Ep 58: The Great Outdoors and Teens

Episode Summary

Linda McGurk, author of There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather, clues us in on the surprising benefits of outdoor time…and how to get your kid out there in the first place!

Show NotesWorkbook ExercisesInterview TranscriptGuest Bio

Full Show Notes

After another long day of quarantine, you exit your office and see your two teenagers sitting on the couch, engrossed in their phones. How can they look at the screen for so long? If you were them, you’d be running around outside, playing games with friends. You step towards the door, adn thoughts of fresh air run through your head. Outside, a cool breeze floats down the street, easing the feel of the warm afternoon sun. You think to yourself, we ought to be spending more time outside as a family. 

In theory, getting the family out for a day of fun should be an easy task. In practice, though, you know it isn’t easy. How can you get your kids to recognize the importance of outdoor activities for a teenager if you can barely get them to put down their phone? 

In the pre-internet era, you would try to find any reason to get out the front door. Nobody wanted to hang out at home under the watchful eye of parental supervision. Nowadays, the internet has transformed social life onto a convenient little screen, allowing friends to connect from the comfort of the couch. In turn, the outdoor experience has become lost to many teens. How can parents help reintroduce the importance of outdoor activities for a teenager?

Glad you asked! This week, TTT hosts Linda McGurk, an expert on both the outdoors and parenting. Linda runs the blog, Rain or Shine Mamma, where she shares her tips for maintaining her outdoor lifestyle with children. She also wrote the book, There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient and Confident Kids.

Growing up in Sweden, Linda was introduced to the outdoors at a young age. In the U.S. she fell in love with the landscape, but was shocked at how often parents kept their kids indoors. Drawing on her scandanavian childhood, she began to raise her kids in harmony with nature to help them recognize the importance of the outdoors. Here’s an in-depth look at just one of Linda’s tricks to reintroducing the importance of outdoor activities for a teenager.

Screen-Free Sundays

The concept of Screen-Free Sundays is a little surprising to hear. These days, one can barely go an hour without looking at a screen, whether it be a tablet, phone, or TV. How are teens going to spend a whole day without their screens? How can you introduce them to the importance of outdoor activities for a teenager?

The goal of Screen-Free Sundays isn’t to pry screens for the hands of your teens. Rather, the goal is to regulate screen time to prevent teens from staying glued to the couch for 5 hours straight. Linda notes that the concept of Screen-Free Sundays, probably won’t go over well when you first bring it up, especially if your teens normally have unrestrained access to devices on a normal Sunday.

Linda did not have immediate success when initiating the first couple Screen-Free Sundays. Her youngest daughter fought the immediate changes to her lifestyle while Linda remained steadfast to having a screen free day. The refusal of either side to compromise on the screen free policy caused disaster in the McGurk household. “It was hard to go ‘cold turkey,’” McGurk says.

Linda was able to find common ground with her children with devices on Sunday through two distinct approaches. By using these techniques, Screen-Free Sundays became a hit as the importance of outdoor activities for a teenager became realized by both the kids and the parents. Now, Linda enjoys planning which excursion to go on every weekend. In summer popular activities are picnics or hikes, while the winter provides a great atmosphere for weekend ice-skating. 

It’s wonderful to hear about how successful Linda was when implementing her strategies to get everyone outside. But what were the strategies Linda used that led to success? And how can you help your kids recognize the importance of outdoor activities for a teenager?

Tip #1: Confidence in Compromise

Initially, Linda struggled to implement Screen-Free Sundays with her family. We all know it’s challenging to get people off their phones and demonstrate the importance of outdoor activities for a teenager, but in practice it can be hard to think up ideas to get everyone off the screen and outside. 

Linda had more success when she compromised and allowed her teens to have some screen time on Screen-Free Sundays. The trick was to gradually phase out screen time for her teens. This allowed the whole family to ease into the screen-free lifestyle. Initially, she allowed her daughter to watch her favorite TV show as her designated screen time. This helped her daughter get through the day without causing an outburst of anger or tears. 

Parents can apply this strategy to their implementation of Screen-Free Sundays. Instead of demanding everyone to stay off screens the whole day, perhaps you could restrict screen time to an hour of the day instead of forcing everyone to stay off the whole day. Alternatively, parents can restrict screen time to a single device for a set time period. No matter what method you choose, easing teens into Screen-Free Sundays is a must if you want to demonstrate the importance of outdoor activities for a teenager.

Tip #2: Inclusive Ideas 

To emphasize the importance of outdoor activities for a teenager, it’s important to get the whole family involved in planning Screen-Free Sundays. A trick to getting the teens on board, Linda says, is to have them write down ideas on sticky notes for screen-free weekend activities. The week before, a note is drawn from a bowl to allow everyone a chance to plan for the Sunday. Having a bowl of ideas is crucial because it engages the whole family for input on activities during Screen-Free Sundays.

The Idea Jar helped engage Linda’s kids when it came to Screen-Free Sundays. The opportunity to have input into the family’s plan helped everyone buy into the concept of going without a screen for a day. The bowl gave a voice to her kids, allowing them to feel included and valued in family discussions. The jar also motivated her kids to get off the couch and reminded them the importance of outdoor activities for a teenager. 

While it might seem fun to implement an Idea Jar for the family to use, the jar gets at a core function of parent-teen relations: communication. Parents and teens often have trouble communicating because teens believe they deserve more autonomy and responsibility and want adults to treat their voice as equal in discourse. The Idea Jar is great because it creates a platform for equal discourse that is less likely to result in a yelling match between parents and teens. 

While Screen-Free Sundays can be one solution to demonstrating the importance of outdoor activities for a teenager, it might not be the right solution for your family. In the rest of the podcast, Linda and Andy discuss many additional concepts to help you get your teens outside. Some additional concepts discussed in the podcast are…

  • ‘Friluftsliv’: leaving civilization and reconnecting with nature
  • Modeling outdoor lifestyles
  • Balancing screens and chores
  • Free play and the outdoors for children
  • Letting ‘Teens be Teens’
  • Differences between Swedish and American education

Thank you so much to Linda McGurk for sharing her invaluable knowledge on the importance of outdoor activities for a teenager. Now’s the time to get those kids off the couch and into the great outdoors!

Workbook Exercises

Step-by-step guides for applying the ideas from this interview

1. Start a Screen Free Sunday:

It was only after her daughter got her first smart phone and SnapChat that Linda realized the whole family could use a day a week to “detox” from screens. So she came up with “Screen Free Sunday.” At first, Linda insisted everyone go cold turkey for screen-free day, but after the first Sunday she realized it was perhaps better to ease into it! To give the day a bit more purpose and her kids more control, Linda encouraged her kids to come up with alternate activities to do on Sunday and had them pick which to do. To get started, first jot down four alternate activities you could do with the family instead of being on your screens! These ideas can be big or small, and ideally involve some outdoor time. Next, introduce the idea at your next family meeting, and bring your four activities, getting suggestions from other family members. If the family reacts poorly, suggest easing into it by decreasing screen time over the next three Sundays until you’re all at zero. And if once a week is too much for you, start with one day out of the month!

2.  Create a Parenting Facebook Group:

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Complete Interview Transcript

Andy: The book is called There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather, A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets For Raising Healthy, Resilient, And Confident Kids. there’s some stuff in here that’s so fascinating. I always think cultural differences are really, really interesting to me because it’s like, kind of becomes invisible. You live in a certain culture and you just sort of like accept that this is the way things are and this is the way parenting is and this is the way that things just go. So it was just so fascinating for me to see some of the things in your book that are different in different countries. You talk about other countries as well, not just, the US and Sweden, but so … can you just talk a little bit first about kind of the story of what inspired this book and kind of how it all came about?

Linda: Yeah. So yeah, the whole … you’re right, the whole idea of different cultures treating the whole parenting thing differently is really fascinating. I think we’ve seen books about Chinese parenting and French parenting, and then I thought it was about time somebody wrote a book about Scandinavian parenting.

Linda: My book mostly talks about the role of nature connection in childhood. It came about because I was born and raised in Sweden, but I moved over to the US when I was in my twenties. I lived in Montana for a couple of years. The outdoors was a big part of my life growing up in Sweden and I was able to sort of pick that up in Montana as well. But then we moved to Indiana and we had our first daughter 11 years ago, and that’s when I really started to notice some big differences between, not just between the cultures, but also parenting culture specifically.

Linda: For example, in Sweden, it’s, it’s a very common custom to let your kids nap outside, even very young babies, even in the winter, even in freezing temperatures. In Indiana, it was, people were even afraid to take their babies outside at all in the winter time. So needless to say, there were some culture clashes, with other parents not … like being very sort of questioning of what, like, “Is it okay to take my baby outside? I was thinking I’ll wait till the spring comes and to go for a walk.”

Linda: This was so foreign to me. I had just assumed that taking your kids outside in the winter or anytime was sort of common practice anywhere. It started already when they were babies, so that’s sort of where I got the idea for a book. I thought I wanted to share my story of growing up in Sweden, because I know how healthy it is for kids to be outside and to be in nature.

Andy: One thing that I thought was really, really fascinating, I’m going to butcher this pronunciation, but is the concept of [friluftsliv 00:00:03:32].

Linda: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Andy: Okay, how do you say that?

Linda: Friluftsliv.

Andy: Friluftsliv?

Linda: Yeah. Yes.

Andy: Okay, so what the heck is that and how is that different from the way we do things in America?

Linda: Good question. Friluftsliv, it’s a cultural tradition of sorts that’s sort of passed down from generation to generation in Sweden. The word itself sort of originated in the 1800s. It literally means free air life. It came about as a reaction against industrialization, actually. So it started among the cultural elites who, they sought out nature to sort of get away from the cities. I mean, this is already back in the 1800s. They wanted away from the pollution and the noise and the people and the traffic and the horse and buggy, whatever it was back then. So they just went out into the countryside. After the Second World War, the government started to promote it because they realized this was a really good public health measure because people felt good when they were outside and also, people started to have bigger disposable incomes and they had more time off. That’s when it really started to become a movement, with more people being able to go to the countryside and away from the cities.

Linda: Today, people still leave the cities for the same reasons, to get away from traffic and noise and all that. But we also need to get away from technology today. It’s getting harder and harder to find places where you can actually shut off your cellphone and just sort of be in the present moment. Friluftsliv, we’re finding that today, it’s more popular than ever actually, and I think that’s got to do with the fact that we’re always online, plugged in, on our devices. So friluftsliv is still very popular.

Linda: It’s different from outdoor recreation a little bit. That would be the sort of similar term that you would use in the US, the difference being that friluftsliv is very much about just being in nature. It’s this sort of … I call it slow nature, just like we have slow food and things like that, because it’s just about experiencing nature without any pressure to achieve or compete. It’s just, you go outside without a specific agenda, and it’s sort of the space where humans and nature meets and where the two intersect.

Linda: It’s typically non-motorized, so kayaking, for example, would be considered friluftsliv, but going out on a motorboat is not, whereas that could still be outdoor recreation. Like water skiing, for example, that could be outdoor recreation, but it’s not friluftsliv because it’s an action sport. It’s more about the sport, personal thrill, so it’s not about that meeting with nature.

Linda: t’s typically noncompetitive, so a walk, just a slow walk in nature friluftsliv but running a 5K or a 10K for example, not quite because you’re competing so it’s about the race.

Andy: It brings your focus onto the competition in a way.

Linda: Yes.

Andy: Yeah, and you’re computing your time or whatever it is.

Linda: Yeah. It’s not about personal thrills or achievements. It’s just about connecting with nature, sort of using all your senses and sort of developing this deep sensation of connectedness with nature and the love for nature. And also, learning survival skills. Even though it’s not about having like a curriculum. It’s not like a classroom, but it is about having this desire to learn with nature as a teacher. So more informal. You don’t have to be an expert, it’s just having the willingness to learn. It’s not a set of activities, it’s more just like a culturally learned rhythm that revolves around being outside and experiencing this oneness with nature.

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Andy: There’s this guy, Wim Hof, who’s got this whole method, it’s called the Iceman. I just think his stuff is like really fun, but you know, there’s a lot of studies actually showing the benefits of being out in the cold. Just like working out stresses your body a little bit, but it’s actually good for you, so are things, studies showing things like actually oxygen deprivation, where you’re holding your breath or training at a high altitude where there’s less oxygen, or putting yourself in a situation where it’s really cold, freezing temperatures, actually encourages the growth of brown tissue in your body which is good and makes you more resilient. There’s actually a ton of benefits to getting uncomfortable and putting yourself out.

Andy: One thing that I thought was super interesting, we talked about just like for a second earlier but was this idea that people in Sweden and Scandinavia in general just kind of let their babies sleep outside, will put the baby in the stroller and just kind of … bundled up, you know, but just let them sleep outside on the porch, which I thought was so interesting.

Andy: You point out there’s studies even showing that then afterwards, they’re like more alert, they’re more engaged, they have a bigger appetite. You know, that they’re sleeping outside actually is good and it made me really think about all this Wim Hof stuff and how we kind of … he recommends taking cold showers and ice baths and stuff like that just to like, get back in touch with this, because it’s harder to even do some places if you live in LA, it’s like that cold doesn’t even exist. But so, reading this book just like got me really thinking about how it’s interesting how that is part of the culture there and it’s not as much here. If you have a teenager, you’re not maybe going to be leaving them outside to nap, but how you can get them out into the elements a little bit or just start to kind of push them into uncomfortable climates a little bit more?

Linda: Right? Yeah, so that’s … yeah, the title of the book, I just have to come back to that because that’s what this is all about. It’s actually an old Swedish saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,” and so that’s where the title comes from. If you have grown up in Sweden or anywhere in Scandinavia, if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times because that’s what all the adults just tell the kids when they whine about not wanting to go outside when it’s rainy or snowy or whatever, uncomfortable weather. It’s just an attitude that we have, that the weather doesn’t matter. We know winters are going to be long and dark and the weather is going to suck a lot of days in the winter, but the health benefits are so great from going outside that we’re not going to let that stop us. You just kind of have to get over that.

Linda: So that’s why a lot of parents try to foster this sort of early on, get the kids to used to being outside in inclement weather so that they work up this sort of resilience, or they just, they don’t think twice about it, it becomes part of their, just sort of normal routine. Then it’s like, “Okay, it’s raining. Okay, well, we’ll just dress for the weather.” That’s kind of the other part of this is you got to dress for the weather. Of course, the easiest way to do this is to do it from when they’re little so that they’re used to it.

Andy: Yeah, start them napping out there, before they even know what’s going on.

Linda: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I rarely get that … like my kids rarely say anything about the weather anymore. They’re an 8 and 11 now, and they never question or say like, “Well, it’s rainy outside,” because they know, well, we go outside regardless, because that’s what we’ve always done. We’ve gone outside every day since they were little, because that’s what we do. But if you have older kids and you feel like they’re too sedentary and they’re, they need to get outside more. I mean, it’s never too late to start. I think it takes a little more effort on the part of the parents when the kids are older. It will probably require you to get out there with them initially. That’s the same for very little children, of course. You can’t just like let a toddler outside on their own, they need supervising. So there’s a few years there where they need watching a little bit, but then of course the goal is for them to play independently outside, assuming that you’re in an area where it’s safe to do so, which is I think a lot of places.

Linda: As they get older, once they get into electronic devices and things like that, then it starts to get a little harder again. Because normally, younger kids, they really gravitate towards outside play. They love being out there and being allowed to jump in puddles and get dirty and climb trees. I mean, as long as us adults sort of step back and actually let them play in an unstructured way, kids love outdoor play. But once they get a little older and they start, like I said, maybe they have getting their first tablet or … it’s just a lot easier for them to stay on the couch. It’s the same for us adults, of course. I think we’re wired to choose the path of least resistance, right? So of course it’s easier to stay inside.

Andy: We seek comfort. Yeah.

Linda: Yes. So it takes a lot of drive from the parents to get the kids outside. It still does for me on some days. Even though they don’t protest about the weather, my kids don’t always want to go outside, but so I have to push it. To me it’s the same as just like I’ve pushed them to eat their vegetables and to brush their teeth at night. I know that doesn’t sound very sexy, it’s just one of those things we have to do, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a good time once they are out there. It’s just getting them out the door is usually the hardest part.

Andy: So okay, the first thing I hear you saying is there’s getting them the right clothes, making sure they have the clothes, the right clothes for whatever the weather is outside and then making the effort yourself, modeling it yourself and then making the effort. So I’m wondering what that looks like in terms of just like saying, “Hey, we’re going to go for a hike today,” or like just say … what have you found, as your kids are getting a little older, is kind of the strategy for getting them out on those days when they don’t do it on their own?

Linda: Right. I have a few different things and it kind of depends on time and what other activities they have, and also the time of the year, because during the winter it gets dark really early here. Yeah, it gets dark. It’s dark by four o’clock in the afternoon. So not only do you need the right clothes, you also need headlights and reflective vests. Yeah, so you need some equipment, but it can be done and they actually really love being outside in the dark.

Linda: For example, on a school day, say a Monday afternoon, they come home and maybe we’ll eat some food, and then we go outside. It could be as simple as just going for a little walk around our neighborhood and we have headlights and they want to play hide and seek, or we play flashlight tag. We have simple little games like that.

Linda: We’re not outside for hours on end during weekdays because there’s just not enough time and they also have homework and some other days they have other activities too. But to me, it’s important to just have that, even if it’s just half an hour, to at least have that half an hour to go outside and do some games and just have some together time outside.

Andy: It’s like making a habit.

Linda: Yes, creating a habit is really key. Then on the weekends, when we have a little more time, we try to do some bigger activities and maybe get … maybe we’ll drive to a nature area a little farther from our home. Maybe we’ll just do something simple, like a packing a picnic. They love just packing some sandwiches and hot chocolate when the weather is cooler. Often, we’ll bring a special treat as well, just to make it a little special and just go for a little hike.

Linda: Maybe we do some things along the way as well. It just depends. We listen for birds or we talk about what the animals do in the winter and just things like that and just connecting. Usually, I don’t have a lot of things planned in advance. I try to keep it simple. But then when we do know in advance that what we’re going to have a full day … what we’ve been doing this year is something called a screen free Sundays. It started kind of as an experiment to see, because I was frustrated with how much time the kids spent on their devices. It’s getting really hard now with my 11-year-old. She’s got her own a smartphone and all her friends have smartphones and they’re starting to get into the social media and Snapchat and things. She just got Snapchat. She was the last one in her class to get it. Her classmates had had it for a while, so eventually I just had to, I caved and I was like, “Okay, but it’s going to be regulated, it’s going to be monitored, and we still need to have plenty of outdoor time.” So that was kind of the compromise.

Linda: So we have screen free Sundays and that’s when I too try to go screen free. Frankly, I think us adults need it as well. I think has been almost as hard, if not harder, for me to stay off my phone. Because I have so much work connected to my phone, it’s been pretty hard to do that, but I think it’s really healthy and to kind of get them to buy into this because it was not easy.

About Linda McGurk

Linda McGurk is a journalist and blogger and outdoors-lover. Growing up in Sweden she gained a deep love and respect for nature. Raising her two kids in America, Linda began to realize some stark differences in her Swedish upbringing and her kids’. She started her blog Rain or Shine Mamma in 2013 and has been going strong ever since.

Want More Linda McGurk?

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