5 Ways to Lure Teens Off the Couch and Outside

This post is written by Anjali Thompson, a mom of two teenagers and a lover of the outdoors.

Photo by Anjali Thompson

As a mom of two teenage girls, I’m more than often hearing the same old excuse,

“There’s nothing to do outside”

“I’m bored.”

It frustrates me to see them on the couch wasting their valuable time watching TV or playing video games when they could be outside enjoying the outdoors, co-existing with nature, getting some exercise, and being with friends. To me, there are endless possibilities to being outside, but for some reason my two cannot see the forest for the trees.

It was so easy getting them outside when they were younger. They were very keen and eager to play in the yard, go to the playground, swing on the swings, climb the monkey bars, and just plain run around.  Every day was an exploration of new things and who cares if you got dirty, that’s what made it more fun!  Just being outside was the key to fun and freedom, but, these days, the keys to fun and freedom come with a whole new set of requirements.

Here are some tips that have helped me get my kids unplugged and outside:

1. It’s Better With a Friend

You’re never too old for a “playdate”, though at their age, it’s not called that and I get corrected if I say that word. In teen slang, the word “playdate” has been updated to “hanging out.”  And I found that the girls will get off the couch and go outside for the social aspect. My older one prefers to go running or some other sport with her friends while my younger one is happy just walking around the neighborhood, laughing, and sharing stories with her buds.

Another thing that has changed at this age is, the mommy organizer is out of the picture. The kids like to initiate it and that can be difficult if you have a shy child.  So, in this case, I usually offer my services to get the ball rolling, such as, “I’ll be happy to drive you and your friend to XXX, if you want.” That usually sparks interest and helps to initiate a phone call or these days, a text message.

2. Adventure-Seekers

Teens love to push the limits and I thought what better way than to introduce the girls to an activity that gets their blood flowing and gives them an adrenaline rush!   This winter, we took the girls skiing and after a few runs on the easy slopes, they were willing and very eager to step up their game and try the intermediate slopes. As soon as they navigated their way down the more challenging slope, the exhilarating feeling of “I did it” was immediately followed up with “I want to do that again!” and so you can imagine they spent several hours (with no complaints!) on the slopes enjoying the outdoors, getting exercise and since it was a sunny day, receiving their daily dose of Vitamin D. What a plus!  Thus, I found as they got older, the excitement, thrill, and challenge of an adventure was the perfect incentive to getting them outdoors and enjoying the world around them.

3. One-on-One Time

Photo by Anjali Thompson

While I love doing things with both my girls, sometimes it’s just not possible because of sibling rivalry and petty squabbles.  It’s like they just want to find a way to annoy each other out of pure fun of the game. As a parent, how many times have you heard, “Leave me alone!”, or “Stop it!” As a result, what started as a fun family outing becomes pure frustration and torment for us parents.

So, I found that when I can, I initiate activities with just one daughter at a time. This gives them my full attention, and the activity can be tailored toward her particular interest. Everyone is happy and I get to have some quality time with each child and learn more about her particular interests.  It does force me to carve out time for two separate activities, but it’s worth it because I found as they get older, their needs and interests diverge and even though they grow up in the same house, they are definitely not the same kind of teenager.

4. Mentoring

Next door to us live three adorable little girls and one would think my teen daughters would want nothing to do with them, but on the contrary, my daughters adore them and enjoy spending time with them.  The mother of the three girls can’t understand the attraction because of the huge age gap among them. But what I discovered was that generally teenagers still enjoy the company of younger children because sharing experiences with younger kids lends itself to the novelty and nostalgia of being a little kid again when it was “cool”  to go down the slide on your stomach.

It’s a thrill for me as a parent to watch and observe how lessons and experiences are carried down not just from one sibling to another but also transferred to other individuals.

5. Volunteering, Entrepreneurship, and Certifications

Volunteering, starting a business or earning certifications are some ways teens can use their energy, interest and ambition toward a positive and meaningful experience, while enjoying the outdoors.

  • Volunteering: My older daughter is interested in volunteering her time and experience at a Girl Scout summer camp program.  I think it’s great because not only will she get to spend a week camping outdoors and doing other fun stuff while assisting younger campers, she will take away many great qualities from the experience. Qualities such as,  responsibility, dependability, and leadership, all wonderful traits disguised within independence and freedom.
  • Entrepreneurship: My friend’s son started a power-washing business last summer and learned a lot about starting new ventures while having fun outdoors.  It was summer, he was bored, and my friend wanted him to get off the couch.  So he and a neighborhood friend came up with the idea of power washing for the practical reason that power washing would keep them cooler on a hot day than lawn mowing would. To market their business, they made signs, created a business name, determined cost and investment — pretty much the bare bones of what any fledging business needs to get started. According to my friend, the boys had a blast, gained great experience on how to manage a business and had fun being outside. They are already brainstorming their next big venture for the following summer.
  • Certifications: Earning a certification is another great way to get your teen outdoors and help them define themselves. Certifications are a great resume builder for their high school transcripts and shows their desire and motivation to learn new skills. Certifications can include babysitting, life-guarding and refereeing just to name a few. You can probably contact your local parks service, county website, or school to find certification opportunities.

One of my favorite pastimes with my daughters is hiking and it’s much easier these days since they are older as I don’t need to hold anyone’s hand or give a piggyback to ease tired feet.  Also, we are able to go greater distances and together admire the serene beauty of our surroundings. It makes me think…who needs TV and video games? Give me the outdoors, fresh air, and two energetic teenagers to remind me – the best things in life really are free.