Camping with your teenagers is like one big (search) party!

image Our family loves to go camping. In fact, we make sure to get out and pitch our tent — without fail — once a year.

Traditionally, this takes place during the busy Labor Day Weekend so that as many people as possible can witness a 49-year-old man being attacked by his own tent. In my defense, I have to say our tent is very large; especially when it is laying flat on the ground.

If I hadn’t lost the step-by-step instructions that came with it, I’m sure the assembly process would be a lot easier because, as a man, I could use them to, step-by-step, blame everything on having lousy instructions.

What this means is that over the Labor Day Weekend my handiwork will again be mistaken for a hot air balloon that has crash-landed into our family’s camp site.

I bought this tent 20 years ago while living in Texas. As you know, everything is bigger there — including tents — which is why I tried to find the smallest model available. This turned out to be a tent called Quick Camp, which was a handy, two-compartment structure roughly the size of a jet hanger. Despite its size, the salesman assured us that the assembly process was very simple. He said that the entire thing could be erected in less than 20 minutes with a little planning.

And he was right.

As long as your plan includes staying out of the tent.

For some reason, it collapses on us every time we got inside. I’m not talking about an inconvenient buckling of the walls; this is more like an instantaneous implosion of water-resistant nylon that required the assistance of a search and rescue team:

“Listen up! Team ‘A’ will start at the west quadrant near the mosquito netting. Team ‘B’ will take the dogs and follow the perimeter until we can —”
Woof! Woof!
“Quick — over HERE! I think someone’s moving under this giant door flap!”

In spite of these experiences, we still feel it’s important for our family to go camping together. That’s because, as parents, we know our teenagers really hate it. I mean, sure — it’s pretty exciting while Dad is flopping around under 200 yards of nylon. But once that’s over, and I’ve decided that we’re all going to sleep out under the stars LIKE REAL PIONEERS! they begin to realize that everything they know about civilization has been left behind.

And by “everything,” I mean their electronic devices.

In the primitive world of camping there is no Facebook or Instagram.

There is only dirt.

And time.

And if they’re lucky, enough fire to cook a marshmallow.

Eventually, as the shock of not having a television wears off, our kids enter what I feel is the most important phase of their camping experience: Realizing that we, the parents, are the key to their survival.

This epiphany starts the moment I pull out the old camp stove, give it a few pumps, then light the picnic table on fire. In that instant, the only thing that matters is reaching out together as a family and finding the nearest fire extinguisher.

So, during the Labor Day Weekend, our family will once again be camping out. If you happen to be in the neighborhood, feel free to stop by.

The rescue team could probably use your help.


(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation and a member of the writing team at Long Awkward Pause. His first book,Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, or Barnes & Noble.)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

66 thoughts on “Camping with your teenagers is like one big (search) party!”

  1. Oh, how I have missed you and your humor. I could see it all: the flopping tent, the 5-alarm fire, and therapy sign-up sheets after being without an iPhone for 36-50 hours.
    Happy camping to you and yours! xo

  2. LOL! I used to love camping as a kid… so in that way it is different than our kids today, eh? I went to girl scout camp every single summer for 2 weeks and would have stayed longer if I could. NOW? You couldn’t get me to stay in a tent outdoors unless it included large amounts of money, insect repellent, a porta potty, air conditioning, running water, a bed.. wait, that sound like a hotel room! LOL! The only way you will find me “roughing it” nowadays would be a 200 sq foot 5th wheel somewhere for a weekend MAYBE! ha ha! Good luck with the kiddos Labor Day! I will be thinking of ya! 😉

    1. Our kids already hate camping, so I suppose they are ahead of the curve? Anytime they are without their devices is “roughing it” in their opinion. That includes my rule on “No devices while on the commode.”

  3. Ha! My idea of roughing it is a 45 foot motorhome with hydraulic levelers that allow me to roll a cold can of beer from the back all the way to my hand in the driver’s seat. (When parked of course – no drinking and driving). Speaking of Coleman stoves – I watched one of those confound a colleague once and although it was great for a laugh, I wouldn’t want to mess with them. When he couldn’t get it started (the sparker was broken and he was lighting it with matches), he leaned his naked upper torso over the unit to check the far side and accidentally pushed the sparker which picked that moment to work. The gas had been left on and there was a huge WHOOSH! and the flames wrapped right around his chest meeting back up over top of him. Once we found out he was OK except for his pride and chest hair, it was hilarious.

    Anyway, I can empathize Ned but I will not participate,

    Funny post.Thank You.

      1. I think we called him :flash” for a while – that way we could all laugh and he could still save face with casual observers. We weren’t normally that considerate but he had a sad history – Ha! This guy was one of a kind. He owned his own Kenworth tractor and was leased to the same company I was. I met him one cold February night in a restaurant and he had no eyebrows and no facial hair at all. Ha! I asked what had happened and he told me his story, ha! You see diesel fuel is hard to light on fire (I’m sure you know that being a fireman) and even an open flame won’t set it off. That said truck diesel has very flammable additives mixed with it in winter to stop waxing and freezing and to remove condensation. When winter diesel is heated, the additives form a vapor over the diesel and are very explosive. This gentleman forgot about that and so when he found his truck fuel gauge wasn’t working and his flashlight batteries were dead, he opened his hot fuel tank and tried to look in with a lighter. Bwahahaha! Needless to say the vapors exploded and blew flame right out of the tank and into his face. Luckily his eyes reacted fast enough to save themselves, but his facial hair couldn’t get away fast enough and was incinerated. Ha! Bwahahaha! He was a winner Ned. You should have made him a volunteer Fireman – that way he would be close to help and his colleagues could put him out every time he burst into flame. Ha!

        1. Hahaha! I have to tell you, I had a half brother who passed away several years ago, but his nickname was “Mr. Kingsford” because he got drunk and passed out on the grill one time. He had nice marks across his belly! Don’t try this at home, kids… 😉

          1. Ha! I’ve pulled some boners in my life but that one takes the cake – passing out into a lit BBQ! Bwahahaha! You could have called him “medium-rare” and it would have fit. ha!

  4. That photo looks somewhat familiar. My version of camping is letting my son pitch a 4 person tent in the front yard and sleep out there with my husband, while I stay in our bed, enjoying the Tempurpedic mattress. Of course, they have cots, and a power cord for my husband’s c-pap machine. And the iPad. I cleaned out the tent the other week (after my son and a buddy used it) to keep down the trash: don’t want to attract bears. And I found a single electric burner, my smallest cooking pot, empty cup-o-noodles cups, empty applesauce squeeze pouches with the tops off so applesauce was here and there in the tent, tons of random trash, some missing water bottles, a pair of shoes that had been missing, blanket from my sofa, sleeping bags, etc. The one thing I told my son was, when we camp we cook outside, not in the tent.

    Have a great camping weekend! Don’t forget the fire extinguisher.

  5. I can appreciate this a lot since my oldest is about to become a teen. You know, if you struggle that much with your large tent during the busy camping season, you should at least charge an admission to witness the spectacle. No harm in profiting off of the mishap. 😉

    1. Ah yes, the “wonder” years, as in “I wonder what happened to that nice little kid I had?!” I joke; it’s really not that bad. Once they’re asleep.

      And Erin, what a great idea! Maybe I’ll film it and show it in 3D? I’ll have to work on getting the rating down from “R” to a more profitable “PG-13.”

  6. I have to admit that I’ve never understood the appeal of camping (and this didn’t help). So, I spend a year working hard so that I can earn enough money to live like a homeless person for a week? I could simply skip the “working hard” part and achieve the same end.

    In fact, I dislike camping so much that I even avoided any movie or television show starring the actor Joe Campanella (ask your grandparents, kids).

    As far as I’m concerned, the only acceptable camp pretty much starts and ends with Jerry Lewis and the Marx Brothers.

    I don’t like roughage in my diet, so why would I sleep on it?

  7. Your post makes me wish I had taken my teenagers camping at some point. It would have been one more way to share that family joy. The one time we did travel, we just rented them a separate hotel room – with a minibar – and told them they could have whatever they wanted EXCEPT FOR THE BOOZE. It was one way to keep them in that room, and I’m sure they listened, as all teens do.

    1. I think you’re right, Sarah. I’m betting there is probably an alien satellite devoted to nothing but surveiling humans failing at putting up tents.

      “See? We can plan our invasion Labor Day Weekend and totally TAKE these humans while they are trapped in their tents!”

  8. That’s hilarious and you’re a genius!

    I don’t think I’ve ever been camping, but I may just have collapsing tent induced amnesia.

    I did try to construct a tent once out of random material in the garden when I was a child, but it soon filled with a party of insects and got too crowded and rowdy for my liking. You can’t get to sleep with a cricket in your ear or ants in your pants even though they tried to convince me that I could.

    If I didn’t live so far away and wasn’t so lazy I’d definitely stop by… to take pics and post them, they’d make an excellent entry in this week’s daily post photo challenge, but I might need to meddle with time travel (again, only I won’t make the same mistakes I made last time I did that).

    Thanks for sharing, have a great time!

  9. Camping is completely awesome! We started camping with ours, when they were young, but unlike the regular camping, we, horrible parents that we are, made our children go camping in the backcountry. Thus, carry your own backpack, canoe, portage, carry all your stuff, canoe more. Find campsite in wild, no wifi, no electricity, no toilet, well a box with a lid. Try it Ned, your kids will love/hate you even more. 🙂

  10. I went camping once as a child, as part of a church group outing. The girls’ pup tent fell over in the night and raccoons ate the chili, but other than that….

  11. Have fun camping! We go every Memorial Day weekend with my extended family but we sleep in cabins. (Ducks and hides.) We stay at a place that is used as a summer camp for kids for most of the summer, but my family rents out the whole place for that one weekend. Sometimes we have more than 100 people. The cabins have those springy summer camp bunk beds, so if an adult is sleeping above you, there’s a good chance his weight might bring him low enough to smother you in your sleep. That’s roughing it, right?

    1. To be honest, that sounds like a better way to go. And at least with those springy mattresses, if you’re sleeping below someone who is gassy from all the camp food, it acts as a fart filter.

      I guess it’s easy to see why I won’t be invited to any of your family weekends…

  12. “…only dirt. And time.” Poor, poor kiddos hahaha. Did the camping gig myself twice (once in a camper, I ‘spose this doesn’t really count and once in a tent). The tent experience was enough for me to realize that I am not the outdoorsy type. I probably could catch a pinic table on fire though.

    Oh, like your emergency protocol for when the tent collapses teehee.

  13. If I lived on your side of the country, I’d definitely take a drive to watch this “unfold,” (no pun intended). I need some good old-fashioned entertainment aside from drinking too much wine at dinner and talking to my 18-year-old nephew about effective birth control. I’m much more of a hotel-hot water-and-room-service kind of gal, but it’s a bit tempting to consider camping just for the writing material. Thank you for taking one for the team!

    1. Thanks, Tara. Next year I’ll reserve a campsite for you next to ours. You bring the wine and talk about birth control while we all make S’mores. The look of horror on my teens’ faces alone will be worth months of writing material 😉

  14. During the Labor Day Weekend, my family will once again be immersed in all things nerd at Fan Expo Canada. Funny how we’re friends, isn’t it, Ned?

  15. You appear to be made of Stern(o) stuff, my friend. Have at it. Camping. Hahaha. No, thank you. My one and only time staying in a tent was when I covered Woodstock II in Saugerties, N.Y., in 1994. Four nights not being able to sleep in a pup tent pitched among 100,000 in a field that quickly turned to mud. Camping! Every year, you say?!

  16. i camped with my kids cross country from the time they were infants and only rarely did we stay at a campground…i kid you not…so to them the annual pilgrimage was ‘normal’ and not such a shock to their delicate teen systems. i made them forage for food…we fished, picked berries, made pemican, waded in the water to get wild rice…lol…ate watercress FROM the rivers, dandelion greens. By the time they were 7-8-9..they could set up a campsite in the dark in 5 minutes.
    i only ever had issues 1 summer as they were all young teens and gave me attitude…so i went further north than we’d ever been. Think Duluth Minnesota then drive another 8 hours North…then we went bush whacking along a river for 3 days carrying a backpack and whatever supplies each person decided was important. I am the only one who brought rain gear and bug repellent because none of us were talking to each other when we left as they knew everything.
    The absolute joy I had in their bond of their hatred of me as they were eaten alive by day and kept awake all night by torrential rain while trying to build a shelter from tree boughs to deflect ANY of the rain was a memory that kept me happy for 15 years after it little 1 person tarp over a rain suit worked just great though and by the time we made it back to the vehicle, surprisingly, they had learned a lesson in preparedness, cooperation, communication and most importantly, not pissing mom off by fighting with each other.

    1. That is fantastic! Lol! You were like Mama Rambo out there! I have to admit I find a certain satisfaction when my teens don’t listen to my suggestions because they “know everything” — and then suffer the consequences. Is that mean? Who cares!

      1. i love consequential parenting! clear examples of cause and effect!
        my kids laughed at the TV show ‘survivor’ because it was sooooo opposite to how they were taught to be when in the woods. they were horrified no one ever scavenged for food or set up fish traps was awesome listening to them talk during the show.

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