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20 Things To Do With Teenagers To Strengthen Your Bond

When I think of things to do with teenagers, there are two questions I have to consider. Should I suggest activities that are fun for my teens but that secretly bewilder me, thereby earning myself some undeserved street cred? Or should we try “personal development” hobbies that I believe will benefit my teenagers’ holistic growth—a decision that will undoubtedly win me the Most Uncool Mom award?

Faced with such a dilemma, my kids, my husband, and I eventually agreed to take turns choosing weekly family activities. We have only one rule: everyone should join the activity regardless of how they feel about it initially.

Such an arrangement has given our family pretty interesting experiences. We once dined at a Greek restaurant and ordered only the dishes we couldn’t pronounce (my idea). The week after that, we simultaneously played the horror video game Five Nights at Freddy’s side by side on our own computers with the overhead lights off (my 14-year-old’s idea).

For our kids, these weekly activities are purely for fun. But my husband and I do it because we understand the importance of regularly spending quality time with our two teenagers.

But it’s not always a smooth ride.

The psyche of teenagers

During adolescence—the period from the start of puberty until the mid-20s—a person goes through tremendous physical, mental, psychosocial, and emotional changes. Teenagers are right smack in the middle of this period.

Along with this transition comes teenagers’ need to be more independent. `They’re working out who they are and what they want. The world is out there and they want to occupy it all on their own.

Unfortunately for them, their prefrontal cortex will only be fully developed around the time they turn 25. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for planning, prioritizing, and controlling impulses—the same skills a person needs to be independent. So then, total freedom must wait.

Anyway, here’s a secret: teens like to push their parents away, but deep inside, every teenager craves their parents’ love, trust, and attention. Many of them just can’t verbalize it well.

So keep at it, mom and dad. Sooner or later, your bonding activities will bear fruit. And you will realize that connecting with your teen is no longer the herculean task it once was.

Fun things to do with teenagers

When you think of family activities with teenagers, consider your child’s personality. What do they enjoy doing? Are they open to trying anything new? How physically adventurous are they?

Pick things to do with teens that are fun and stimulating for both of you. Be committed to the activities you choose. If you tend to always correct your teen, refrain from doing so during these activities. Just enjoy and be in the moment.

A family with teens hike down a mountain, which is a perfect thing to do with teenagers

Go on a nature hike

This is a win-win for teens—in fact, all children—who lead a sedentary lifestyle. They get to spend alone time with you while exercising in nature, which has been found to stimulate dopamine. What’s not to like?

If you or your teen are not used to long hikes, pick a relatively level trail that makes it easy for you to double back when you get tired. On the other hand, barring any medical condition, you can keep pushing each other to go on even when your muscles start screaming. If you do, you may be rewarded with a fantastic summit view (if you’re hiking up a mountain) and a bond forged by mutual grit.

Cook a meal

Is your teen an adventurous eater? Use their fondness for flavors to strengthen your bond. After all, delicious food has a way of bringing people together in more ways than one. You can also use this time to chat with your teen about their day in a non-confrontational manner. (Slicing vegetables will keep things easy and informal.) Also, studies have found that involving children in meal prep positively influences their dietary choices.

How about making some cheeseburger sliders for dinner? Then maybe finish your meal with a slice of chocolate cake.

A father and his son tend to their plants in vegetable boxes

Plant a vegetable garden

Did you know that working in dirt makes people happy? Soil contains the rare microorganism Mycobacterium vaccae. A study found that M. vaccae has anti-inflammatory properties; it can also boost immunity.

So how about spending this weekend working in mulch with your teen? If you have a full garden, the exposure to sunlight will also be great for you and your child—vitamin D from the sun’s rays boosts heart, bone, and mental health.

This tutorial video will give you the basics of starting your own garden, whether it be in a full-grown yard, in patio containers, or even kitchen tubs.

Attend a concert

Among all the activities for teens you can do, this one’s tricky because the musical preferences of parents and teenagers rarely overlap. But the music is just one part of a concert, anyway. Many other factors turn a concert into an entire experience: who you go with, what you munch on during the front act, the breeze in your hair if it’s an outdoor concert, etc.

When you and your teen go to a stadium, along with thousands others, to watch an artist perform, you are collectively caught in that moment of pure enjoyment. There are few things better than living in the moment while listening to a great song being sung live.

A car's side-view mirror reflects a pair of legs hanging out the backseat window, suggesting a road trip, a perfect thing to do with teenagers

Take a road trip

When I was in high school, a friend’s parents split up. About a week after her father moved out, my friend’s mom took my friend and her older brother on a trip. It was a spontaneous decision made during breakfast. They went to the bus station, picked a random destination none of them had been, and just hopped on with their overnight bags.

To this day, my friend still talks about that trip. She says it was one of the most important trips her family ever took because during it, her mother dropped her brave face. She let her kids to see her as a hurt, vulnerable person, which allowed my friend and her brother to do the same.

Road trips are magical because they strip a person down to their authentic self.

Play video games

Is your teen a gamer? Let them pick a game to play with you. Decide whether or not you’ll be playing together as a team or against each other.

You have a double goal here. First, you want to get to know your child by how they teach you the game, and how they play it with you or against you. Second, and equally important, you want to have fun.

So be completely involved in the game. Ask questions, collect Experience Points (XP) so you can buy cool stuff for your avatar, offer to buy the sequel of the game you’re playing so you can continue to play next week.

Two young women and their mother sit on a couch and point at photo they see on a laptop screen

Organize your photos into albums

Digital albums, that is.

There must be thousands of disorganized photos in your phone. One afternoon, invite your teen to sit with you at your computer and go through the photos with you. It will be so much fun looking at each one and remembering the moment it was taken.

Print out some favorite photos then frame them. And perhaps for your next bonding activity, you and your teen can go around the house putting up the photos on the walls.

Train for a sport

One of my friends—a former member of our badminton varsity team in high school—used to be a workaholic, barely making it home for dinner with her family every night. Her relationship with her three teenagers was civil at best.

It all changed when she had a stroke right after giving birth to her third baby. She was in an induced coma for a month. A few months into her physical therapy, her doctors suggested she pick up badminton again. It had been 15 years since she last set foot in a badminton court.

So as soon as she was able, she took her whole family to a court and they played for half an hour. The next day, she and her kids did it again. Eventually, badminton became their thrice-weekly family activity.

Today, she is steadily recovering from her stroke, her kids have never been closer to her, and they are all training for a badminton competition in their community.

Learn to play a favorite song

You’ll learn a lot about who a person is by how they teach someone. If your teen is musically inclined, ask them to teach you how to play one of their favorite songs (if it’s simple enough).

To make it even more exciting, once you master the song, make a video of you performing it together. Then post it online and watch the love emojis pile up.

Three people do a jump pose for the camera with snow on the ground behind them

Be spontaneous

There is much fun to be had if, once in a while, you ditch plans and just go where your feet take you. By living completely in the moment, you’re teaching your teen to appreciate the time you have with each other.

Besides, there’s something about being impulsive that brings the child out in anyone. When was the last time you laughed out loud, like let out a big guffaw, in front of your teen? Let them see that inside you is a kid just like them.

Organize a family game night

Are you a board game kind of family or is dodgeball more your speed? Regardless of the type of games you and your teens enjoy, set a rule that everyone is expected to join family game night.

If you want to make an event of these games for teenagers, have some prizes ready. These don’t have to be material prizes; they can be 30 extra minutes of wifi or a Saturday with no chores, for example. Or the privilege to pick the music in the car for an upcoming road trip.

Pictionary is always a winner; so are charades, UNO, Twister, and TABOO.

A person stands on a stool, painting a wall; a young girl sits on the floor painting another wall

Redesign your teen’s room

Before anything else, work out your budget for the redesign. From there, pore over design magazines and websites to look for inspiration. Your teen can then make a mood board to guide their color and style choices.

Now you’re both ready to get to work. It’s best to allot a whole weekend for this project. Repaint (or repaper) the walls, move the furniture around, get some new window treatments, maybe even purge some old clothes.

Remember that this is supposed to be a fun project. Let your teen take the lead and just provide support.

Do a spa day

You and your teen will probably spend part of the day half asleep (have you ever tried to stay alert during a relaxing full-body massage?). But the fact that you’re receiving your massages on beds that are side by side should be enough.

Go for facials, manicures and pedicures, hair care treatments, and body scrubs. Your day at the spa should be all about self-care. And when your teen sees you value your body that much, it will give teach them to appreciate your body, as well, regardless of self-perceived imperfections.

People in storm trooper costumes walk down a street

Attend a comic con

How fun would it be to show up at a comic con as a dynamic duo? Think Mike and Sully of Monsters, Inc., Elastigirl and Dash of The Incredibles, Gandalf and Frodo of The Lord of the Rings, Katana and Aang of The Last Avatar, and Princess Leia and an Ewok of Star Wars.

Double the fun by making your own costumes. That’s another parent-teen activity right there. You don’t have to be a whiz at sewing; lots of costumes can be improvised using things you already have in your closet.

Don’t forget to take lots of pictures.

Stay in on a Saturday and do family movie night

Pull out all the stops for this one. Make it an event where everyone pitches in to set it up.

First, pick a movie no one in your family has seen. Next, figure out the screen you’ll be watching it on—a TV, projector, or someone’s computer. And then arrange your seats. Will you all be on the couch? On giant pillows on the floor? sprawled out on lounge chairs in the backyard?

Remember to get the food sorted. This is the one night where you can give yourself permission to feed your brood the oily and fatty junk food they probably crave. Get some pizza, burgers, popcorn, candy bars—the same food you’ll probably be munching on in a cinema.

Finally, turn down the lights, settle back, and enjoy movie night with your teens.

People on a theme park ride called Nitro are suspended in the air sideways

Go to a theme park

The reason why theme parks are wildly popular is that they bring out the child in everyone. Let your own run free when you visit.

Do the rounds of all the rides if you can to maximize the day. Walk around with cotton candy, wear mouse ears, wave at any princes or princesses who might glide by.

The most important thing is that you do all this with you teen by your side. Don’t split up when you get to the theme park. You’re going there to spend time with each other. Compromise on ride choices if you can’t find one that suits you both. Above all, have loads of fun.

Stay up all night

A parent’s recovery time for this one may stretch to several days. But you know it will be worth your throbbing head and aching muscles.

There’s something special about being up when everyone else isn’t. (Why do you think teenagers like to stay up way past their bedtime?) Watch TV while eating chips and popcorn. Bake some cupcakes. Play with your dogs in your dark backyard. Try out some Tiktok challenges (just not the ones that may require emergency medical treatment). Right before dawn, head upstairs and out to your roof (if there’s no risk of you sliding off), and watch the sunrise.

I promise, this night will be one for the books.

A young woman sits on a couch reading a book

Begin a “book club”

How cool would it be to compare notes on a book you and your teen are reading? How beautiful would it be for you both to be imagining the same fictional (or non-fictional) world but from different points of view?

Reading does solidify your parent-child bond. But more than that, it also brings a host of benefits to your teen. Through literature, they can enrich their vocabulary, flex their imagination and creativity, and identify with characters who can articulate feelings that they, your teen, can’t. And when you talk about the book after you are both done with it, it boosts your teenager’s oral communication skills.

If you’re at a loss about where to start, the following novels have great reviews: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon, and Ready Player One and Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline.

Volunteer at a charity

When your teenager sees you helping others without expecting anything in return, it punctuates your family’s value system. This will create a sense of belonging and pride in your teen, perhaps leading them to think, “Wow, I belong to a good family.”

You can read to sick children in a hospital, help care for animals in a shelter, donate blood, or serve the homeless in a soup kitchen. Closer to home, you can buy groceries for an elderly neighbor or visit a sick relative. The opportunities to help are endless, and they will only bring you and your teen closer to each other.

A man facing away hugs a golden retriever, who smiles for the camera

Adopt a pet

If you feel your teen is ready to care for a pet, then know that pets offer their humans a host of benefits. For instance, a study published in 2021 found that when adolescents enjoy a steady emotional connection with their furry (or feathery or scaly) friends, their capacity for healthy social interaction increases.

Why don’t you and your teen go over to a nearby animal shelter and find a pet for your family? It’s best to adopt than to shop, remember. Just consider the following factors when picking this activity: budget, space in your home, and your teen’s schedule (will they have time to properly care for their pet?).

Things to do with teenagers create lifelong bonds

When you consider which family activities with teenagers you can do, remember to make your child the focal point. Because when teens are having fun, they are more apt to let down the walls they’ve put up around themselves. Then, you can take a peek into what’s really going on with them. It goes both ways, too—they’ll get to see you without the authoritative facade you may subconsciously have. And if you do it regularly enough, you’ll soon realize that you’ve been sowing seeds of lifelong love and trust all along.

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