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Need Quality Time With Your Teens? Go Camping!

Need Quality Time With Your Teens? Go Camping!

By Mir Kamin

Many, many moons ago, my husband and I went on a camping trip together, just the two of us, while we were dating. I hadn’t been camping since I was a little kid. But he’s a seasoned camper and I bought a new tent and an air mattress, and we were newly in love and I remember that trip being so much fun. This is notable because I’m not really a roughing-it kind of person. Not that I require people to peel grapes for me, or anything, but I tend to be cranky if I haven’t gotten enough sleep, and I’m not really a fan of sleeping on the ground.

Fast forward a few years: The husband and I were newly married and I’d just moved down to Georgia, and as my children were acclimating to a new environment, new house, new stepdad, we somehow got it into our heads that it would be so super fun to take them camping. I had never taken the kids camping before. Also, it was July. In Georgia. (As northerners, it’s possible we hadn’t quite processed the whole doesn’t-cool-off-at-night-here thing.) My husband got stung by a wasp while setting up the tent, which meant that my son spent most of the remainder of the trip screaming every time he saw a flying insect. At 11:00 at night it was still hovering around 90 degrees outside, and my daughter’s solution to being too hot was to complain about it—often and loudly—to make sure that no one else could sleep, either. We made it through one night (barely) and I may have suggested that we were simply not “camping people.”

Maybe he knew something I didn’t, or maybe he’s just an incurable optimist, but about a year later, the husband talked me into a small travel trailer. We call it camping-but-not-camping, because yes, we go away from home and plunk ourselves down in the woods or by a lake or whatever, but we also have beds and air conditioning and a functional (if tiny) kitchen. We’ve since all learned the joy of camping—such as it is—and now we have an inexpensive way to zip off for a bit of R&R and family togetherness. Now that my kids are teenagers, the only thing that’s really changed is that we don’t enforce a bedtime. Other than that, camping rules apply. They don’t seem to mind, though. Here are our Family Camping Rules….

Camping Rule 1: Unplug (Mostly)

We go to campgrounds where we can hook up to water and electricity, and that means we’re usually somewhere with a decent cellular signal, and sometimes even at a campground with its own WiFi. I often need to work while we’re away, so this is a good thing—I can bring my laptop and get stuff done. But I try very hard to limit that work to lunchtime and a few hours in the evening, and the kids are expected to put away their phones and other devices for the majority of the trip, as well. They complain, and we get the occasional, “But you’re online!” (pointing out that I’m working and would much rather be doing something else isn’t always well-received), but everyone survives. I think the kids especially love it when I point out that Laura Ingalls never even had an iPod.

Camping Rule 2: Eat (Whatever)

Before we leave on a camping trip, I buy all of the snacks we never have at home. Potato chips? Sure! Preservative-filled cookies? Why not! Neon-colored popsicles? Practically a camper’s birthright. I also plan out our meals (which do tend to be healthy, and I even bring a crock pot in the camper) and do things like stock up on fresh fruit and chop veggies and make dip. But while we’re on the road, if you’re hungry, eat whatever you want. You’re getting plenty of fresh air and exercise; if you want ice cream before dinner, it’s all good.

Camping Rule 3: Quiet Hours

We tend to do a lot of hiking and swimming and going and doing, but we also view camping trips as a great time to do… not much. At the very least, we tend to hang around the camper for a few hours of downtime after lunch. We bring stacks of books and usually everyone reads, but sometimes we grown-ups sneak a nap then, too. A midday lazy break is good for everyone. Even the dog takes a break from stalking squirrels to have a snooze.

Camping Rule 4: Every Night Is Family Game Night

A really nice thing about a camper vs. stuffing gear into your car is that we have a variety of items that just live in the camper and are always on hand once we arrive, like a stack of board games. With the kids’ busy schedules, we’re lucky to have a family game night once a month, at home. While we’re camping, though, there are endless games of Rummikub and Uno and Yahtzee, and every night after dinner there’s an hour or two of Apples to Apples or Qwirkle or Fluxx. Some of my fondest camping memories are about those games around our little table rather than the places we’ve been or cool stuff we’ve seen. Plus, playing games is a great way to pass the time between dinner and….

Camping Rule 5: Mandatory S’mores

Unless it’s raining, we have a nightly campfire. And unless the aliens replace me with a pod person, every time we hitch up the camper, we have sufficient supplies to make s’mores for about a hundred people. I’m not even sure everyone in the family likes s’mores. There’s just something sacred about that nighttime semi-circle around the fire with your family, roasting marshmallows. One year we mixed it up with some Jiffy Pop, but it wasn’t the same. Marshmallows are required.

Camping Rule 6: This Is Family Time

Do a couple of teenagers, as a general rule, want to be stuck in the woods with their parents? Don’t answer that. One of the nice things about this camping setup is that we can go for a couple of days on very little notice. We used to do longer trips, but lately it’s a weekend here or there, where we can slot it in-between everyone’s scheduling demands. That’s okay. On the occasions when one kid is off doing something else, we’ll let the other kid bring a friend… but we still do the same sorts of things. The kids get some time on their own, sure, but we all hang out together more often than not. It’s not fancy or extreme or exotic. It’s just all of us being together, in the fresh air, away from most of the demands of everyday life.

I’ve gotta say, the older they get, the more I appreciate being able to drive to somewhere pretty and hold my teens captive there. Uh, I mean, spend quality time with them. While eating potato chips.

About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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  • […] with older kids is actually one of my favorite things. Don’t believe me? I wrote about our family camping rules today over at Alphamom. Unlike the rules here at home (so unfair! so MEAN!), the kids don’t […]

  • Therese

    July 9, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    We spent many a vacation camping with our brood of four. Both of us came from camping families. I actually don’t ever remember any other kind of vacation when I was a kid! We have a lot of great memories and wouldn’t change it for anything. We ate like kings and made sure we went horseback riding at least once every trip.

    Now, our sons are off on their own, and they often go camping with their spouses and significant others. And I am also not a fan of sleeping on the ground!

  • HG

    July 9, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    Mir, may I suggest adding Loot and/or Munchkin to your family game options. Hilarious, both.

    • Mir Kamin

      July 9, 2013 at 5:21 pm

      Ooooh, we’re always looking for more games. Thanks for the recs!

      • Frank

        July 9, 2013 at 7:48 pm

        Since we are not much on camping (not by choice… just dont do it), but we ARE much on games… a couple more ideas for you. First off, I second, third, and fourth the Munchkin idea… I think it will be a hit with you and yours. (if you want an idea as to how it goes, there is a Tabletop Games episode of Munchkin that would be worth your time to check out. Just google tabletop games munchkin.) Phase10 is another good one. And there is one called Guillotine that is just off center enough to be enjoyable. Lots more, but dont want to overwhelm. Have fun!

      • Jessica (the celt)

        July 9, 2013 at 9:40 pm

        Have you looked at TableTop on Youtube? It’s also on, but it has Wil Wheaton hosting different kinds of games. My husband and I have found a BUNCH of fun, new-to-us games from that show. (Zombie Dice, anyone?) And for Monkey, maybe a cooperative game would be good now and again (instead of the competitive ones) — and I prefer them because I can be a wee bit overly competitive myself, so check out Castle Panic.

        Yay for games!

  • Patricia H

    July 9, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    My kids are younger, but we are all in for this easy, not too roughing it camping. Complete with a pop-up camper.

    Our rules are similar… but I allow hand-held electronics for the drive there and back, and to keep them occupied while my husband and I set-up, because I don’t really need my 4 year-old’s “help”. We also splurge on take out pizza if there’s a place in the area if we are gone more than 2 nights… again, little kids… I need some time to relax too. Last but not least, a portable dvd player that is ONLY for bedtime for the kids, because those little peanuts need a wind down or again, I suffer.

    We try to pick parks near our nerd interests so we can leave the campground during the day – I have seen many a presidential boyhood home and grave site the last two summers!

  • js

    July 9, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    Ohmygod. Camping. Camping was the only vacation my family ever took when I was young so when my husband and I got married, I was all whoo-boy, let’s go tent camping in Wisconsin near the Dells. What the hell was I thinking?! Raccoons got into our (poorly) put away food. In the middle of the night. So then we had to practically go to war with those bastards to get them out of our camp site, complete with husband in his underwear throwing rocks at them. My daughter had too much in her little tummy and ended up throwing up all over herself, her sleeping bag and the tent. So we had a shower in the dark, spider-filled women’s showers. Then all three of us tried to sleep on our queen-sized air mattress. Which sprung a leak. Clearly, God hates me. So we are trying again, for the first time in MANY years, in our own backyard. May the camping odds be ever in our favor 😉

  • Christine from Giftovus

    July 9, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    Camping was big with my family as well except we would go down to Mexico and camped on the beach. My family and I are from Southern California so Mexico was easy to get to. Sometimes we even made our family camping trips a big party by inviting other relatives and their children to join. On top of that, camping was also fun because it reconnected us to nature.

  • Hi, I'm Natalie.

    July 9, 2013 at 8:57 pm

    lol. As a seasoned Canadian camper, this is fun to read. 🙂

    When we camp, we prefer to have toilets/outhouses available… but it’s not mandatory. Phone service/electricity is unheard of. 😉 Food is usually fantastic – steak, steamed veggies, dutch oven brownies, etc. It helps that we’re part of a large community of outdoorsy folk – so there are lots of kids around to keep each other occupied.

    • Mir Kamin

      July 9, 2013 at 9:42 pm

      Natalie, I fully cop to being a not-really-camping camper. What I love about the trailer is that it allows even those of us who think we can’t possibly tolerate camping. 😉

  • Jenn H.

    July 10, 2013 at 3:28 am

    We love camping!  And much like yours, my kids LOVE the dietary freedom that camping provides!  CHEETOS?  Sure, why not?!  OREOS!  Of course, take 2! 

    But.  My whole camping persona has been rocked by a recent s’mores discovery.   Hershey’s, shmershys.  Try a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup instead.  Oh. My. Peanut-butter-loving-Goodness.  

    Enjoy the great outdoors!

  • Ruchi

    July 11, 2013 at 9:21 pm

    OMG Monkey HAS to be introduced to Munchkin! Best game ever!!

  • […] kids get some time on their own, sure, but we all hang out together more often than not," according to one blogger at Alpha Mom. "It’s not fancy or extreme or exotic. It’s just all of us being together, in the […]