Think the days of following treasure maps to a chest of booty are gone forever? You're right! Today's treasure hunts are of the high-tech variety. If your teen has a taste for treasure, technology, or just a love of adventure, then "geocaching" might be just the thing.
If you've never heard of geocaching before, you're what those in the know call a “geo-muggle.” But have no fear; geocaching may seem like a secret society, but it's just a worldwide network of techno adventurers.
“Geocaching is a high-tech cross between a scavenger and treasure hunt,” says Joel McNamara, author of Geocaching for Dummies. “People all over the world hide containers with a few trinkets inside. They post the coordinates of these 'caches' to a website called geocaching.com. Geocachers look up the coordinates of these caches and try to find them using a GPS receiver that tells you your current location based on radio signals from satellites. When they find a cache, they sign a log and exchange a trinket inside the container with one they brought.”
So, what's the big deal? First of all, geocaching isn't about finding a big treasure: it's about looking. And, with over 410,000 geocaches hidden in over 222 countries, geocaching is also a way to feel part of something that is both hugely popular and very intimate.
What's in it for a teenager? Besides the excitement of treasure-hunting, teens may learn real lessons from the activity. “It's easy to incorporate elements of local history, geography, geology, and other natural science into geocaching,” says McNamara. “Since geocaching usually takes you to places you've never been before, by applying a little natural curiosity about your surroundings you can learn a lot. In the process of trying to find a cache you can keep your eyes open and identify birds, animals, and plants, be aware of what the weather is doing, or do a little bit of historical research on the area you're visiting ahead of time.” Geocaching is also a great activity for family trips. Headed to Mexico? Geocaching.com lists over 379 geocaches there. How about France? With a startling 2,695 geocaches, you wonder how people aren't tripping over them!
- Put your teen in charge of figuring out the new GPS unit (he'll probably be better than Mom and Dad!)
- Designate your teen as the expedition leader when you go geocaching
- Let your teen set up a geocaching.com account so that he can log and take credit for any caches he finds
- If he really takes an interest in geocaching, help him create his own cache or a family cache and post them on the website. This will encourage creativity and responsibility, since caches need to be designed and maintained.
With any luck, your teen will be off the couch and up a mountain before you can say "Global Positioning System!" So what are you waiting for?