5 Tips to Get Your Teenager to Play Outside - 510 Families
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5 Tips to Get Your Teenager to Play Outside

My two sons are 11 and 13 years old. I will throw out my back if I try picking them up. They have school activities, sports teams, homework, time with their friends, and, of course, their screens. It’s harder and harder to force them to do anything. And even harder to take them outside into nature.

Biking through Tilden Park with kids
Biking through Tilden Park with kids | Photo: Annie Burke

I remember the days when I could pick up my kids and put their squirming bodies into their car seats. They moaned and complained about the idea of going to the beach, or the redwoods, or the park across town. With them safely and securely buckled in their car seats, I could drive them to a park, listening the whole drive to them telling me how much they didn’t want to go. How horrible this was, how horrible I am. Then we’d arrive, and they’d see the beach or trail or whatever amazing natural place was out their window. They’d jump out of the car, yelling at me to hurry up. “This place is so cool,” they’d say. “Mom, let’s go!”

Those days are over.

So, we have to adapt. Here are five strategies I’ve used to get my kids to go outside with me.

Invite their friends

Make it social! Put their friends in your car and pretend you’re invisible in the front seat while you listen to them talk. Walking the Steam Trail at Reinhardt Redwood (formerly known as Redwood Regional Park, now named after one of the founders of East Bay Regional Park District) is an easy out and back where you can let them go ahead without worrying they’ll get lost. Plus, they’ll be breathing clean, fresh air produced by all those huge redwood trees. Or go for a longer drive to Morgan Territory (more eavesdropping!) and walk out to the Bob Walker Ridge (named after one of my heroes). It’s beautiful out there right now with green, rolling hills and bright, noisy Acorn Woodpeckers.

Leverage the smartphone

Why fight it? Give in and get their legs moving with some PokémonGo. Places like Golden Gate Park are rich in Charizards, I hear. My older son likes Minecraft Earth and you’ll have to ask him what it is because I don’t really get it (to which he’d say, “Ok, Boomer”). Or download iNaturalist and head to a creek or a tidepool and find yourself some animals to document for science. Another idea is the King Tides coming up on February 8-9. Find the high tides (or low tides and use iNaturalist) and take pictures of what sea-level rise looks like. Download the iBird app and count how many different birds you can see or hear. Or challenge yourselves to create the most interesting Instagram story.

Hike by Fitzgerald Tidepools near Moss Beach
Fitzgerald Tidepools near Moss Beach | Photo: Keira Armstrong

Make it short and sweet

Somehow, sometimes I have convinced my sons to go for a quick 15-minute walk in Tilden. We have walked a loop around the Little Farm, for example, that honestly takes longer than 15 minutes, but I try to distract them so they forget my “it’ll be short!” promise. Don’t tell.

Big kids hiking around Little Farm
Big kids hiking around Little Farm for a 15-minute walk | Photo: Annie Burke

Ride bikes

Independence is inherent in riding a bike, so it will feel less ‘forced march’ and more ‘freedom’ which is really all they want. One idea is to find the Bay Trail nearest your house. Pick a destination and drop a pin there on your phones’ maps. And let them ride.

Biking through Tilden Park with kids
Biking through Tilden Park with kids: Sweet freedom | Photo: Annie Burke


It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but I’d suggest that it be your last resort.

That’s what I do, sometimes with success. What do you think? Do you have other tricks? Tell us in the comments.

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