As a high school English teacher many moons ago, I often met parents who expressed their inability to connect with their teenage son or daughter.
While I don’t want to oversimplify such challenges, I also listened to many stories from my former students’ perspective that may provide us parents with a little insight.
Here’s what I know as a teacher, teenager, and dad of a six-year-old: tweens, teens, and adults love to laugh, learn, explore, eat good food, see new places, and be appreciated. The problem is when we don’t take the time to share in experiences like these together.
The following activities and tips come from my experience and those of my friends and family who’ve raised teens.
3 Tips To Spend Quality Time With Your Teenager
Tip #1 If It’s Not Fun for Your Kid, Then Drop It
This is a bold statement, but I genuinely believe a seasoned parent can make almost any activity into a learning experience, no matter what their teen is interested in. Or, at worse, if not a learning experience, a bonding experience.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand there are plenty of activities our tween-teen may not want to do or include us. Going to school, doing homework, getting enough sleep, eating healthy food, and exercising are activities we parents monitor, nag, and enforce. They also need their space, so there are plenty of activities for which they may not want us around, like hanging out with friends.
When parents make time to hang and engage in activities exciting and fun to their tween-teen, their relationship and bond strengthen and deepen. Which magically makes those must-do activities we monitor, nag, and enforce easier to navigate.
Here’s the point some parents don’t get, unless those activities are fun or exciting for their teen, then hanging out becomes a chore like cleaning your room, doing your homework, or hanging upside down over a fire—no fun.
So, hanging out with your teen doesn’t always have to be a learning or teaching moment. Let that go. If bonding over Fortnight (a video game), watching the latest Avengers (a superhero movie), or listening to Sia (one of my daughter’s favorite artist) helps strengthen your relationship, that’s a success.
Again, there are no teachable or bond strengthening moments unless your teen wants to be there.
Tip #2 Sharing Must be a Two-Way Street
Two themes will emerge in this blog for each of these activity ideas:
First, what does your teenager like to watch, eat, visit, read, appreciate, move to, or expand their mind to?
And second, what do you like to watch, eat, visit, read, appreciate, move to, or expand your mind to?
As a mom or dad, are you too busy or don’t have any answers to answer these questions? Then what did you like to watch, eat, visit, read, appreciate, move to, or expand your mind to when you were a teenager?
Still coming up with nothing? Then think hard about it. Unless we are curious about our teenagers’ inner world and are willing to share ours, our relationship will be limited to a series of perfunctory moments—birth, graduation, taxes, retirement, and death? That’s not what my wife and I signed up for when we started our family.
Tip #3 Curiosity and Sharing Always Leads to Bonding and Learning
Look, the truth is, I don’t care for Taylor Swift enough to listen to her music without my daughter in the car. But I have been known to bond with my daughter and sing along while driving her and her friends to school.
Woah, I feel better about admitting that.
The same can be said about the dozens of times I’ve watched both Frozen movies. But over the last couple of years, we’ve held long discussion analyzing the movies while learning more about my daughter.
- What do you like about the Frozen movies? “They are so beautiful.”
- Really? What do you find beautiful about the movies? “Arendelle, Elsa, and Anna.”
- What do you like about Elsa and Anna? “Well, Anna is beautiful, and Elsa is powerful.”
- Who do you like best? Who would you rather be? “Elsa because she has powers and saves Arendelle.”
The flip side of both of these examples is my daughter’s familiarity with two of my favorites, the band Pearl Jam and the Star Wars movies. Which I adore!
Sharing not only strengthens our bonds but also opens our lives to learning together. And to get this ball rolling, don’t forget, the ball doesn’t move unless our toddler, kid, tween, or teen finds our time together fun or interesting.
10 Quality Activities to do With Your Teenager
Activity #1 Go to a Movie, Binge Watch a TV Show, Sing Along to a Music Video
So, what’s your teen’s top 5 favorite movies? Can you name any of their top 5? Go ahead, write down what you think they might be, and ask them later. Go on…I’ll wait.
Which of their TV shows engages their imagination? Whose music stirs their soul?
Once a month, why not go to a movie of their choice, or binge-watch a TV show over a weekend, or familiarize yourself with one of their favorite bands or artists?
By the way, for most teenagers, going to a movie, binge-watching a tv show, or listening to music are fun activities.
And when it comes to seeing a movie, watching a tv show, listening to music, attending a play, listening to a lecture, or reading a book, these media sources are full of teachable moments, moral dilemmas, beauty, fear, and potential vocabulary words that could be on your teenager’s college entrance exam.
Do your research, come up with a couple of questions, and note a few talking points to bring up later.
Last, build that relationship. What are your top 5 movies now or as a teenager? How about TV shows or music? Which of these might be worth sharing and watching together? Of these that you might share, what did you learn, feel, remember, or experience from these choices back in your day?
Activity #2 Play Their Favorite Video Game Together
I wanted to include this one to reinforce this idea that bonding might seem just a fun activity for our teen but can lead to other positive outcomes. For example:
- What are my teenager’s favorite video games?
- What can I learn about my son or daughter’s interest from the games they choose to play?
- What were my favorite video games growing up? Any chance there’s a similar game, like Galaga on Xbox, I might enjoy and play together?
- Can I relate with my teen as to why they may spend so much time playing video games?
- Can we talk about a difficult topic while playing or after a video game?
- Do you remember when you were a teen who wanted to talk to your parents about a problem but wasn’t ready?
Here’s the point, playing a video game together, or some similar activity, may be just what the doctor ordered. The more we strengthen our bonds, including just hanging out until our teen is ready to share, creates a safe place for them not to feel alone with whatever their issue might be.
And, if you’re lucky, maybe your kid will enjoy playing two-player Galaga with you!
Activity #3 Read a Book, Magazine, Blog Together
Reading together is a great activity. But if you think your tween or teen doesn’t enjoy reading, double-check before going to Activity #4.
One of my best friends in Texas is an excellent English-Literature teacher. A few years ago, she wanted to see the effect of allowing her students to choose their own book, so she started to buy a wide variety of used books for her classroom. Fiction, nonfiction, memoir, graphic novel, it didn’t matter. As long as her students could find an interesting book, that was the goal.
She discovered that her hypothesis was right. Students, or really any of us, read more and better when we’re interested in what we are reading.
So, maybe your tween or teen would like to read the bio of their favorite sports, Bollywood, or social media star. Maybe your tween or teen really enjoys reading a magazine or a blog. Perhaps, based on their interest, you can find a book, magazine, blog, or other media type they will want to read.
Again, have fun, show interest, and share what you like to read. Find a common interest or stretch yourself a bit yourself to read what your kid likes. Either way, reading together is a great, quality activity to do together.
Activity #4 Plan a Trip Together
There are so many possibilities.
Plan a trip in your own city or within driving distance. Collaborate with your tween or teen on all the details. Combine fun with learning. Find places to eat with your favorite foods and places to eat to try new foods. Shopping with purpose and shopping for fun. See a movie, go to a movie, the possibilities are endless.
The significant point is, again, plan it together with them and don’t forget the fun.
Activity #5 Change Your Hair Color
If changing your hair color isn’t a choice, do something else young and hip your tween or teen is into. This doesn’t have to be radical, but it can be. The point is, relax, consider what the tweens and teens are into, and ask yours what they’d change about your look.
Consider getting your hair cut together, your nails, a massage. And dad’s, this isn’t only about mothers and daughters or mothers and sons. Everyone in the family needs their hair cut and nails trimmed too!
Activity #6 Find a Class to Attend Together
Find an art class, yoga class, or other to do together. Check out the local university or community college’s continuing education options. Check online for opportunities that click with both your interests. Or again, extend yourself a bit, and go to a class you usually wouldn’t be excited about, but because it’s a class your tween or teen’s excited about, go for it!
Activity #7 Volunteer Together
Share with each other your concerns for your community, country, the world. Is there an issue you both care about? Either way, sharing what you are passionate about or an organization you or each of you want to volunteer with is a beautiful learning opportunity.
Activity #8 Go to a Concert or Music Festival Together
What about music? Or is there a music festival close to you they are interested in? Who did you listen to growing up? Or who do you listen to now or as a teen that might be playing close to you? Why not invite your teen to tag along and go with you to a show?
Activity #9 Cook Together
One of the greatest gifts we can give our teen before graduating from high school and moving out is to make sure they know how to plan and cook healthy meals. Exploring new foods and cultures together can also be a blast. Sharing a new restaurant you found or just going out together every month or so is fun and gives you a chance to connect.
Activity #10 Outdoors Together
Camping, going on a hike, exploring local parks are all great activities to do together.
Many tweens and teens love adventure, so for any of these activities, emphasis the adventure side.
One Thing Leads to Another
How many interests, passion projects, favorite people, perhaps even an occupation choice in your life are the product of someone introducing it, or them, to you?
Push through the fear that your teen will find you “uncool.” As our kids go through adolescence, their biological drive pushes us away. That’s perfectly natural. After all, they must leave the nest at some point.
It’s up to us parents to share not only what we are into now, or were into as a teen, but to reach them more than halfway and to connect with them through what they love to do.
When we do, we build bonds, learn more about our child, share more about ourselves, and, quite honestly, we are setting up how our lives will continue to evolve and grow after they leave the nest.
Life shouldn’t be perfunctory, at least that’s my opinion. I look forward to sharing more of my life and what I like to do with my six-year-old. I also enjoy and look forward to exploring the world together more. Even if I have to be “uncool” and listen to more Taylor Swift. Who knows what future bands, books, and shows my kid will be introducing me too long after she’s moved out. If you have any recommendations, learned wisdom, or examples you’ve used to bond with your tween or teen, please share in the comment section below.