and lingering with friends over dinner, the children take the first chance to escape to their rooms.
Although I’d love to see them playing a board game or staying to chat with us, knowing that they’ve spent several hours outdoors, I’m better able to wave them on with a smile. The sooner they get to relax, the more likely they’ll be ready to join me in nature again.
I’m still nostalgic for the days when I could carry my children in a front pack and revel in their excitement at being outdoors for the first time. Still, there is a lot to be said for getting to enjoy a full day’s hike with my almost-teenagers.
Sometimes, they even carry my backpack.
How do you get your teens outdoors? Do you have any favorite hikes in the Czech Republic? I’d love to hear from you.
Emily, this is so enjoyable and your suggestions for “tween” encouragement outdoors are not only practical but also obviously successful. Thanks for making your journeys seem a wonderful part of my life.
Rita, thanks for your kind comments. I still have a lot to learn about traveling with my almost teens. Luckily, they are turning out to be good teachers 🙂
Em, I am glad that one picture with Anna showed the rocky path we climbed. It was the hardest aspect of the hike – trying not to twist an ankle on those rocks and also, to remember to breathe!
Yes, it was a tough hike and I think we all managed it really well!
This is a fantastic piece Emily! I did not always win the battle with making my kid hike in her teens. We had tried orienteering which was kind of ok for her. But it wasn’t until she left my nest that she fell in love with hiking.
Thanks, Polly! I bet the seeds you laid in the early years ended up taking root subconsciously. It is encouraging to hear that your daughter does like hiking as an adult. I hope to be able to say the same for mine someday 🙂
I enjoyed this piece immensely and identified with it as a grandparent. Keep at it! Your family is reaping the rewards in memories alone.
Thank you, Lissa. I think hiking (or doing any kind of activity) with your grandparents can make for some pretty special memories. I still remember helping out on the farm with my father and grandfather. I don’t know how much help I actually was, but the experiences are still vivid in my mind. Happy holidays to you and your family. Looking forward to seeing you this summer.