You might not be ready to sign off on your teenager traveling to a campground with friends, but having a camping party in your backyard allows you to supervise the proceedings. Despite being surrounded by the properties of familiar neighbors or even by a fence, your teen can experience the feel of braving the wilderness while still being able to run inside to escape a downpour.
When decorating your backyard for the camping party, let the camping equipment set the style. Pitch one or more tents and fill the backyard with camping-themed items such as a picnic table, lanterns, folding chairs and a charcoal barbecue. It isn't camping without swimming, so fill a large wading pool with water and place chairs around it. If privacy is an issue, run clotheslines between trees and drape colorful sheets or blankets to keep the teens away from neighbors' prying eyes. Doing so also blocks views of the familiar neighborhood for a more authentic camping experience.
Set the Menu
For a group of teen campers, part of the excitement of roughing it in the woods is getting to eat foods not regularly on the menu. Load up on a variety of camping-appropriate meals and snacks, including marshmallows for cooking over the fire, graham crackers and chocolate for making s'mores, hot dogs, chips, soda and frozen ice cream treats. Keep the food in your home's refrigerator or, if the teens want to be completely autonomous, load up coolers with ice and place them in the backyard.
Time to Play
Handing a group of teenagers a list of games for them to play will surely make them feel patronized. If they become restless, however, suggest cranking up the radio and dancing with flashlights or having a water fight around the wading pool. For younger teens, flashlight tag after dark is exciting. If you're spending time with the campers, wait until it's dark, then use a chart to identify various constellations in the sky.
Make Safety a Priority
As a parent, you want to give your teenager privacy to enjoy the party, but you're also responsible for what goes on in your backyard. Although backyard camping risks are fewer than those faced camping in the wild, it's important to educate teens about carefully maintaining the charcoal fire and ensuring it's extinguished before bed. Make sure the camping crew have sunscreen and plenty of water for hydration, and stress that alcohol isn't permitted at the party.