Why Some Kids Hate The Cottage

Is the family cottage headed for extinction?

With most cottage properties now beyond the financial reach of young families, only second and third generation cottagers are left to maintain the great Canadian tradition of family cottaging. Unfortunately, these families are also facing a dilemma – the kids don’t want to go to the lake.

If you find yourself in this situation, you have plenty of company. Your grandfather probably built the original cabin. You and your parents have spent every summer from as far back as you can remember enjoying all the cottage activities – fishing, hiking, exploring the surroundings, and maintaining and repairing the cottage. In fact, your mother probably tells stories about how she had to drag you kicking and screaming out of the cabin and into the car for the ride back to the city.

You always expected that you would have the same experiences with your own children. They definitely kick and scream, but it happens when you haul them away from the computer in their bedroom and herd them into the car to drive up to the lake.

Why Your Kids Hate The Cottage

Some people blame this change in kids on the advances of technology. Across the country, neighbourhood streets and parks that were once filled with children playing road hockey, baseball, or hide and seek, are now quiet and empty. The kids are still there, but they never play outside. Most of their free time is spent playing video games, watching T.V., or surfing the Internet.

Part of the problem is certainly a lack of interest in outdoor activities, but parents, too, may be inadvertently responsible for the kids’ cottaging apathy.

Living in a world that is broadly believed to be more dangerous today than it was 20 or 30 years ago, parents now keep kids on a short leash – their schedules, activities and whereabouts tightly controlled and monitored 24/7. It’s possible that the adventurous and admittedly mischievous spirit that lies within every young person is no longer given the opportunity to be set free.

If kids don’t like playing outside in the city, or are not allowed to do so, it isn’t surprising that they would have little interest in heading to the cottage – especially if the same restrictions apply.

Cabin Chores Are Good
One more reason for this anti-cottage attitude that has emerged in today’s youngsters may be the new definition of the cottage itself, and technology again plays a significant role.

The first cabin built by grandpa was a rustic place in the woods. The only source of heat was the old wood stove. Dishes had to be washed by hand. Fresh fish and wild berries were regular parts of the meals because there wasn’t a fridge or freezer conveniently available to preserve all the store-bought stuff that we normally eat in the city. Electricity was supplied by the generator and only used when absolutely necessary. In some cases, water had to be carried up from the lake.

When all the chores were done and a few hours remained before bed, the family played card games together under the light of the old oil lamps, or sat by the bonfire roasting marshmallows and singing camp songs. On a rainy day, everyone quietly relaxed by the fire and read a book or a magazine.

In a nutshell, cottaging required the efforts and participation of the entire family – and that’s what always made it so special.

Kids had to paddle a canoe, catch and clean fish, collect firewood, haul water, pick berries and wash dishes. When they had a free moment they read a book, played games, or took a nap in the hammock. It was a whole different world from life in the city.

New-Age Cottages
The modern cottage, in most places, now resembles the house in town. The woodstove has stepped aside for electric heat. Electricity from the grid now powers the fridge, freezer, washer and dryer. The games, books and magazines, long forgotten since the arrival of the satellite and Internet, now sit under layers of dust. And gone are the days of endless hours spent together paddling around the lake in the canoe looking for a fishing hotspot to catch dinner. Mom just buys the fish at the supermarket.

Anymore, the only difference between being in the city and being at the lake is the traffic jam you have to put up with to get there and the increase in bugs you fight through when carrying all the electronic toys into the cottage. It’s no wonder the kids don’t want to go – there is nothing extraordinary anymore about being at the cottage.

Many families, in an attempt to lure the kids back to the lake, have substituted the canoe with a personal water craft and a new 4X4 ATV. Unfortunately, the novelty of the fancy toys usually wears off quickly and more often than not, the expensive equipment just sits idle or ends up being sold online for a lot less than we paid for it.

How To Make Cottaging Cool Again

So, is that it? Is family cottaging dead? What can parents do to make cottaging cool again?

We just have to go back to the basics. Cabin activities should focus on involving the entire family, and kids need to experience cottaging the way they did in the good old days.

Here are a few suggestions:

Ban The Electronics
No smart phones, video games, MP3 players, satellite T.V. or Internet. This rule has to hold for both parents and kids. You can’t expect the youngsters to respect the program if Dad is on his BlackBerry every five minutes sending messages to the office or checking the movements of the stock market.

Loosen The Child Leash
Let the kids discover their inner Huck Finn at the lake. Give them the freedom to wander off in the boat, mess around along the shoreline, explore the woods, build forts, chase animals, etc. They may finish the day with a few extra bumps and bruises, or even pick up a dose of poison ivy, but they will likely get into much less trouble than you expect – and certainly enjoy themselves more.

Bring Friends
Encourage the kids to invite one or two of their non-cottager friends to spend time with the family at the cabin, especially if the resistance to going to the lake stems from a reluctance to be away from their pals. Having a companion for the youngsters puts less pressure on you to keep them entertained, and if their friends enjoy themselves, cottaging may suddenly be the cool thing to do again.

Eat Fresh Fish
Commit to catching fresh fish for at least one of the cottage meals and make everyone responsible for one part of the process – catching, cleaning, cooking and washing-up afterwards. Don’t use the dishwasher.

Plan A Hike OR A Geocache Game
The GPS should be the only exception to the “no technology rule” for the cottage.

Go Canoeing
Take the canoe out for a leisurely paddle along the shoreline. It’s amazing how much people enjoy canoeing when they just make the effort. Get the paddles out, carry the canoe down to the lake, and don’t forget the life jackets.

Play Group Games
Downtime during the rain or in the evening should be spent together playing games. It doesn’t matter if the games are old classics or the latest fads, just make sure the whole gang is together and everyone participates.

Have A Campfire
Give every family member a job to do as a part of setting up the bonfire – splitting wood, collecting kindling, organizing chairs, and preparing the food and drinks.

Kids, teenagers, and adults alike have enjoyed these traditional cottage activities for generations, and they will continue to do so if we just get back to what family cottaging is really all about. The family cottage truly is a great Canadian tradition and it would be a shame to see it disappear.

Written by: Andrew Walker

Go to the How To Organize A Geocache page.
Go to the Cottage Games page.
Go to the Beginner Fishing Tips page.
Go to the Bonfire And Campfire Tips page.

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