Usually during the preteen years, a kid is like a sponge. They soak up everything you tell them at face value. You are their Ghandi and all wisdom flows thru your words. Sometime around 12 or 13 “Why is the sky blue?” becomes “Why do I have to…?” anything. They have solved you and life and have no further use for adult mankind.
To your adolescent brood-
Scenery is boring
They hate everything you like
They already know everything and what they don’t know isn’t important
They have high levels of expectation
They are entitled
They are embarrassed to be in a public setting with you
Their social life and social media are the most important things in the world to them
Electronics are a morphine drip that isn’t easily suspended. Teens spend more time online than they do sleeping, about 9 hours per day and more than they spend on school.
Forcing a teen to do about anything can get ugly, but expecting them to go camping with you and like it can require a whole lot of tact. You are removing a young adult from their own self created and insulated environment and placing them in yours…and you thought what would happen?
Ask yourself, why would a teen want to be stuck in the woods for a weekend or more with parents they already try to avoid as much as possible? You see a campout as an escape; they see it as a trap. Your recharging your batteries but to them their life support just unplugged. Back home it is hot and buggy and mostly boring and you just magnified it 10X and killed the interweb. That sharing and bonding thing you hoped for, eh it just ain’t happening.
So, maybe things didn’t go well last time and nobody wants to go thru it again, but there are some solutions.
Just like real estate, location matters. Choosing a trip onto Federal Land with no power, water or other signs of life is probably not a good first choice. If you can’t tell if civilization as we know it has ended from where you are, your kids probably won’t be happy. Take small and incremental steps. Pools, beaches, campgrounds with game rooms, rivers for tubing, horseback riding are better options. Even Disney World has Fort Wilderness, which is still considered camping regardless of the commercialism.
Don’t bring the house rules to the woods. Relax. Bend a little and try to fit the trip to suit your kid’s interests. Adults tend to enjoy walking thru the woods, visiting historical sites, fishing or just sitting in a chair reading a book all day. O…M…G! Note to dad…teenagers are nocturnal. They sleep more, a lot more. You can drive thru the Grand Canyon with little more than a glance thru the window from them and then only after repeated threats to “Look!” Friends are everything. Bring some along, just prescreen the bad ones. Their parents may be ecstatic to get them out of the house and you son’s friends may actually admit to having a good time before your he does. Loosen up with snacks. Junk food is comfort food. Of course you can have a meal plan but let it be yours, not theirs. If you are camping in an RV, bring along a tent and let them have their own space outside. Make sure you pack extra flashlights, a radio, and items they can use and keep for themselves. While setup and take down should be something everyone gets involved in, don’t force it. You’ll have better success at asking one of their friends for help than your own, and that’s ok. It indirectly encourages their participation. If they are stuck in their chairs in a zombified state, give them a few bucks to run to the campstore for you or ask them to check out the pools closing time. The idea is to get them moving subtly and let the discoveries be their own. They may even run into other tortured like minded souls at the vending machine. Several years ago, we had two boys sitting around our picnic table during lunch determined to punish us by being miserable all weekend until a group of girls rode by and invited them to a large sand volleyball tournament. They shuffled into our RV asking for “permission” like a couple of hobos looking for a job and off they went. We didn’t see them again until after 10 p.m.
If you have an RV with television, try to limit it to the waning hours and something to wind down with. While your kids and their friends are sitting around a fire, communicating and laughing, it can only take one trickling off to watch tv with you to ruin the moment; those are the times when you should misplace the remote. The debate whether to allow gaming or texting when away from the house applies differently with each household. Gaming consoles should be discouraged if at all possible for obvious reasons. It isolates and disconnects. Their phones however can be a positive for sending out selfies and keeping contact with the other world. Just ask that they limit it during the day to when they are outside.
Discreetly leaving out fishing poles or games like ladder ball, cornhole, horse shoes or a frisbee are great ideas. They don’t need to be pushed, just advertised. Remember, when bringing their friends along, don’t constantly inject yourself. Let them do what they want on their pace. If you are engaged with them, ie around the campfire, you may find you’ll get more interaction from your teen’s friends. Asking them superficial questions about their lives may tend to open all of them up, just be sensitive to “overstaying your welcome.”
Just as Clark Griswold and later Robin Williams attempted to build the perfect getaways, they eventually proved that in the beginning, the harder you try the harder you can fail.
See also “The Demographics of The American Camper Part 1”
“The Demographics of The American Camper Part2-RVs”