Hobbies for a 12 year old?
December 7, 2004 11:34 AM   Subscribe

I've got a twelve-year-old boy in my life whom I'd love to coax into a new hobby. He currently only enjoys video games and collecting Hot Wheels cars. I've considered things like r/c aircraft or rocket building, but either my budget or his mother won't allow it. I want him to learn to use his hands, and maybe get outside a little bit. Any suggestions?

Other pertinent info: He's got some r/c cars that he doesn't take much interest in. We've done a little model-building. That kinda worked. He's 12, but he trends a little younger.
posted by jpoulos to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (49 answers total)
Nintendo has this new portable gaming unit with a touch screen, so I guess you could send him outside with the games and... hmm, not what you had in mind?

But seriously, how about teaching him to fix things? I worked at a hardware store for a year when I was in high school and learned a lot about maintenance and repair. Looking back on it, I think it'd have been nice to have been introduced to that sort of thing at a younger age when my own focus was video games and computers. Sure, I can work a computer inside and out, but give me a wrench and put me in front of an automobile engine and you'll get a blank stare from me.

To summarize: teach the kid how stuff works and how to fix little things that are broken.
posted by Servo5678 at 11:42 AM on December 7, 2004

maybe there's only radio control these days, but when i was a kid i built + flew control-line aircraft. they had little diesel motors and you controlled them (up/down) via two wires that came out of one wing. so it flew round + round in a circle, with you holding the lines in the middle. when you got better, you could get two flying at the same time, towing streamers, each trying to cut the other's streamer.

here's some links from google: http://www.luminet.net/~bkuhl/control.htm http://www.plasma.kth.se/~olsson/clinf.html
posted by andrew cooke at 11:50 AM on December 7, 2004

How about doing some projects around the house together? Building a bookshelf is pretty easy to do, probably takes a few weekends, and you'd have something lasting that you both built together. He'd also get to learn how tools work and basic woodworking.

In terms of unsupervised hobbies, I enjoyed the "technical" line of Legos when I was older than 10. I would have killed for a set of Lego robotics kits if they had those when I was a kid.
posted by mathowie at 12:01 PM on December 7, 2004

How about models that shoot each other? Warhammer and Warhammer 40k are pretty fun strategic games that he's likely played video game versions of. There's the option for fantasy (Warhammer) or scifi (40k) or even the licensed Lord of the Rings miniature game.

The only downside is that collecting the models required for a full army can get pricey, but you can float him some models, paints, and such in small doses to see if it sticks.

Come to think of it, the LotR game is probably the best of the lot for a child of his age. Smaller forces and easier rules.

More info can be found here.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 12:04 PM on December 7, 2004

I can't believe I'm writing this, but what about sports? It's such a huge topic that there's got to be something that intersects with his interests, you interests, his mother's wishes, and what is practical given your/his geography, cash flow, etc. Without knowing more it's hard to make suggestions as to specific sports, but most are outside and many involve hand-eye coordination, discipline, teamwork, etc.

On the teamwork front, many team sports can be parsed into great two person activities.

It seams like this age was right around the time I started to take a moderate interest in sports (but was admittedly forced into it earlier). At least one of those sports grew into a pretty solid activity I pursued for many years.
posted by safetyfork at 12:05 PM on December 7, 2004

It seems like that "seams" is going to haunt me.

Also, the reason why I called out breaking down team sports is that there are so many things you two could do now that might be building blocks for later activities.

Not an example of the above, just another thought: If he's interested in maps you could translate that into day hikes, etc.
posted by safetyfork at 12:10 PM on December 7, 2004

Stunt kites are a lot cooler than they sound. Once you have the kite there isn't a lot more to buy.

If he's a smart kid you could teach him to play chess and find a chess club for him.

You can use a cheap web-cam to make stop-motion animation.

Fishing is always fun at that age.
posted by bondcliff at 12:11 PM on December 7, 2004

posted by gramcracker at 12:13 PM on December 7, 2004

Well since he is twelve he could join boy scouts. I don't know if I would put my (future) son in BS due to political/philisophical/moral/etc reasons today (or in the future...) but if you guys are cool with what they're doing, it is an option. I should point out that while I am 100% NOT the typical guy you think about being in BS for 6 years, I did really enjoy it. I had a strong head on my sholders and knew what parts I should listen to (how to use an axe, how to start a fire, how to fold a flag) and what parts I didn't need to listen to (how to obey laws you don't agree with, how to pray to god.)

If you are against BS though, you might just want to take him camping more. I cannot tell you what camping (more or less...) once a month, for six years, did for me and my comfort being in nature. Don't forget, camping can be fun in the rain and in the snow. Get out there, get dirty, bring a BS handbook just for the information inside, and have some fun looking for bugs.
posted by pwb503 at 12:14 PM on December 7, 2004

I'd screw the interesting stuff and get him into Paintball. Ah yes, faux violence, wallowing in mud, playing and modifying with cool technology in guns, and an element of pain that all little kids love.

No, seriously, it's pretty awesome.
posted by Stan Chin at 12:16 PM on December 7, 2004

Every kid needs an awesomely rickety treehouse, and most of the fun is in the building. Teach him to read a map and use a compass by setting up an outdoor treasure hunt. Or get a GPS and try geocaching. And don't forget about the awesome erector set, now available from Brio.
posted by naomi at 12:18 PM on December 7, 2004

One of my favorite memories from being 12 was going camping. You get to spend time outside with your sun, and learn cool things like how to build fires and tie knots. Plus, backpacking is awesome exercise. Enjoy the wilderness with your son while we still have some.

I also am very glad I took a metal shop class when I was in eighth grade (age 12-13). Learning how to weld was awesome. I wish my dad had taught me how to use a plasma cutter back then. Plasma cutters are the bestest tools ever invented. What 12-year-old boy wouldn't want to learn how to rip the crap out of giant hunks of metal with their dad?
posted by rajbot at 12:21 PM on December 7, 2004

I got a set or two of "Whitewings" planes as a kid. They were like these but not so colorful and realistic. They're just a set of paper pieces. The kit also comes with an instruction book, and a rubberband+stick launcher (all of the planes are notched at the bottom for hooking with the launcher).

You carefully cut out all the pieces (takes 1 hour ish) and then glue them together based on instructions. The instructions book had info about cambering wings to get lift and stuff (and it had many digarams and even some math (?) about how wings work, how drag works, and other aerodynamic principles.

You can just use white glue, so there's little mess and little danger. The gluing takes about half an hour or an hour.

Then you wait a bit (Xbox time!). And then you're ready to fly 'em.

The flying part is really amazing. The planes, if built well, will fly 100 yards or more. They can be easily lost in trees or get stuck on top of buildings (voice of experience here), but they're fantastic. It's also possible to set them up to fly in gentle circles and stuff, so that you can launch 'em for more "time aloft" and other feats. The planes are pretty durable, considering the materials) -- some bad landings don't ruin your day in the slightest (better glue can help here).

On preview: fuck paper planes, take the kid camping. And play paintball, too. But camping. In the snow/rain/cold/hot/buggy/mountains/ocean.
posted by zpousman at 12:23 PM on December 7, 2004

At about that age I started to learn electronics as my hobby. It's a good hobby in that you can turn it into a career. And the cost of entry isn't all that much.

Plus, even if it doesn't land you a job, at least you know how to solder simple projects together. In the future, that will be a lifesaver plenty of times.
posted by shepd at 12:27 PM on December 7, 2004

i'd ask him what he's interested in doing, cause man, if you forced me to go camping when i was 12 i'd probably hate you forever.

'course, now i like camping. tastes change.

but seriously, the kid may have some stuff he's interested in doing, like, say, being a rock star or something -- but he just doesn't have the financial means to get there.
posted by fishfucker at 12:29 PM on December 7, 2004

stunt kites are awesome. but then again, so is one on one basketball.

how about astronomy? it's a nighttime pursuit, but it's outside.
posted by o2b at 12:37 PM on December 7, 2004

I'll second the stop-motion suggestion. As a kid, I was really into video games so I may have much in common with this 12 year old. I wasted absurd amounts of my parents' money scanning in polariods for a few seconds of really boring claymation. That quickly became impractical so I moved on to taping and editing skits with sock puppets and pets. When I got a digital camera, the first thing i did was break out a bunch of my old TMNT action figures and some play-dough(?) and jump back into stop motion. It's really easy and kills obscene amounts of time.

Nothing career-wise ever came of this hobbie, but I remember really enjoying the work. Also, showing your work to other people was always a big deal for me, but luckily, people never seem to stop being amazed by a kid doing any kind of animation.
posted by SAC at 12:38 PM on December 7, 2004

Second a bunch of other suggestions: Talk to him. Geocaching. Orienteering. Photography.

I was a Boy Scout, and I think I got a lot out of it. However, I can't recommend the BSA due to their current policies...and given what I know of your politics, I doubt you would either.

Also, when I was about twelve or so, my dad and I built a big Revell model of a V-8 engine. It was battery-powered and some parts were clear, so you could really get a sense of how an automotive engine works. I'm not qualified to do anything other than change my oil/tires/brakepads/filters, but I learned a lot from the model-building, and so now I know how a camshaft is different from a crankshaft, and how internal combustion engines actually work.
posted by Vidiot at 12:44 PM on December 7, 2004

At about that age I started to learn electronics as my hobby. It's a good hobby in that you can turn it into a career. And the cost of entry isn't all that much.

Building a model rocket ignition system was when I first learned to solder. I still keep my dad's old soldering iron in my lab...

I taught a beginner electronics to sixth-graders. We had some PCBs made up for a simple 4-bit binary counter. We spent the first half of the class teaching the kids how to count in binary, and then second half how to solder up their circuit. They loved it and said it was their favorite day of school ever :)
posted by rajbot at 12:44 PM on December 7, 2004

Properly supervised pellet gun shooting at non-living targets can be really fun, and teaches some patience and control. No, really.

All of the fun stuff sounds too dangerous to get past the mom-filter.
posted by mecran01 at 12:44 PM on December 7, 2004

Video games are one of the best teaching aids our society had. They teach craftiness, strategy, critical thinking, and best of all: ruthlessness. If he can learn to apply all of the things he learns in video games to real life then he will be set for any number of career paths (thug, mobster, SWAT team member, special forces, wizard, basketball/football/hockey player, race car driver, demolitions expert, getaway driver, druid, necromancer, con-man, vigilante killer, or even a ninja!) In all seriousness, video games are excellent at providing desensitization to violence and evil. In a world like this being apathetic is not necessarily a bad thing.
posted by mervin_shnegwood at 12:46 PM on December 7, 2004

When I was 12, I received one of those Radio Shack 101 in 1 electronics kits. I loved it. They don't seem to sell those exact ones anymore. This seems to be the new version. While googling for it, I came across this Slashdot thread offering "Electronics Projects for 12-Year-Olds" Seems like there might be some good suggestions there.
posted by Otis at 12:51 PM on December 7, 2004

Are there some things (inside or outside) that you like to do, where the boy could be a part? Or things you do, not so much for fun as duty - putting up a bookshelf, planting bulbs, etc. - where he and you could do it together? I ask because I think that for a lot of (arguably, most) kids, at least at certain ages, doing something useful/interesting/new/expansive with an adult is a good thing (TM).

If you can say "Would you help me with this?", or "I enjoy doing X; would you like to come along? I'd show you how it's done"; then you're treating him like an (almost) adult, including letting him say "no". If he replies "maybe" or "dunno", then you can say "Well, let's give it a try - we can always stop if you decide you want to."
posted by WestCoaster at 12:53 PM on December 7, 2004

Your description matches my Little pretty well. I've gotten him into reading graphic novels by having each of us pick parts and act them out as we read. We make for some interesting spectation in front of the library some evenings, but it is a blast. Now he picks them up on his own, and we're even branching into other types of books. We also bowl although I doubt he has much interest beyond diversionary recreation.

One thing I did find is that I have to overcome the inertia of his daily video game and television dominated life whenever we do hook up. After about fifteen minutes of puling he gets into whatever it is we're doing. Those fifteen minutes are nearly enough for me to strangle him though... So, if this is new to you, don't be discouraged when you/the project is greeted less than enthusiastically at first.
posted by Fezboy! at 1:02 PM on December 7, 2004

Martial arts? Video games have probably instilled some interest in combat. Martial arts class will give him some physical fitness and confidence, you can enrol with him and then practise together, and if you pick a school with a good philosophy it might provide an antidote to some of those video-game values.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:26 PM on December 7, 2004

How about letterboxing? You get to use sharp objects, carve rubber stamps, solve and write clues, go cool and interesting places, and collect records of where you've been...sort of like treasure hunting for grownups, and everything you really need to get started can be had for a total of less than $20.
posted by picopebbles at 1:28 PM on December 7, 2004

Radio shack also has (though i can't find them on the website) these dorky little manuals written by this engineer type guy about building your own electronic gadgets. Like there's one about sensors (so you can build a burglar alarm), one about communications (a radio), solar power, etc. I've got them at home, but I just can't think of the name of the guy. Anyone out there know what I'm talking about?

*I* thought they were great, though my daughter had a great time rolling her eyes about them (she's 15 though - at 12 she took a class and built a mini-sumo robot, which is also cool if you've got mini-sumo contests around your area).

Anyway, the projects in those manuals are really cheap to build and teach a lot - like using a paper clip as a switch, etc.
posted by jasper411 at 1:29 PM on December 7, 2004

I agree with WestCoaster. You should try to involve the young'un into something that you do, whether it's a hobby or just puttering around the house. If nothing else, it will give the two of you enough time to talk about his interests. I don't know if you can "coax" twelve-year-old boys into things, but you can always involve them in what's already going on around them.
posted by MrZero at 1:29 PM on December 7, 2004

I've had good luck introducing a non-sporty, sort of introverted 11-year-old kid to rock climbing. We go to the local indoor gym. You don't need to know anything in advance; you'll get a lesson and you'll be able to belay him as he climbs. It's a laid-back but hip environment; at our gym there's usually good music playing loud, and a variety of hipsters of all ages. This works well for both of us -- for me because he's seeing a good example of people who take on real-world challenges, build physical strength and fitness, and have interests outside mass-media entertainment; and for him because it's got an extreme vibe, it's gear-headish, he can do things adults can't do because he's light and limber, and it's just fun to climb.
posted by Miko at 1:31 PM on December 7, 2004

For the intellect, hands, and soul - study music.

To get outside and spend some time with you, geocaching.
posted by cptnrandy at 1:38 PM on December 7, 2004

these dorky little manuals written by this engineer type guy about building your own electronic gadgets

Forrest M. Mims III?
posted by kindall at 1:43 PM on December 7, 2004

Response by poster: Great ideas, everyone. Thank you so much.

picopebbles: I'd never heard of letterboxing. It looks like a low-tech precursor to geocaching?
posted by jpoulos at 1:48 PM on December 7, 2004

For the intellect, hands, and soul - study music.

Thank you, took someone long enough to say that.

A starter guitar or keyboard can be had for around $100, and will more than pay for itself.
posted by ludwig_van at 1:57 PM on December 7, 2004

It looks like a low-tech precursor to geocaching?

That's pretty much it. It's way bigger in England than it is over here.
posted by Vidiot at 2:03 PM on December 7, 2004

It looks like a low-tech precursor to geocaching?

That's pretty much it. It's way bigger in England than it is over here.

Yes, but getting more popular over here by the day...there was an article on it in TIME earlier this year that attracted floods of new people, some of whom are still active (and great) boxers. (There was also once an FPP about it over in the blue, which I know because it is the only one I've ever posted. ;) )

The letterboxing-geocaching debate is a perennial favorite flame in both camps. I'm a letterboxer and not a geocacher because I love clue writing and solving -- ciphers, codes, stories, pictures, and so on. I also like the artistic part of the game (stamp carving and exchanges). But I did go geocaching once just to make sure I understood the other side, and that was fun too...really, anything that involves going outside and hunting treasure is fine by me, whether the search be guided by paper or machine and whether the treasure is a logbook full of stamps and entries or a box with little toys and prizes.
posted by picopebbles at 2:19 PM on December 7, 2004

You might like orienteering, too, picopebbles -- not much of the scavenger-hunt approach...instead, you're completing a course laid out in the woods, navigating by map and compass from point to point.
posted by Vidiot at 2:33 PM on December 7, 2004

Take something simple like a boombox or a walkman apart with him, identify the parts and how it works, and then put it back together. Make sure to explain the whole concept of electrical hazards, and that while unplugging most devices makes them safe, some have large capacitors or coils that can store dangerous amounts of energy even after it's unplugged.

I would have loved a GPS at that age, but they didn't exist yet. (Though, I remember lusting after the fancy-shmancy new briefcase radiotelephones Radio Shack sold back in the day. The sad thing was I just wanted to be able to dial out to my BBS's from anywhere. I didn't realize it was like 2-3 dollars a minute back then for cell access.)

I strongly second the WhiteWings. They're really cheap, and when you build them right they fly extremely well. However, once you get the building process down pat, use ultra thin coats of superglue instead of white glue. It's lighter weight, stiffer, and it dries faster, allowing you to fly sooner.

WhiteWings almost fly too well when you build them right, especially the gliders with dual dihedral wings. You can take them down to the local blacktop on a sunny day and find honest-to-goodness thermals rising from them. Adjust your rudder slightly for a long banked turn, rubber-band launch the paper airplane into the thermal, and if everything goes well that little paper airplane will ride the thermal right on up into the sky and vanish. My Dad, brother and I had this happen a few times when I was a kid.

It's quite a profound emotional mixture of delight, surprise, joy, anger, and regret as you watch that tiny little plane disappear into the sky. "Hey, cool, I built something that totally kicks ass... err... it kicks so much ass it's flying away! HEY! COME BACK!!"
posted by loquacious at 2:41 PM on December 7, 2004

It looks like you're in the New England area (where I grew up)- here are some of the outdoorsy things my brother liked to do at around that age: cross country running, skiing (downhill and cross country,) hiking, canoeing, and mountain biking. He spent a lot of time playing video games until junior high, but eventually developed a big interest in outdoor activities along with his friends.

A lot of the equipment for these activities can be purchased used - our parents took us to a ski swap every other year to trade in our old skis for newer ones to compensate for growth.
posted by sophie at 3:14 PM on December 7, 2004

Kindall - YES! Forrest M. Mims III!!!

Those engineering notebooks are the best for low budget scrounging electronics screwing around!!!
posted by jasper411 at 4:12 PM on December 7, 2004

Lego Mindstorms.
posted by krisjohn at 5:16 PM on December 7, 2004

How about kayaking? Get a couple of used kayaks somewhere, cheap. A kid that age can paddle his own boat. A trip on the Chesapeake or the islands of Maine might be something he'd remember.
posted by atchafalaya at 5:25 PM on December 7, 2004

One thing I have noticed about my boys, they typically are not interested in the same things I was interested in as a kid. Theses recreations were more about me than them. You have to work with them to find activities that interest them.

Matt had a good suggestion in finding something the two of you can do together, the actual activity is not as important as the time together.

As for developing an interest, kids today are over-scheduled, especially by age 12. They have much more homework than even a few years ago. Play dates (well they don't really call them that by age 12) are typically scheduled by the parents. Kids have few opportunities to leave the house and just play with other kids. When they have free time, since they are usually not allowed to just wander out of the house unsupervised it is no wonder that they gravitate to the easy stimulation of video games, tv and the Internet. I would recommend that if you want to develop a hobby you pick something that is organized and scheduled - music lessons, tennis lessons, rec league sports, boy scouts whatever. If someone else has not scheduled it, schedule it yourself such as Saturday mornings we will go out with the cameras and take pictures, or whatever the activity might be.

As for the video games, I am firm believer in limiting the electronics and television to just an hour or perhaps two per day. Less is probably better, but none is probably just as bad as too much. If this frees up time on the schedule it just might get applied to something more meaningful.
posted by caddis at 5:51 PM on December 7, 2004

How about getting him a paying job, like deleting spam comments from websites for ten cents apiece?

Just kidding, just kidding!

Actually, I also suggest martial arts. I know that surprised you! But hubby has worked with lots of kids that age, and specifically recommends judo for a 12 year old. Write if you want specifics!
posted by tizzie at 6:06 PM on December 7, 2004

Archery is cool and not very expensive. Second the whitewings and the martial arts. Floor hockey. Squash or racquetball - zippier than tennis and you don't have to retrieve the ball as much. And music of course - guitar, with the promise of an electric guitar down the road if he learns to play x number of songs. As was said, if there is anything you do, do it with him. or expose him to a series of things. One weekend - caving. Another weekend - top notch aquarium. Another weekend - ceramics. Hone in on what seems to turn him on. Lots of kids are too cool to admit they like things that are more "traditional" but not so cool you can't tell what they love.
posted by Rumple at 7:18 PM on December 7, 2004

If he likes music, maybe he'd like to learn how to play guitar or drums or maybe even turntables. He can learn about music, keep busy, and it may give him an edge socially.

In the alternative, what about biking or skateboarding? The former can be a family activity, and both are pretty good ways of getting around when you're too young to drive.
posted by subgenius at 9:14 PM on December 7, 2004

How about lapidary? find rocks,at the beach or in a stream
and polish them up with a tumbler or by hand with wet abrasive sand papers.you can start simple and add equiptment as interest and skill increases.
posted by hortense at 12:42 AM on December 8, 2004

Juggling....or Unicycling....and/or other Circus Skills.
Helps develop co-ordination between left and right sides of body and brain.

Hard at first....then something "clicks" and you're away.
Maybe pointless....but can be therapeutic too.

Also opens lots of possibilities for presents:
Juggling Balls, Clubs, Fire Torches, Chainsaws etc.

Ok....forget the Chainsaws.
Good Luck!
posted by JtJ at 3:20 AM on December 8, 2004

I'd recommend building some Whitewings. They're much cheaper than R/C planes, and unlike building models they actually fly and fly well, provided they're built right.

Loved 'em as a kid.
posted by Heminator at 2:04 PM on December 9, 2004

No offense, I want to be careful here, but you sound a little like the father I would have hated as a kid. The father who forced kids to go outside and thought the computer was evil. You should try playing video games with him.

Also, if this is a "new" kid in your life, why not try doing some of the things with the kid that he likes before jumping in and trying to make him do something new.

I can't think of anything I would hate worse as the child of a single mom than her boyfriend making me go outside to play football with him. Just my opinion.
posted by xammerboy at 7:39 AM on December 21, 2004

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