Help me change the life of a teenager
December 13, 2012 6:05 PM   Subscribe

I have my teenage nephew for a week. We can go anywhere. I'd like to change his life. Any suggestions?

He's a great kid, but (as with a lot of 17-18 year olds) he's a bit moody and self-absorbed. I think it would be a lot of fun to do something with him that might give him some perspective on life, teach him some cool values, and all that stuff (while also still being an enjoyable time). It could be travel or it could be location-independent. Service trips are definitely on the table - but when I think back on my high school experience, I don't remember being all that impacted by the community service activities I did.

In short, I'd love to hear any suggestions, ideally from personal experience, of things that can be fit into a week and are truly unforgettable, life-changing, eatpraylove, made-me-a-better-person-somehow, etc. etc., with the added factor that sometimes teens can be very stubborn about learning anything from anything.
posted by malhouse to Human Relations (39 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
What does he actually like doing/thinking about?
posted by SMPA at 6:06 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Road trip! Get in the car, drive around, see strange sights, stay in motels.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:08 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

He likes computers and video games and traveling and sleeping and music. He does get to indulge those things quite a lot in his everyday life, but I am also certainly open to activities along those lines.
posted by malhouse at 6:08 PM on December 13, 2012

I'm realizing as I reread the question that it comes across that I think my nephew needs to be taught a lesson or something. That's not the case - I just want to be ambitious with our plans! No matter what we do I know we'll have fun, we get along great.
posted by malhouse at 6:13 PM on December 13, 2012

2nding road trip.
posted by COD at 6:14 PM on December 13, 2012

posted by faineant at 6:15 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also, I think "change his life" is too ambitious a goal for a week, and you are setting yourself up for disappointment, or you'll come off overbearing. Go do something cool with him for a week and establish yourself as an adult he can come to if he needs something.
posted by COD at 6:22 PM on December 13, 2012 [9 favorites]

Where in the world are you?

If you're around DC, take an afternoon and hop over to Annapolis to tour the Naval Academy. I had my two moody 17 year old nephews in town for the Thanksgiving Holiday, and although I'm Navy they'd never been exposed to anything 'military' as I'd rarely ever seen them growing up.

While part of the fun was their chance to get out from under their mother's wing for the first time in their lives, they were truly blown away by the naval/military history, institution, academics, pageantry, and realization that there's a whole world out there besides the small southern town they grew up. Granted, there's plenty of other ways to do that - but everybody can say they went to the top of the Empire State Building. And no... it wasn't to try to get them to join the Navy - I made that clear to them. The point was to show them a different world.

We spent the rest of the week checking out all the various Smithsonian museums in town. Best part? It's all free admission.
posted by matty at 6:24 PM on December 13, 2012

The most memorable and enriching travel experiences I can think of from that age were ones where I set the whole agenda, planning trips for others and figuring out solutions to issues when we were there. Assuming that by 'anywhere,' you mean some place on your own continent and/or within a reasonable budget, I'd choose a location interesting enough to be plentiful in travel guides, get those for him, and let him plan the details and show you what's cool there, setting out minimal requirements such as you want at least one educational experience, one awesome dining experience, a memorable entertainment experience, etc.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 6:26 PM on December 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

No road trips. Being trapped in a car with a relative is one of the worst things you can be when you're a moody teenager.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:27 PM on December 13, 2012 [9 favorites]

If you can really go anywhere, maybe a trip to an interesting third-world country, if he hasn't been before? That can be quite the eye-opener—know it was for me.

Monsieur Caution: great point. Hand off the guidebooks to him, and let him wander around alone. That's a great feeling when you're a teenager. He'll be doing his own independent college trips soon enough.

Not sure being trapped in a car with a relative is such torture if you like the relative...I think being trapped with one's parents at that age is the worse fate. (Though I loved road-tripping with my parents at that age, so you never know).
posted by cheberet at 6:27 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Don't make it spinach--anything worthy and goodforyou is just a massive turn off. No soup kitchens, no volunteering. Do you have pals that have way cool jobs, like designing video games or something else that he would think is amazing? If so, go to lunch and hang out and see what they do (or someone who owns a cafe or a bar or something in the world that's interesting and not related to school work)--expose him to people and situations that might not exist back home.
Are you still in LA? Take him to movie locations or see where stuff is shooting and hang out. Take him to the SGV for Chinese and Boyle Heights for Mexican.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:29 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another option if money isn't an issue... a week scuba diving at CocoView Dive Resort in Roatan, Honduras. It's more of a camp than a 'resort'. Very isolated, but amazing diving and an awesome trip that's reasonably priced. Helps if you're already a scuba diver, but they can certify you. One of the best vacations I've ever had...
posted by matty at 6:31 PM on December 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

Life can be tough at that age, I don't think it's life changing time. Teenage brains are still developing.

How about something seriously fun that sets the tone of your already good relationship. A theme park holiday, just doing whatever, eating whatever, seeing whatever you both feel like.

Do you know anyone with kids that age? Making friends is good fun too and would be nice to broaden his horizons. Or inviting one of his friends to join you?

Something educational, as in visiting a place he's intersted in or the area from a favorite movie or book? A convention maybe?
posted by Youremyworld at 6:44 PM on December 13, 2012

Take him rock climbing. I always wish I started at his age.
posted by backwards guitar at 6:48 PM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Take him to some good restaurants, holes in the wall that serve cuisines he's never experienced before. When I was 18 I had Thai food for the first time (this may be unthinkable today, but even a decade ago Thai was not as ubiquitous as it is today) and it blew my mind. Find an Ethiopian restaurant, if there are good ones in your area. Take him to a good vegetarian restaurant if he's not a vegetarian -- South Indian is great. Realizing that there is good, cheap food that I wasn't aware of was one of the defining experiences of my late adolescence.
posted by kdar at 7:01 PM on December 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

What is the budget for this life changing event? Can you go to France?
posted by Yellow at 7:13 PM on December 13, 2012

you didn't clarify time of year. I took a mid-winter (New Years) trip to Yellowstone Park, which was amazing -- travel by odd old-fashioned snow car, glimpses of wolves hunting, sulfurous fumes coming out of the snow. seriously cold, but also unlike anything else you'd ever do. also, old-fashioned lodge would be far from the usual electronic distractions, so could fit well with fireside mulling, maybe reading a book aloud, etc. -- whether this kind of break with routine would be well received would depend a lot on level of moodiness and also willingness to go along with adventure. on the plus side, there's possibilities for cross-country skiing, snowshoing, and other more athletic pursuits, in addition to the guided/passive parts.

just another crazy idea.
posted by acm at 7:47 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you really can go anywhere, throw a travel show on TV. Start a conversation about cool places you'd like to visit. Ask him what his bucket list places are. Pick one and tell him to start packing.
posted by bfranklin at 8:03 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Follow the route of the Press Expedition through the Olympic Mountains.
posted by surfgator at 8:06 PM on December 13, 2012

Go to Belize, Ambergris Cay, rent a boat, snorkel.
posted by roboton666 at 8:09 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think it would be helpful to know where the kid is coming from and where you live. For instance is the kid coming from a small town and you happen to live near a big city?

Here is some stuff that I have done when I have had my teenage cousins visit that seemed to go well:

My cousin Jim is into skateboarding and snowboarding. He visited me when I lived in Bend during the spring. Jimis from a small town in CT. We went snowboarding at Mt. Bachelor and I took him to see a friend of mine play guitar at a coffee shop/bar. We went up to Portland for the day - I took him to skate at a skate park under Burnside Bridge (famous location - he had seen it in skate videos), I also dropped him off at an inside skatepark. We went to a rap concert. We ate out at some cool places. I got him stoned.

Another cousin came to visit with her boyfriend. They are also both from small towns out east. They came to visit when I lived in Denver. I took the snowboarding one day. I put them on a bus another day so they could go snowboarding by themselves. We at lots of great food. They walked around by themselves downtown (Denver is a big city to them). I took them to eat nepalese food at a small restaurant in a converted house in Boulder. I didn't think this would be a big deal but they had never had anything like Indian or Nepalese food and had never been to a restaurant in a converted house. I drank with them at home.

I think it is key to do some things they want to do - but also do some things you think they shoud do or are important to you. Also, give them space and let them explore some on their own.
posted by fieldtrip at 8:20 PM on December 13, 2012

I always hope my son (he is 16) will have an appreciation of how varied and interesting the world is. It's easy to dwell on the parts of life that are tedious or depressing, but I think kids aren't encouraged enough to think of the world as a place of almost infinite possibilities.

So, if I were you, I'd think about going some place completely different to where he lives. To a big! city! if he lives in a sleepy rural place; or a quiet tropical backwater, if he lives in a bustling city. I think experiencing different places, with different foods and people and cultures is expanding and exciting. Especially if stepping outside his norm is a little unsettling for him - it's good to lose your balance a little, makes you steadier on your feet.
posted by thylacinthine at 8:40 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, also I tried to expose them to people they don't usually hang out for both it was gay people and ethnic/racial minorities. So, we hung out with friends that were more diverse than what they are used to and went to some restaurants/cafes where folks who are different from them gather. Great times.
posted by fieldtrip at 8:43 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ask your nephew this question instead of us. No, seriously, that would be way more productive.

As a teenager, I hated nothing more than having adults in my life decide everything I should do, when I should do it, how I should do it, and what I should take from it. Nothing that was forced on me ever changed my life. Besides, you might be surprised with what he comes up with!
posted by buteo at 8:43 PM on December 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

When I was 20, I went with my uncles and cousins down the Snake River in kayaks. Some 30 years later we still talk about it. I would consider an adventure vacation.

I see some of your previous questions were about surfing. My 16 year old spent a week at surf camp recently and LOVED IT. Maybe travel to south america and do some sort of surf camp week.

Few other thoughts, Not sure how much older you are than him, but just bringing him out to hang our with you and a few of your friends while you eat burgers, drink beers and either watch music, sports or just hang out can be great for him. I had an uncle that called me up and asked me if I wanted to go to a CSN concert with him, a few of his friends and my cousin (his son) who was my age. We were 15 or so. Great time.

Treat him like an adult and like a friend. He is probably not used to it. He is treated like a kid by his parents, teachers and most adults he encounters. Let him know there is hope.

(Maybe way off base, and not something I think I would do for my nephew, but get him laid?)
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:09 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Take him to a rock show! See some live music in a grownup-type (but all ages OK) place!

I'd go one of two ways (or maybe a bit of both)

1. Big city with dozens of things to do - San Francisco, New York, New Orleans
2. Rural/rugged outdoor adventure - national part, kayaking, skiing etc.
posted by Miko at 9:44 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you can afford the cost and time of travelling far, take him to a totally different culture like India or China. That will cause him to have a new perspective on his own situation and culture, and just in general more self-awareness, when he returns home. If your week time period isn't enough time to go that far, you could go somewhere closer like Mexico or Central or South America.
posted by Dansaman at 9:50 PM on December 13, 2012

Is the week one where you could do something cool like go to a con for something he's interested in or something? Does he have any artistic inclinations or ambitions for jobs or hobbies or eccentric fascinations that you guys can pursue?
posted by NoraReed at 10:17 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Give him a choice. You only have a week, and you want him to buy in for as many of those days as possible. I would suggest narrowing it down to categories, where you know what each represents. so:

- Camping and wilderness
- Road trip
- Big city
- By the sea
- Music and culture
- Food
- Science and technology
- Learn a life skill

And if you can budget it, "foreign adventure"

Now, the key thing is that the fundamentals of each trip are the basically the same. Remove the pressure from him, get him to challenge his perspective, have some fun, learn stuff, meet people, eat well, see new stuff. In other words, built into "food" could be a day learning how to cook. "Science and technology" could incorporate elements of big city of road trip.

I'd also leave some slack time so you can coach him to come out of his shell and make decisions. I.e. you don't schedule the whole week - you leave some of it up to him to research, decide, organise.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:05 AM on December 14, 2012

You have a week off! Plan a super fun week of stuff full of things you love. Include your nephew in your plans. Do you like museums and cities? Do you like nature and outdoors? Do you like spas? Do you like ethnic restaurants? Diners? Do you have a hobby? Do you have a geeky passion? Let your nephew meet you as an adult and see what you like.

There are a ton of advantages with this approach:
- Your nephew might not like anything you propose. At least this way one of you is having fun.
- You will have a natural contagious enthusiasm because when you are doing things you like you will be happy.
- You will never be in a position to resent your nephew (i.e. I did x,y,z for you and you didn't appreciate it. You do x,y,z for yourself and he can choose to enjoy it or not).
- You begin the process of relating to your nephew as two adults by including him in your adult life (not as a child for whom you have to plan activities for).
- You teach him that adults can have passions and can do things they love without worrying if it is cool or not. (Are you a geek? Do you have weird tastes? Let him come along and see you enjoy what you love without worrying about being judged).

And... you just might change your nephew's life with this approach. He may learn that adults have passions, taste and are allowed to make choices that make them happy. And this might be the very thing you want to can give him.
posted by jazh at 2:42 AM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Amtrak trip! You get to meet all kinds of interesting, crazy people and you actually get a sense for the immensity of this country; lots of time to read and talk and reflect.
posted by faeuboulanger at 3:06 AM on December 14, 2012

(Amtrak, cont.)

I recently took a two week long trip from Chicago to Seattle via the Empire Builder, then down to San Francisco, and then from San Francisco (Well, Emeryville) back to Chicago via the California Zephyr. I'd really recommend the California Zephyr route... it's just staggeringly beautiful. And who wouldn't love a trip to San Francisco/Chicago? It's such an amazing feeling, after several (wonderful, but long) days on a train, to set foot on solid ground and be able to stay there for awhile... while also having a good sense of the distance you have travelled. I can't speak for your nephew, but as a teenager I was also really enchanted with the romance of the rails (and I still am at 26, obviously). I wish I had had the opportunity then to take a trip like this.

Good luck! It's awesome you care so much and want to give your nephew such a great experience. He's lucky.
posted by faeuboulanger at 3:16 AM on December 14, 2012

The men I know recall most memorably the trips they spent with male mentors in which is was just the two of them in the outdoors. Fishing comes up a lot. Talking and fishing. Build on your rapport so he feels he can tell you anything then let him. Listen well, as it sounds like you do brilliantly, and let him pick your brain about anything. For practical lessons Divvy up the responsibilities of day-to-day life in camp, at sea, wherever you are, giving him suggesting for him age-appropriate tasks. Allow him to fall down then discuss it with acceptance and love.
posted by R2WeTwo at 4:10 AM on December 14, 2012

My nephew came to stay with me for a few days. He lives in the small, very insular, very closed to new things small town that I grew up in. At his age, I went to stay in London with a relative and seeing a different way of life and realising you can live somewhere where being interested in something or not doing what everyone else wants to do isn't weird made a huge difference to me.

One of the things he enjoyed most was trying sushi and sashimi for the first time - it's something that's just not available where he lived. Things like that seem small and boring when you've lived away from home for a while, but just being somewhere else and doing different things can be a huge thing.

(Maybe way off base, and not something I think I would do for my nephew, but get him laid?)
no! Don't do this. It's inappropriate in pretty much every way - 17yr olds are people who want to get themselves laid, not get an adult to do the work for them - he might well be getting laid on the regular, but that's none of your business. I would have been mortified if anyone had tried to do this for me, and my mother wouldn't have been thrilled either.
posted by mippy at 4:40 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

You need to ask him. Every teenager wants different things, and at that age, if you choose something that he doesn't like, he's just going to mope and be miserable.

Just ask him "hey, we've got a week, and I want us to have a good time. What would you like to do, if you could do anything?" Go from there.

If you don't do this, than be prepared for a very long week. I know that my best friend did some traveling around the country at that time in his life and loved it, but I would have hated to travel around at that age. My wife would love to spend a week at the beach, but I'd rather just stay home. On the other hand, if I was able to go see the inside of a recording studio, I would have exploded with excitement at that time in my life.

Find out what he likes, and try to do something related to that which would normally be impossible for him to do.
posted by markblasco at 8:03 AM on December 14, 2012

If he hasn't swung a hammer much, go build a house with Habitat. Man, I loved doing that as a teenager. One of the best times I ever had was digging a 20' x4' x 4' ditch from the street to the house for the utilities. I got to use a picaxe!

It feels good at that age to go to bed knowing you used your muscles that day.

But most important, do something you would do even if he wasn't there. Enthusiasm is infectious.
posted by BeeDo at 8:49 AM on December 14, 2012

I do think it depends on the kid. I grew up in northern Ontario, but when I was sixteen I got to spend a week in Toronto with my uncle and his about-to-be wife. There was the 8 hour road trip with my uncle and a buddy of his to get there, which was very cool, and then a week wandering around in the city by myself. It's one of the highlights of my adolescence. But it wasn't anything spectacular. I was there to help them do some last minute things before their wedding, so I felt pretty important and helpful. But the things that I remember really clearly almost 30 years later include: drinking peppermint tea for the first time, eating Szechuan Chinese for the first time, going to a record store with my uncle, who bought me DOA's War on 45, and wandering around the garment district with my aunt. It was just about hanging out with adults who weren't my parents and who treated me like a real person and not just their kid. The timing was just right to give me hope that life, once I got out of my crappy home town, was going to be pretty great.

I guess I'm saying you don't have to do something really crazy and out there and fantastic to change a teenager's life.
posted by looli at 9:15 AM on December 14, 2012

Yeah, to me at that age the biggest possible thing was to be given more agency than I had in my normal life -- getting to pick how to spend my time and money, and not having everything controlled by adults. (Also why leaving for college was the best thing ever.)
posted by shattersock at 10:41 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

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