In the world of today’s teenager, life moves quickly and there are a million things vying for their attention. From sports, phones, school, work, and activities, sometimes the biggest limiting factor of positive parenting teens is simply your teenager’s time and attention. Adventure travel may just offer the solution you were looking for raising happy and healthy teens and building strong relationships.
During the summer of 2022, after a busy year of school, soccer, a knee injury, and the waning disruptions of the COVID pandemic, we committed to spending a month together as a family adventure traveling through Europe. Together we climbed mountains, white water kayaked, hiked to waterfalls, and watched icebergs float through a lagoon.
We spent long days with just each other as company, but with a common goal of completing each day’s activity. There were long conversations as we hiked, we complained together on long car rides, and we encouraged each other as we tried new activities and challenged ourselves. Did we argue? Absolutely. Was it easy? Rarely. Did we finish the trip with healthier and more resilient teens? Yes.
For more travel ideas, check out: 100 Incredible Adventures with Kids: Have Amazing Family Travel Experiences
What is ‘Positive Parenting Teens’?
A lot of attention has grown up over the year around positively parenting younger kids and providing safe and nurturing environments with clear expectations. Positive parenting teens is just as important, even as teenagers begin spending more and more time with their friends and outside the home. Teens still need active and supportive parents and the parent-teen relationship during these formative years remains pivotal.
The teenage brain goes through a time of rapid growth during the teen years, making teens both incredibly fun and challenging to be around. One day your teen is excited to tell you about their day, and the next they are shut in their room blasting loud music. By positive parenting teens in your life, parents and other caregivers have an amazing opportunity to form the support your child needs to navigate these changes.
Positive parenting your teen is something you can do every day, but it’s still not easy to get past the busy schedules. There are many ways to carve out time to spend with your teen, and setting aside time for adventure travel is one way to build a stronger relationship, teach life skills, and build self-confidence.
What is Adventure Travel?
For the sake of this article, adventure travel is defined broadly as activities outside the home that offer you and your teen a challenge. This usually involves some sort of physical challenge, such as a hike, surfing, snorkeling, or skiing, but it can also include exploring a new city or doing a sightseeing drive. Travel does not need to be by plane to some far away destination, but can also include a visit to a nearby state or town.
How does Adventure Travel Benefit the Teen-Parent Relationship?
A few days into our month-long summer adventure, tensions were running high and we found ourselves bickering with each other over silly things like where to eat and what to do next. It took a while to realize that we were all adjusting to moving from our busy, independent lives to days on end of uninterrupted time together. We were simply not used to spending all day together and it took a little time to get used to and adjust to the new structure.
Adventure travel gives you the key ingredient to building a strong parent-child relationship: time. When you are out doing something together, you have the time to simply talk and experience the world together.
Uninterrupted Time Together
The gift of uninterrupted time is important for getting you and your teen out of your comfort zone and usual activities, to spend true quality time together. This means embracing every part of that relationship – enjoying the good times together and working through the challenges.
Have fun together
Adventure travel gives you and your teen the chance to simply have fun together. Whether you are trying something new together or doing something epic, you are creating core memories. When you think back to your own childhood, what do you remember? Likely it’s the fun moments or the time you were pushed outside your comfort zone.
When you plan your adventure travel, consider trying a brand new activity where you aren’t the expert. Last winter our entire family tried surfing for the first time. As the parent, it was humbling to try a new activity and my kids took on the role of encouraging me to try something new. My kids still refer back to this activity and feel the power of outperforming their parent!
Show an Interest in Them
Adventure travel gives you the time and purpose to show a strong interest in your teen. Whether it’s uninterrupted time to talk during a hike, or letting your teen decide an activity for the whole family, adventure travel is the perfect opportunity to put your teen front and center.
How does Adventure Travel Promote Self-Esteem in Teens?
The teenage years are the perfect time to focus on building self-esteem in kids. High self-esteem helps teens assess risks, deal with frustration, and act independently and maturely. On the other side, low-self esteem leads to a variety of challenges that can have consequences for the rest of their lives.
Adventure travel is an excellent way to promote good self-esteem in kids. When kids are presented with a challenge and they push themselves, they can end with a sense of pride. Your kid doesn’t have to complete a hike or perfect surfing to gain self-esteem. Just by trying something new, they gain the understanding that they are capable.
As a parent, you can help build their self-confidence by celebrating their successes and give them the opportunity to overcome challenges in a safe setting.
How does Adventure Travel Promote Communication with your Teen
Building the parent-teen relationship is key to raising healthy teens, and creating strong communication is a skill that you will both use for years to come. In our busy day-to-day life, communication is often limited to discussing the next day’s logistics, and a quick recap of how your days went.
Adventure travel gives opportunities to deepen the level of communication in two ways. First, you are given uninterrupted time to talk and discuss each other’s lives. Second, as you rely on each other during activities, you will need communication. Working through this communication and building a level of trust in each other is incredibly powerful for your teen. Giving your teen the responsibility to navigate on a hike means they need to communicate with you.
How does Adventure Travel Teach Values and Responsibility, and Life Skills
Anytime you step out of your comfort zone and face new situations, you are building new skills and restructuring your sense of the world. Even just navigating through an airport gives your teen opportunities to learn something new.
Teaching Values: Adventure travel exposes teens to new cultures, new perspectives, and new environments. Each interaction helps your teen develop their own values and their own view of the world. Below are some things to consider to help develop your teen’s values through adventure travel:
- Choose authentic experiences that expose your teen to other cultures
- Give your teen time and space in new places to explore
- Encourage cultural interactions that your kids enjoy. If they like food, try a local restaurant or if they like to shop, visit a local market.
- Consider volunteer work (see more about how to be a responsible traveler)
Teaching Responsibility: the best way to teach responsibility is to give your teens true responsibility. This goes hand in hand with building life skills.
Teaching Life Skills: travel is full of opportunities to build life skills and these life skills help build self-esteem in kids
Here are just a few ideas for helping to build life skills and responsibility in your teen:
- Let your teen manage their own gear – and be prepared when they forget their rainjacket on the next hike
- Give your kids responsibility for navigating for a day
- Let your kids help buy train tickets, book a tour, or determine the tip at the next restaurant
- Put your teen in charge of planning a day’s activities
- Get out of your teen’s way and let them lead the way
How to Plan Adventure Travel with your Teen
So, how do you prioritize adventure travel (especially when your teen is resistant to the idea)?
Read our story about how we prioritize Adventure Travel in our own family.
Start by identifying the barriors to adventure travel for your family – is it time? Money? Interest? Fear?
Once you decide that adventure travel is your priority, you can start by working through the different barriors to help plan your next adventure. If money is keeping your from adventure travel, consider starting small and close to home and look into way to save money for traveling.
Perhaps time is keeping your from travel. We constantly find ourselves sneaking in travel time between sports season and around school vacation. At some point you will have to decide how high of a priority travel is an make adjustments. Now that our kids are in high school, we are more reluctant to take them out of school for long periods of time, although we still pull them from school occasionally.
If fear or interest from your teen is keeping you from travel, you will need to be creative about approaching the travel idea with your kids. One option is to start small and close to home – this involves a smaller commitment from your teen. You can also involve your teens in the planning your next adventure – see our steps on the best ways to plan adventure travel.
A few summers ago – we spent 5 weeks driving around the United States visiting National Parks. My teenage son loved everything about this trip, and is now in the process of planning another extensive United States Road trip. His interest and investment in this trip means he is that much more excited for our next adventure.