teenagers are good in small doses
July 27, 2016 10:26 AM   Subscribe

I would like some ideas for very quick but outside-of-the-normal-day things to do with my 16-year-old son.

It can be hard to tempt him out of his room, and doing things that take under 20 minutes keeps him from getting antsy (and likely to refuse future invitations). We spend a good amount talking together and he enjoys political debate, but I’m looking for things to do at times when I’m too mentally exhausted for that kind of interaction.

The goal is to increase our number of positive interactions (our relationship is good but I'd like to spend more time with him) and to intermittently remind him that interesting things happen away from his computer.

Things that work (if done occasionally; he’d be uninterested in doing each more than once every few months):

Walking to an empty field to see the fireflies
Grabbing ice cream, fries, etc.
Quick and rewarding household tasks (replacing storm windows with screens, rearranging furniture, etc.)

Other ideas? He would be up for quick physical competitions but my body isn’t. He's not into short games. We live within walking distance of small-town amenities like a grocery store, bookstore, rail trail, and restaurants, but not near water, lasertag, go-carts, etc.
posted by metasarah to Human Relations (21 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Walk to the library to pick up some books or DVDs?
posted by praemunire at 10:33 AM on July 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Pokemon Go?
posted by galvanized unicorn at 10:38 AM on July 27, 2016 [10 favorites]

Do you currently do chores together? I wonder if something like "listen to family audiobook/podcast/whatever while cleaning kitchen nightly" might be a nice way to inject bonding into daily life.

Does he have any interests that you could join him doing? Like, family Pokemon Go outings, or fishing, drawing manga, or...whatever he enjoys that isn't embarrassing to do with parents occasionally?
posted by instamatic at 10:41 AM on July 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I like your question - I've had friends also struggle to get their teen to interact with them.

What might help is more about your interests/his interests/and what would be out physically, but just to throw things against the wall.

-Instead of get fries and ice cream, can you make it? Can you make a unique flavor? Etc etc. and do this together.

-If he likes to debate, pick a documentary/ies to watch and/or a book to read that discusses the same issues (or a magazine article if that is too much) and discuss at a future date/time. It could even be a dinner themed around whatever debate event.

-Explore that rail trail via bike. Or if you can't do a lot physically, could you compete with fitbits or how many steps a day with a prize for whomever gets the most after a month of this?

-Is he into games? Like an occasional game of chess or whatever?

-I would also check out what he does on the computer. Is he playing games? Play one with him online, side by side. Or read the same forum/website and discuss, etc.

-What are in nearby towns? I've had friends bribe their teens and take them to a really interesting (pick thing that matches their interest) music show/band/museum, whatever. But it is a day trip/event.

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 10:44 AM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

What about taking a class together? Art or cooking or jujitsu or juggling or whatever?
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:45 AM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Putting up shelves

Medium-sized cleaning/reconditioning projects (stripping rust off of metal tools & oiling them, cleaning the interior of the car, cleaning the inside of the refrigerator). This can be fun if you do it together, depending on your preexisting relationship with each other and cleaning.

Painting things (like those metal things you stripped rust from).

Any kind of kit.


Exterior landscaping

walking dogs -- yours or neighbors'

house/dog sitting

dog or cat training (there is such a thing as clicker training for cats)

Weeding/landscaping neighbors' yards

Planning and throwing a small party/get together for friends or neighbors: making list, food planning/shopping, food prep.

Playing cooperative games like Hanabi (shorter) or Pandemic -- I know you said he's not into short games, but the cooperative nature of these might be interesting. Hint: Learn rules in a few short sessions before trying to play, otherwise it might be frustrating.

Making videos or taking photos of interesting things: previously trained pets; household contents for insurance purposes; each other for documentation.

Making an outdoor game to play with friends (I can't bring myself to type the name of that new/old popular one, but you know what I mean).
posted by amtho at 10:47 AM on July 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Take pictures together! It doesn't have to be mind blowing perfect photography. Just take your cellphones and go photograph things that you find interesting. Print them off at the drug store and put together photo albums.
posted by INFJ at 10:48 AM on July 27, 2016

I have a lot of luck watching TV series with my teenager. One episode a night (no binge watching.) Yes, it seems as if you're just sitting there staring at another screen, but as the story develops sitting down for it together becomes a special ritual, it lets us laugh and comment together and then we talk about the show and have a lot of inside jokes and references. We've done this with about four or five series, and needless to say it works best if my kid chooses it.
posted by flourpot at 10:50 AM on July 27, 2016 [12 favorites]

Make Rice Krispie treats but with those individual serving packages of cereal of many sorts. Taste test to determine best flavor of cereal in Krispie treat form.
posted by sciencegeek at 10:54 AM on July 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Helping with dinner one night a week/fortnight/month. Pick a country & cook a food he's interested in from that country. Or just things he likes. He will pick up useful skills & it's amazing how much chatting can be done while stirring & chopping. Learning how to make sushi is a great social cooking deal, I have a friend that has making sushi parties. Try your own weird & wacky combinations or go as traditional as your budget allows. How about making Kimchi? or pickles? or even cookies together.
posted by wwax at 11:13 AM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

As someone who actually was a teenager not too long ago: Actually get to know him and his interests. Don't just think "I planned a fun activity" because he may very well think it's a waste of time and will feel annoyed with you.

Having positive relationships with teenage kids requires one big thing: : Listening. Take him out for coffee and let him pick the place, spend an hour or two just asking him what he enjoys(which will make planning future outings easier). Go to a bookstore and give him a budget, let him pick something out. Open up netflix and let him select what you're going to watch. Let him feel like he can show you his interests and passions without judgement.

And whatever you do, don't plan a day of gardening or cooking without asking him if he'd be willing to do it. I love cooking now in my 20s, but goddamn, cooking with my parents was a nightmare activity as a highschooler.
posted by InkDrinker at 11:20 AM on July 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

Also, if you guys do decide to cook together, actually let him cook. Take a step back and don't micromanage/mother hen. I flat refuse to cook with my mother (even though I'm a fair cook and on my own I quite like making things) because she's a bloody nightmare in the kitchen, even though she means well.

Maybe you could work on a project that involves coming with ideas for things to do together. My friends and their parents have a mason jar full of popsicle sticks with activities they've chosen together on them, and it's a pretty big hit.
posted by Tamanna at 11:43 AM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Picking wild berries (Maybe they grow on the edge of the firefly field or along the rail trail.)

Going out to look for meteors during a meteor shower

Walking around an old cemetery looking at gravestones. (You can often find some people with really interesting names. First names in cemeteries near me include Sardine, Salmon, and Klonda-Jo.)
posted by Redstart at 11:45 AM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Point out one star constellation every night?
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:55 AM on July 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

Or get a small telescope and track the waxing / waning of the moon?
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:55 AM on July 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you want something fast, lowkey, and repeatable at frequent intervals, pick a TV show or some other media that he's into and can tolerate sharing with you. Does he follow any YouTube or Vine channels, e.g.? My teen daughter and I have done a lot of bonding over Pewdiepie, Jenna Marbles, fingernail polish tutorials, etc. If he's got a smart phone, a chromecast makes it super easy to toss up whatever he normally watches on his phone up on the big screen.
posted by drlith at 12:04 PM on July 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

(also, in re-reading, I know my suggestion doesn't address your 'remind him that interesting things happen away from the computer' but that's actually a bit condescending of an attitude to take--like, I'm actually pretty sure he knows that the library and the ice cream shop are out there--and if your goal is to increase positive interaction time it might help to avoid the implicit value judgment of certain forms of entertainment/pastime being more legitimate than others).
posted by drlith at 12:12 PM on July 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

Why not something that appeals to his geeky side like an RC vehicle or airplane or drone? Or recreating science/viral "experiments" like Coke and Mentos.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:15 PM on July 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Making a list of potentially fun, interesting, or (this is more compelling than you might think) useful quick activities.
posted by amtho at 12:51 PM on July 27, 2016

My friend who has a tween daughter was just telling me the best thing they do together is walking their dog in the evening. Maybe there's a neighbor dog you could walk if you don't have one? My other suggestion would be a small vegetable garden and your son is in charge of weeding, watering and picking. Or how about a bird feeder you both take turns filling?
Like St. Peepsburg, I thought of star gazing since you mention he likes fireflies (and that's so sweet that he does). If there's a cafe or restaurant near you that has weekly or monthly specials, you could make it a point to try the new special every month. Similarly, when it's "national hamburger day" or "nacho day" or whatever, I like to try to make a point to go out for that treat or make it at home.
posted by areaperson at 1:04 PM on July 27, 2016

Keep a challenging jigsaw puzzle on a table for family members and guests to work on a little at a time. Do tasks like sorting all the pieces for an area together.
posted by BibiRose at 4:39 PM on July 27, 2016

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