If I could get up from my desk right now and go anywhere at all, it would be to the beach. I don’t even care which one. I do want it to have trees on the shoreline, and no one else around. I’ll settle for the lake or a nice river, but same features: trees and solitude. Of course, if you told me my mini-me-vacation was to the mountains, I’m still not gonna complain. The mountains are great, especially if there’s any kind of view. Oh, wait! Throw in some fog! Foggy mountain mornings that dry up and reveal the scenery are awesome! Whether it’s beach or lake or mountains, I could just put up my hammock and my chair and sit there in the quiet, enjoying whatever nature has to offer.
Why am I sharing this? Because the purpose of this blog is to speak to parents about getting their kids outdoors more. And let me tell you what your kids hate about being outside… doing nothing!
When we grown-ups plan a camping trip or a hiking excursion, we’re looking forward to getting away from it all. We want peace and quiet, we want solitude, we want nature, we want to unplug and unwind. Basically, we want to forget about the mortgage and our jobs and Netflix and just relax.
I’ve just described literal hell for most kids.
Your kids want stuff to do, activities to enjoy, and tons of people to hang out with or play with. They want to people watch, they want to shop, they want to go somewhere cool and tell their friends about it. If they’re like my kids, they even want an explosion or two.
We pretty much suck all the fun out of the things they like to do when we try to do the things we want to do. We drag them along, quite possibly kicking and screaming, only to have them hate it so much that the entire trip is ruined for everyone, never to be repeated or spoken of again.
So how do you avoid that? How do you keep from making your kids hate everything about the outdoors while still getting to enjoy it yourself, and with your family?
Stop being a wilderness dictator!
If I could throat punch every single person who declares a “no devices” rule when going outdoors, I swear I would do it. What is your kid supposed to do at your campsite without the very devices YOU bought for him? Throw rocks at a tree for three days? NO. He’s going to throw rocks at his brother for ten minutes, or until you get tired of it and make him go sit in the car. From there it’s going to be a battle of the wills to see who wins, the parent who wants to enjoy quiet nature or the kid who wants revenge for being forced to leave his iPad at home.
Instead, try this: no chargers. You bring the device fully charged and your child is responsible for using it wisely. Be sure to turn off the wi-fi since it will drain the battery in its futile attempt to find a signal over and over and over. I would personally say the car trip doesn’t count since there’s nothing worse than driving in heavy interstate traffic with a bored kid. Using it and charging it during the car trip is fine, but once you’re there, the chargers are gone. He can still use it, and you might even want to remind him that he’d better save it in case it rains and the hike/fishing/star gazing/whatever are cancelled. If he knows that his device is still available for him to play with but that he has to be careful with how much he uses it, he just might surprise you with his sudden sense of responsibility and his ability to find neat things to do outside. I can also promise you this: I’ve personally witnessed amazing acts of sharing, as in two kids happily playing a game or watching a video together to save the battery on the other kid’s device, knowing that they’ll share the other device later on.
Now here’s the real kick in the pants: don’t you dare enforce a no device or no charger rule, then violate it yourself. I don’t care that your job is important or your mom is getting on in years or the dog sitter might need to contact you. If your kids can’t have their devices, put yours away too. You’re not more important than they are, and this was all your idea in the first place.
Remember that your kids aren’t in the same place emotionally that you are. You might be blown away by bird watching, but he’s thinking, “I could be playing Angry Birds right now.” (Wait, is Angry Birds still a game? Or is it Flappy Bird? Dumb Bird? Whatever… you know what I meant.) The quiet that you crave in order to recharge is mind-numbing to him. If this is truly a family experience, then it’s your job to make sure every member of the family is thought of and has his needs met.