Teenagers can be challenging!
And when it comes to nature connection, adolescents can flip a switch that makes them push back against the natural world.
Last week I received a question from a mother who was struggling with how to re-engage her child’s interest in being outdoors. Below, I share my answer.
Here are my thoughts on how to handle the kick back from teenagers when they begin to resist nature. (& check out my video answer to this over on the Environmental Pediatrics Institute Facebook page!)
1) Too Much Pressure is Counterproductive
At this age children are “coming into their own”, and to a degree, struggling to find their unique voice within their family. I always find it best to give a little space to children at this crossroads, as an overemphasis of our (parents) ideas can create a fair amount of push back.
This is not to say that you altogether stop encouraging nature connection, but instead maybe shift gears on what this can look like for your child (more on this below).
2) Leverage Peer Influence
The preteen and teenage years are marked by an increasing interest in peer-to-peer interactions. As parents it’s still important to provide a safe haven for our kids (of course!), but perhaps encouraging outdoor activities involving peers may be a way to renew adolescent interest in the natural world.
Maybe try asking your teenager what kind of things they may like to do with their friends in the outdoors, rather than “just with the family”. This might be fishing, canoeing, swimming, tree house making, hammocking, trail running, outdoor photography, landscape painting, etc. The sky is the limit! Bringing their friends into the picture, and having them engage in a shared experience with others of similar age, can change a teenager’s tune.
Children at this age crave a sense of independence from their family. And at different developmental ages, interest in outdoor experiences naturally shift. Perhaps asking your teenager what kind of things he/she is interested in doing outdoors is a place to start?
For example, we have family friends whose son is now 13, and he has just recently become interested in motorbiking. At first his parents resisted, but then they decided to let him explore it and now he is outside again all the time, making trails and exploring them via motorbike (rather than on foot, as he did when he was younger). Again, it may look different than it did in the past, but for him it is still quality time outdoors, filled with positive sensory experiences, and still very much child-led.
4) Rites of Passage
For some children, previous nature experiences can bring a sense of boredom. This in and of itself isn’t a problem, per se, but it does maybe point to a need to switch things up. Traditionally, boys and girls of this age may begin to go through a series of rites of passage. Maybe your child is becoming ready for this?
In simple terms, rites of passage are often fairly intense nature-based experiences/rituals/ceremonies, facilitated by “mentors”, and intended to challenge a child physically, mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually. These defining moments can be life changing for children who are beginning to transition into adolescence (& again, when children transition into young adults) and lead to profound personal growth.
Historically, rites of passage have been integral parts of cultures around the world. Here’s a link to Twin Eagle Wilderness School (in Idaho) which offers numerous parent-youth programs like this (just to give you an example): http://www.twineagles.org/.
All in all, know there is hope for teenagers to reclaim their connection to the natural world! A little support and trust can go a long way.
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