How To Get Your Teenager to Unplug And Get Into Nature
Growing up is hard. We all know it; we’ve been there. But growing up now has extra pressures and stressors as teenager’s lives are constantly being scrutinised through online accounts. Personas ‘curated’ like gallery openings, with chosen images carefully edited and filtered in order to make themselves look the prettiest, most interesting, individual, exciting. Often, behind the persona, scared, insecure, anxious and lonely lives reside.
It must be exhausting being a teenager, living in the spotlight 24/7. So when I recently celebrated a significant birthday, rather than having an expensive party or a glamorous gift, what I wanted more than anything was to spend quality time with my three teenagers, away from their phones, iPad’s, computers and other distracting devices. I wanted my teenagers unplugged.
“Let’s go trekking” I announce, “Let’s do a family hike in New Zealand for my birthday!”
Seriously?!? I ‘m offering my kids an overseas trip to one of the most beautiful places in the world and I receive a groan as a response! ‘Entitled’, ‘spoilt’, ‘selfish’ are some of the more polite expletives I wanted to respond with.
In the end, I managed to convince two of the three to join us. My middle son is in his final year of high school and cleverly used the excuse of ‘too much…ahem… homework’ to wriggle his way out of it. So flights were booked, camp gear was purchased and borrowed and before we knew it my husband, 19-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son and I were strapping on our bag packs at the trailhead of the Routburn track near Queenstown on the South Island of New Zealand.
This meant we were going to be offline and un-contactable for an entire 72 hours! Bliss! I’m sure the kids likened it to a stint in solitary confinement and madly squeezed in any last minute ‘insta-snap-booking’ before the reception bars diminished about 50 metres along the track.
The trek was magnificent, beginning with a rather surreal walk through thick beech forests with moss covered logs and tiny curious birds that came so close, they nearly sat on our shoulders. We felt like we were in a scene from Mary Poppins.
I glimpsed a smile creeping across the mouth of my youngest son when we crossed a long swinging bridge and he made it wobble so much his dad bounced off the sidings.
After several hours walk we arrived at our expansive and very picturesque campsite. We set up tents, put some water on the stove for a cup of tea and dealt the cards for a family game of Uno. Everyone was engaged in the game and focused on their cards and the sounds of emails, text messages or buzzing vibrations of devices were merely a distant memory, replaced by birdsong, the gentle sound of the breeze blowing the leaves and the rush of water as it flowed down the nearby stream. Ahhhh, paradise!
Then a shocking thing happened: my son spoke. An actual sentence. I hadn’t heard anything more than an inaudible grunt for so long that I wasn’t even sure he had retained the language, but there he was, telling jokes and giggling with his sister (not even fighting!) My daughter, slightly more reflective and responsive noted how nice it was to just be here, with us, in nature. Yes! Yes!
Over the next couple of days, as we walked through immensely beautiful scenes that were extracted straight out of Lord of the Rings, I saw a shift in the family dynamic. Everyone lightened up, chatted more, became a little more animated.
Someone told me once that if you wanted to talk to your teenager, take them for a drive. I say, take them for a hike! As we walked, we chatted, we told jokes or even sang, badly, but loudly .We really communicated! My son talked about school and his mates and his hopes for the future. My daughter talked about how nice it was not to wear makeup or worry that her hair was greasy (“But don’t you dare take a photo of me Mum”).
Once the walk was finished and we had returned to Queenstown where we were elated and exhausted, I noticed that the kids didn’t immediately search the hotel manual for the Wi-Fi code. That was odd. I’m not saying that instead we shared a cup of tea, played a round of cards and spent the evening recounting our adventures, but there was definitely all of about, oh, seven minutes before anyone even mentioned the Wi-Fi code. (If memory serves me right, I think it was actually my husband who mentioned it, keen to check his “work emails” AKA “footy scores”).
Within the next ten minutes, sure enough, the four of us were deeply engrossed in our personal on-line worlds. Almost as if nothing had changed. Then I saw my daughter’s photo come up on my Instagram feed: It was a photo of her, no makeup, greasy hair, with her smiling brother, joyfully standing in front of an amazing backdrop of mountains draped in clouds. Her comment was, “Natural freedom! [smiley face smiley face]. Thanks Mum! You’re the best! Happy Birthday! Love you forever “
There’s no Wi-Fi out in nature, but somehow we managed to find a better connection.