Richard Jackson Garden Reconnect Teenagers with Nature
The summer holidays are here but it can feel hard at times to prise teenagers off screens and engage them with the great outdoors. As a Mum of a 15-year-old boy, I try and strike a balance between a good measure of gaming and outdoor adventure to keep everyone happy and healthy. Outdoor activity has tremendous health benefits and can help alleviate teen anxiety, depression, improve mood and confidence. A dose of green therapy lifts serotonin levels, stimulates endorphins, improves mental health and reduces stress. Here are some ideas to extract young adults out of the virtual world, connect them with the natural wonders of the real world and get the whole family enjoying nature together.
If you have never taken a walk by torchlight then you are in for an exhilarating treat. Nighttime transforms seemingly ordinary places into intrigue and wonder. We regularly walk around our local woods and countryside and as the evening draws in, the atmosphere changes, wildlife comes out to forage and dark shadows add mystery to even the most mundane of objects. Teenagers may not always be keen to go out walking so choose an interesting location, rather than a familiar stroll round the block, then add the wild card… go out at dusk and suddenly you have an adventure on your hands.
Choose a familiar area, you will be surprised how different everything looks and feels in the dark. Always useful to take a map of the local area and back up with Ordnance Survey or Google maps app if going further afield. Most importantly take a torch. A head torch with give you most flexibility as it leaves your hands free to open and close gates or climb over stiles. Then let the fun begin. Exploring woods in the dark will certainly spark the interest of even the most reluctant teenager.
Sleeping outdoors has always captured the imagination of young and old. Camping is a fantastic way to escape screens and embrace nature and the elements. Many of us will be having a staycation again this year so dust off the tent and pop it up in the garden; enjoy all the benefits of sleeping outdoors at home!
Alternatively, venture further. Book a campsite at the coast, woods or mountains and take some time out to appreciate the simple things in life; wildlife, plants, trees, the weather, sun rise and set, eating and sleeping outdoors without all your home comforts to hand. Camping is a great opportunity to reconnect as a family and with no electronic distractions – chat!
Fire and Food
The way to a teenager’s heart is to mention food so turn the evening munchies into a family event. Stoke up the fire and get toasting marshmallows or a nod to scouting days, make S’mores. S’mores are an indulgent treat and a great way to get everyone involved making their own snack round a fire.
Grab two chocolate digestives and toast a couple of marshmallows on a skew. Once gooey, gently ease off between the digestives, chocolate on the inside, to make a melted chocolate and marshmallow sandwich. You will hear audible sighs of appreciation! It is a great way to turn an ordinary evening into an event and get the conversation flowing – even if it is just ‘can I have another one?’
Digital garden art
Many parents share frustration with teenage smart phone obsession so entice young adults out into the garden with a digital art challenge. Get them to look around the garden or out on a walk and select as many different leaves or flowers as they can find. Think of contrasting colours, shapes and textures. Create an Instagram worthy ‘flat lay.’ A flat lay simply means placing objects on a flat surface and taking a photo from above looking down on the composition. Or focus on wildlife that you find in the garden. They will be surprised just how much life is going on under their noses if they take the time to look.
Post the afternoon’s achievements on social media, just for fun or create a little competition with friends. Also masterpieces can be printed onto canvas and hung on the wall, so your garden screen time can bring the garden indoors.
Hike or bike
One way to encourage your teenager to move off the sofa is to suggest doing something they may not normally do. Go for a hike to a new area, it does not have to be far but seek out somewhere you have never been and walk it. You will be surprised how many unexplored local paths you find. With a little research you can find routes that follow rivers to waterfalls, skirt round gorges or summit tors. Natural features will transform any walk into an outdoor adventure.
Get them on two wheels. Blow the cobwebs away and go for a bike ride. The UK has an amazing national bike network and many trail centres to suit all abilities. Check out Sustrans and Mountain Bike UK. This is a great way to connect with nature and get some exercise whilst riding around forests and the countryside.
A few hours on wheels surrounded by green and everyone will feel rejuvenated… and probably be in need of a S’more by the end of the day!
Useful Links: The Wilderness Foundation UK
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All photos © Debi Holland