Less Fallout 4, More Hobbies (Teen Edition)
April 16, 2016 10:44 AM   Subscribe

I work with a 17 year old boy who's smart, inquisitive and really bored. The kid needs some hobby ideas; things that keep his brain busy and ideally where he creates something. Ideally, this needs to be a hobby or craft that he can do indoors on his own consistently, the materials are at hand, it requires some focus, creativity and thinking skills, something he can start and stop at his leisure and he can do it alone. Think Legos but for a young man. So, not martial arts or scouting or geocaching or volunteering or getting a job or robotics.

His likes:
* exercising but won't join any type of team;
* Making films with his friends but it's a challenge for the kids to coordinate schedules and he's not so into doing it on his own;
* video games but not designing them
* keeping busy and challenging himself

He's not into:
* making bracelets
* drawing (but maybe something for non-artists?)
* playing a musical instrument
* dancing
* animals

Basically, I'm looking for something a teenager can do at home besides homework, video games, reading or watching TV. I'm stumped.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (49 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
origami? there's a whole lot of star wars origami diagrams available. Or maybe some else from this site? It's geeky crafts.
posted by the twistinside at 10:48 AM on April 16, 2016

Stop motion animation? There are tons of iPhone and Android apps.
posted by Huck500 at 10:55 AM on April 16, 2016 [8 favorites]

Maybe putting together models? Like cars and planes and so forth. Heck, if he likes making films, he could use some of the models for EXPLOSIONS in his films!
posted by The otter lady at 10:56 AM on April 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

Learn to code. Java is a good place to start.

Code camp, code clubs, code, code, code.

It's an actual, useful, skill.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:56 AM on April 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Cooking, Legos, carpentry, model-building?
posted by Night_owl at 10:56 AM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Cooking (Harold McGee-type science-oriented books, Youtube channels that have recipes replicating foods from videogames and anime)

Cosplay/prop-making (doesn't have to be worn anywhere, can be modeled indoors or just sold)

Learning a language

Writing a novel
posted by wintersweet at 10:59 AM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was thinking cooking as well, Night_owl. Maybe Cooking Comically?
posted by Beti at 11:00 AM on April 16, 2016

To clarify - something creative and challenging that does NOT involve a computer or an app. No screens. The hobby should have him using his hands and creating something (but again, not Legos). The origami and cooking ideas are definitely going in the right direction.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 11:03 AM on April 16, 2016

In keeping with his like of video games, and the mention above of model building, maybe Warhammer? Woodworking can take up a lot of space but maybe leathercraft? Since he likes gaming, maybe building computers or doing other electronic work?

Apparently I do that thing? Where everything sounds like a question? (I swear I don't when speaking.)
posted by kattyann at 11:07 AM on April 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

Cooking Comically also comes as a cookbook.

As does Thug Kitchen. (It's pretty swear-y though if that's an issue.)
posted by Beti at 11:07 AM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Does he have space to do something like-- build a tree fort, or a playhouse for a younger sibling, or maybe learn to 'fix up' an old beater car, or perhaps a garden?
posted by The otter lady at 11:08 AM on April 16, 2016

Oh and actual glass blowing might be too much, but small scale hot glass work might be perfect.

My stepdad also does knapping, which might fit the bill.
posted by kattyann at 11:11 AM on April 16, 2016

Carpentry! If you're near a community college there might even be a class he could enroll in with shop access.
posted by slagheap at 11:15 AM on April 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

Model building or painting those little figures for tabletop board games. Or if he doesn't care too much about having a permanent product at the end, puzzles or crossword puzzles.
posted by MsMolly at 11:19 AM on April 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

Bonsai. Not just the training and shaping and clipping, but the intensive horticulture and obsessive care one takes with a tree that's in training.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 11:19 AM on April 16, 2016

I'm a bit frustrated by the two constraints "no screens" and "materials at hand" -- the cool thing about software-based stuff is that (absent specialized hardware for eg: drawing) you've already got everything you need if you have a computer. Almost everything else is going to require some sort of specialized consumables, even if it's just paper and writing instruments. It might be helpful if you can define "materials at hand" a bit more clearly, since definitions may vary -- when I was a kid, I had woodworking tools and electronics bits "at hand" because of my father's interest, but not, say, music gear.

That said: Is he interested in art at all? Woodcarving? Painting? Drawing? Found-object sculpture? What about writing/drawing/calligraphy?

Music? You can get a recorder (as in the wind instrument, not hardware to record sound) for cheap, and lots of other starter instruments are cheaply available.

Can his guardians afford to buy tools? If so, woodworking is pretty classic. I'm more a fan of metalworking, but that's more expensive and involves more situations that can hurt you badly (metal is much less forgiving in many ways).
posted by Alterscape at 11:20 AM on April 16, 2016 [7 favorites]

You can really do a lot of cool things with paper.

I once saw an elaborate 3D model of a cathedral made out of paper, for example.

Model trains can also be engrossing.
posted by delight at 11:20 AM on April 16, 2016

Adding another suggestion for tabletop models. Also, for a social activity, running his own tabletop RPG group could be really enjoyable. If he's playing video games, that's a good sign he already has the skills to do a tabletop game. Something like the starter kit for pathfinder or a newer edition of call of cthulhu might be really fun for him. If he can't convince his friends to join, google around for local groups in your city, there's probably a few.

Tabletop gaming was a massive help when I was a bored introverted teen, it's social and challenging but also manages to feel casual and fun.

Papercraft is also a great idea, there's so many awesome templates on the internet and most small projects won't take much longer than an afternoon to create.
posted by InkDrinker at 11:30 AM on April 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


Pretty much anything on this site. They have a lot of cool kits, & idea books with in the shop area

If he has the money Raspberry Pi projects.
posted by wwax at 11:30 AM on April 16, 2016

If he's into exercising by himself there's a ton he could do! Start training for a marathon (or 5k, whatever his speed), or maybe get some used weights and work with them, or find a door frame and work on getting to a certain number of pull-ups, etc. Basically define a solo fitness goal and work towards it.
posted by cgg at 11:31 AM on April 16, 2016

technical drawing? this book is pretty good.
posted by andrewcooke at 11:33 AM on April 16, 2016

It might be helpful if you can define "materials at hand" a bit more clearly, since definitions may vary

Materials at hand means he can get the supplies for the hobby at an art or craft store. Assume his family has no woodworking tools, propane, kilns or torches and has no plans to get them. I'm looking for some type of thing that has a process and a physical product and he can do it at home. Even in his room.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 11:35 AM on April 16, 2016

I have this book on chalkboard lettering on its way to me. It has glowing reviews. Granted, I have no idea if a teen boy would take to it. It's something like drawing, but perhaps different enough? And it can be a pretty useful skill.
posted by veggieboy at 11:39 AM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sculpey modeling
posted by wintersweet at 11:55 AM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

What about knitting or crocheting? You could get him a copy of The Manly Art of Knitting.
posted by jabes at 11:58 AM on April 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

For a guy his age, there is a whole "maker" movement that has superceded arts and crafts. It's a kind of reaction to having to get what you want from a store. There are various manifestations including recreating costumes and props from movies, learning about 3-D printers, building miniature computers like the Raspberry Pi, etc. Something for everyone. You can see some manifestations at Tested.com. if you Google "maker movement" a little, you'll find how it's being used in schools and for other educational purposes.

The starting point is what he knows and what he likes.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:00 PM on April 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

You say "the materials are at hand." Does that mean "only common household items" or can it include some amount of "get this tool/kit and you'll be set for a while?"

When I was around that age, I worked on basic electronics (mostly from kits like this), did origami, and built simple model airplanes from balsa wood. It's also about the time my mom and grandma taught me to knit - a skill I still value today. I had friends who created stop-motion animations.

I really wish I had learned basic/intermediate woodworking techniques with hand tools back then - saw, drill, plane, chisel, etc.
posted by sibilatorix at 12:03 PM on April 16, 2016

Also, sewing. Hand-sewing is good, or he could start to learn machine sewing on a little Singer 20 or similar. (The Singer 20 is an elegant, robust, and very simple hand-crank sewing machine intended as a first machine for kids to learn on.)
posted by sibilatorix at 12:07 PM on April 16, 2016

Knots. As in, the Ashley Book of. There are tons of Internet sites about it as well. It's a cool, useful skill, and sailors used to do it in idle moments, so it's totally butch. All he'd need is a piece of string.
posted by Grunyon at 12:26 PM on April 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sculpey and model/miniature painting and building are great ideas, but some of the best resources to learn how to do those things really well are online. Would screens be allowed for education/reference? I mean, to be perfectly honest, there's no way I could have learned how to do continental knitting, lace and cables, or knitting in the round with two circs without YouTube. All of my knitting relatives are dead and I can only glean so much about physical technique from the written word, so to the interwebs I had to go.
posted by xyzzy at 1:07 PM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Instead of Legos and drawing, would he be interested in architectural drafting and building paper/cardboard models?

Baking. It's all chemistry! My brother went through a bread baking phase.

If not cars, building and repairing bicycles?

Fermenting - pickles, yogurt, kombucha...

Sewing, or rather, tailoring and haberdashery?

posted by jrobin276 at 1:16 PM on April 16, 2016

Nthing cooking. Creative, engaging, fun. You get to play with knives.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:52 PM on April 16, 2016

Seeing fermenting up there, its a good idea. Quick pickling is a ton of fun.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:53 PM on April 16, 2016

Why not Lego? My husband enjoys the Lego Architecture series. The end results look quite nice displayed on a desk or bookshelf.

He may not enjoy drawing as a thing by itself, but if you go put him a 'how to cartoon' book, might he enjoy something like that?

And I know you said no screens, but what about something like Wii Fit which combines gaming with exercise?
posted by JoannaC at 1:57 PM on April 16, 2016

I want to second cosplay! There's plenty of video game characters he could start with and he could do anything in the range from creating a costume by assembling purchased items to the full make it from scratch experience.

Does he play board games at all? There's a whole subgenre of single player board games and there's the bonus that he can play them with friends later too. Check out Board Game Geek (specifically have a look at How to find solo board games on BGG). And if he does get into board games then he could also start making board game box inserts out of foam core to store all the pieces nicely.

Perhaps chain maille? It can be used for jewellery or just having your own chain maille shirt is pretty cool. And a shirt could be used for cosplay purposes too :) The nice thing about making chain maille is that you can listen to something else (TV, conversation) while doing it.
posted by eloeth-starr at 2:09 PM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've been wanting to build this moving bat at Ravens Blight, there are lots of other things to build here too.
This little dragon illusion is pretty awesome. It's done with just a piece of paper and the head looks like it is following you as you move back and forth in front of it.
Does he like Halloween? He could make stuff for the yard to scare the neighbors. Here is a diy wolf someone make out of one of those moving reindeer yard ornaments you see around Christmas. Even when he's not actually building he can be keeping his eye out for things that he can use to make his Halloween decor awesome.
More Halloween stuff here and Halloween food here.
And grave stones can be made out of foam insulation sheets, he could spend the rest of the year just making a graveyard.
Oops, here is the wolf (forgot to check my links).
posted by BoscosMom at 2:49 PM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Leatherwork is ideal for this. At its simplest he just needs some leather (even just scraps to start), a way to cut it, glue, an awl, needles and thread. If he likes it, he can get more things to add new techniques as he goes (e.g., he might make a pouch with raw edges at first, then move on to a cardholder with finished edges, then a tooled wallet, etc.). Or he can keep it minimalist and functional.

If there is a Tandy store in his town, he can get supplies there and take a class, but he can also learn from YouTube videos (Ian Atkinson has some build-along projects), the leatherworker.net forums, books if screens are truly verboten (Al Stohlman's are the gold standard), or even just by looking at a finished project and recreating it.
posted by mama casserole at 3:28 PM on April 16, 2016

At his age, I was into moving larger rocks and logs around in the yard and building garden spaces, then planting things in them. After that, there's weeding, pruning, harvesting, cooking, and sitting in the yard looking at the garden while petting the cat.

Also: walking through local woods and observing crayfish.

Final idea: get a small cordless drill for him, a set of forstner bits, and let him try making things out of small pieces of lumber and dowels (or even branches). Basically, small woodworking projects.

Oh, and there's also small electronics kits; he'd probably end up wanting a soldering iron and some solder, but the kits usually include everything else.
posted by amtho at 3:47 PM on April 16, 2016

Get him a couple of rats and let him master positive reinforcement training.
For the excersize: Zombie Run.
Batting cages?
Crochet, It's not just for old ladies anymore. Amigurumi
Hyperbolic crochet
Shadow knitting. It looks like stripes until you look at it a certain way, then it shows a pattern.
Crochet Hackey sack and then learn how to use it and it's exercize
posted by BoscosMom at 4:05 PM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

How about magic tricks? My brother was very into that as a teenager. He could get started with just a book, some coins, and a deck of cards.
posted by FencingGal at 5:45 PM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Picking locks? There are evidently practice kits you can buy, and it seems like it could be a handy skill if you tend to forget your keys.

Learning how to play popular cards games (poker, blackjack) to win (lots of math!), and a lot of the initial learning can be done alone, with a book.

This would require a pool table or access to a nearby pool hall, but being at least decent at pool is actually a handy skill to have for future socializing.

Yoga may be an option way on the other side of the spectrum of suggestions. Totally learnable from a book, though classes or youtube videos may be easier.
posted by snaw at 6:16 PM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Some of my favorites from the comments listed above:
bread baking
learning strategies for card games like poker and blackjack
Picking locks

posted by Become A Silhouette at 6:24 PM on April 16, 2016

Build a paper clock, gardening, grow houseplants, jump rope, juggling.
posted by aniola at 7:43 PM on April 16, 2016

Nth circus skills. My brother also went through a magic tricks and juggling/circus type phase and ended up getting paid gigs at festivals and as a magicians' assistant. There's all sorts of things to juggle, fire things to swing around, etc

Aerial silks might require the occasional class, but the silks are a one off and could be hung indoors or from a tree outside. (Plus, exercise! I have a friend who does this and she's *ripped*)
posted by jrobin276 at 8:03 PM on April 16, 2016

Between me and my partner the various non-screen-centered solo hobbies are music, electronics/robotics, assembling and painting Warhammer minis (which my partner plays with friends), gardening (not tending someone else's garden but having your own plot that you put some plants in and then see/help grow), reading, doing visual mathy puzzles (logic masters India has these competitions - there's a screen tangentially involved only and you can print out old tests just to do on planes and stuff), knitting, quilting, and cooking/baking.

From what you describe I think the puzzles might be an option, or seeking out stuff to learn - I've been listening to a lot of podcasts and online courses lately and that's been a lot of fun for giving my brain a little stretch in a direction that isn't the one I use it in every day. Volunteering isn't a "childish" hobby, BTW, and neither is martial arts...
posted by Lady Li at 12:59 AM on April 17, 2016

I forgot this on first read - bodyweight tricks like handstands, hangs, balances. You can train anything at home and he'll have a natural advantage over e.g. me who finds muscle gain a lot slower. Check out BeastSkills.com and the Facebook group Movement Culture. Hop around YouTube till you see something cool you'd like to be able to do and work out how to train it.

Related fun body stuff is parkour, climbing (including trees and urban), slacklining, acro and yoga if he doesn't mind them being gendered, running for fun to supplement the other training, weightlifting if you like. Sports nutrition can become a hobby, though watch for disordered eating. Anatomy! Learn muscle and skeletal anatomy including anatomy of movement.

Personally one of the tricks I'm working on is being able to get into the attic of my house without a ladder. Physical skills are handy. And fun - you use your own body's information to solve problems, you can experiment with things straight away when you think of them, you can feel a weakness and train it and next week find the thing happens like magic. If a skill isn't coming (or taking frustratingly long) you can pick another. In my dreams I think I'm a seventeen-year-old boy, just having patience with my 30-yo F body and its fatigue etc in practice. I love it.
posted by lokta at 12:59 AM on April 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

I missed martial arts! Those too.
posted by lokta at 1:00 AM on April 17, 2016

Came here to mention parkour, noticed that lokta had already. Their suggestions are basically what I was going to write.
posted by Hactar at 7:57 AM on April 18, 2016

He could brew his own root beer, ginger ale, etc., if his parents will tolerate the odd explosively carbonated bottle.
posted by yarntheory at 7:42 PM on April 19, 2016

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