Like many people, I worry about my teens spending too much time staring at a screen. As a family, we are all pretty active but we tend to do our sports separately rather than together. We usually have active holidays (such as trekking in Nepal) and we can be quite adventurous with fun family activities in warmer weather.
But in the winter our family time tends to be indoors and/or sedentary (Sunday lunches, lots of cinema, a bit of theatre and the occasional museum trip).
So this year I am on a mission to try new activities.
For me, with my teenagers, family time works best when we are all equal and no-one is the expert (especially not me). This is really important as it helps me to step back from the parent role and actually enjoy myself and it gives my youngest son a chance to be better than his older brother (or at least better than me) which is great for his self-esteem. Ideally, there is an instructor or another adult in charge showing us all what to do and laying down the rules (so I don’t have to).
But most importantly, we have all got to want to be doing it (see planning successful family time with teenagers).
So here’s my review of the fun family activities we have tried so far this winter – I hope you find it useful.
Digging deep on the high ropes
We’ve done quite a few high ropes courses over the years. The first one (as part of a PGL Family Adventure Holiday when the children were much younger) scared me witless. The best course so far has definitely been Montcalm in the French Pyrenees.
The amazing thing about high ropes is that you have to train your brain to override your body’s panic. It is, quite literally, a leap of faith that goes against all of your instincts. You have to overcome your fear at the same time as taking on a tricky physical challenge. As a parent, it’s an interesting position to be put in because no matter how much they are struggling, there is nothing you can do to rescue your children or make it any easier for them. The kids are all on their own. You can try coaching them (though I usually get short shrift when I do that) but if they are scared or tired they have no choice but to dig deep, find some internal resources and get through it. And that is a brilliant life lesson for children…
It being winter, this year we tried out an indoor high ropes course at the XC extreme sports centre in Hemel Hempstead. Having done lots of high ropes before, I was a bit worried that this course would be a disappointment – it’s not very long and not especially challenging. But it is high up and there is a great free fall jump at the end that the teens really loved. The teenage verdict? “A bit tame but fun.” My verdict? This particular course is probably better for tweens than teens – but a huge recommendation for high ropes as a great family day out!
Staying dry in make-believe caves
I had no idea what to expect when we signed up to indoor caving (again at XC). The photos on the website looked a bit dull but the experience was absolutely brilliant. As soon as we were in the caves the teens were squealing like toddlers at a soft play centre (there’s even a ball pit). They loved it! It was quite challenging – there are some very small spaces to wriggle through – and it is definitely not for the even mildly claustrophobic. I found it quite hard on my knees and didn’t last as long as the teens – who were in there for the best part of an hour and came out glowing and gabbling like five-year-olds after a bouncy castle party. Highly recommended!
Crashing karts on the race track
So, I have to admit, I opted out of this activity and let the teens get on with it (along with a couple of their friends). I intended to have a go but was not-so-politely informed that a) racing your mum is uncool b) I am a speed wimp so wouldn’t enjoy it. My Plan B was to sit and watch the boys enjoying themselves from a nice warm café with a good coffee. Alas, the absence of good coffee or anywhere warm left me wishing I’d just joined in instead. Oh well, lesson learned!
I was a little worried when the teens set off around the Absolutely Karting track and had crashed within the first lap… but they got the hang of it and, despite a few stop starts, had a great race. The track we did had two storeys, with ramps in between, which made it a bit more challenging than any other karting they had done. Karting is not great for talking to each other during the actual event but you know they’ve had a good time when they all talk at once all the way home! The post-race computer print outs of average speeds, best and worst laps, with coloured graphs and complicated statistics, even made me feel like they were doing a bit of maths…..
Climbing up the walls
Climbing is one of those sports that transfers indoors really well so it’s an ideal candidate for fun family activities in winter. We did our session at XC in Hemel Hempstead but there are loads of brilliant indoor climbing venues across the country. Ours was a mixed session of bouldering and climbing – bouldering is done without ropes on quite low walls on a soft floor (in case you fall off) whereas climbing walls are much higher (especially at the XC!) and involve safety harnesses.
I’m not sure if the group of four teens I took were just particularly kamikaze but they preferred the bouldering and threw themselves on and off the walls at breakneck speed…
If you have a basic level of fitness and haven’t yet been climbing with your teenager then I’d really urge you to try it. Getting further up a climbing wall than they thought possible – through problem-solving, will power and effort – is a massive positive learning experience for teens. Not to mention the incredible buzz of adrenaline when you get back down – which is a real incentive for teenagers to step away from their screens again and get physical.
A walk in the park
OK, so I know this doesn’t sound very thrilling but as the person who walks our rather energetic doodle most days I do have an agenda around getting other people involved in walking! You won’t be surprised to learn that the gambit “Let’s all go for a dog walk” isn’t usually met with teenage glee, especially in February. Last year, we were trekking training for our trip to Nepal so the motivation was high and there were usually new gadgets or hi tech clothing to try out to make a walk more worthwhile. This year, I have found that my most successful walk suggestions have been to places where we can get a great hot chocolate (National Trust Runnymede) or a bacon butty (Savill Gardens) or when we had extended family round to make it a bigger group. (And when it’s not raining!)
If you have suggestions of fun family activities for teenagers, please do comment below or tweet me on @thinking_parent. Check out the spring edition for ideas for when the weather warms up a little (More fun family activities to tear teens away from tech) or if you have a whole weekend to spare, try these Fun family weekends to tear teens away from tech!
This is not a sponsored post but we were very grateful to receive free entry to XC and Absolutely Karting for review purposes. The opinions expressed are very much my own. See Disclosure Notice for more info.
Enjoyed this review? Subscribe to monthly newsletters for lots more parenting tips.