You have probably heard about the dozens of benefits time outside provides, including improved physical health, calmer moods, better eyesight, expanding one’s worldview, and many more.
But one age group is having a harder time getting outside than any other and this is the tween and teen years. This is partly because of their age but also partly due to the constant competition with many different types of screens. Throw in more virtual learning than ever and you have a recipe for the 11-18 year olds spending way too much time inside.
The average teen is only spending about 10-15 minutes outside per day and this is affecting their overall well-being. Ideally all of us should be spending 2-4 hours outside each day, and this is especially true for teens who are seeing increased rates of stress and anxiety.
If this is an overwhelming amount of time outside, start small. Start with 20 minutes a day and increase the amount of time spent outside each week. Encourage your teens to increase their time outside slowly if they are reluctant.
The tween and teen years mean less organized activities and less parental control over how much time a child has to be outside. But this doesn’t mean all hope is lost. Far from it. I currently have one tween and one teen and while it is sometimes a challenge to get them outside for the recommended two hours a day, it’s a family goal we all have.
Here are some tips on how you can encourage (not force) your child to spend more time in fresh air for better overall well being:
1 – Have a family goal and write it down. By having a goal that the whole family can get behind, the teen has a starting point around what your expectations are. If 2 hours a day is too much to start, aim for 20 minutes a day and work your way from there. Every incremental increase in outdoor time makes a difference. By writing it down and having a visual of what the goal is, it keeps the priority in the front of their mind and it will impact their decisions slowly.
2 – Prioritize outdoor sports. We all have limited time and there are so many sports kids want to try these days. When you find yourself narrowing down your choices, lean towards outdoor sports such as baseball, soccer, lacrosse, cross country, track, tennis and dodgeball (yes, they have leagues for this!). Kids’ sports ends up being a majority of their free time and if you can kill two birds with one stone and have them be outside for all of those hours the better for their well-being!
3 – Plan family vacations that center around outdoor time. This isn’t a hard one to do since we all love vacationing to nice weather, but by scheduling in nature activities such as hiking, camping, ocean swims, snorkeling, zip-lining, and boat rides you build the foundation for a child falling in love with being outside and associate happy family memories with the outdoors.
4 – Have family game night, family dinners, and family meetings outside when possible. This is one good thing to come out of 2020 – more and more people are comfortable with outdoor gatherings, even if it’s a little too hot or too cold. We were willing to sacrifice some temperature comfort for gathering with others responsibly. We can translate this to our post-pandemic lives as we are tempted to move more and more inside. If family dinner is 30 minutes every night and you move it to your patio you’ve just increased time outside in sunlight and fresh air for the whole family.
5 – Give your teens age appropriate outdoor challenges. Whether you create a nature scavenger hunt for them or challenge them to do the latest waterfall hike, your teen can get excited to do something unique and challenging with their friends. You can even attach an “award” to a challenge completed to fuel the excitement level. Again, it’s not just about the hours outside here, but they are building life long positive memories to associate with nature and foster a life long desire to be outside more.
6 – Another challenge your teen may love is the 1000 Hours Outside movement where you challenge yourself to spend 1000 hours outside per year. This can include overnight camping trips, sports and family time spent in nature. If you visit their website there are printable tracking sheets that offer a perfect visual for competitive teens.
What other tips and ideas do you have to get our tweens and teens outside? We definitely have less control over these age groups, as is part of their healthy development, so keep it light and flexible and you’ll see them increase their hours outside in no time.
Good luck and happy hiking!