Family, Kids & Relationships

10 Ways to Keep Teens Busy, Active, and Engaged

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As parents with teenagers look ahead, many are wondering how they’re going to fill their kids’ time with so many camps, sports, and school activities being canceled due to COVID-19. Unlike younger children who are more easily entertained by crafts, games, and trips to the park, teenagers aren’t always keen to spend a ton of time with their parents during the day, and many log tons of hours online or on the phone socializing with friends. 

If you’re worried that’s not the best way to fill your teen’s free time, you’re not alone. We asked parents on Facebook for ideas on keeping teens busy, active, and engaged, even when they can’t necessarily hang out with their friends and do all the extra curriculars and fun activities they’re used to. Here’s a peek at a few ideas to try: 

Let them give their room a makeover.

Having the freedom to set up their space the way they like it is enough to put a pep in a lot of teens’ steps. One Facebook mom told us she’s giving her daughter full reign over her room redo, including what color to paint the walls and where to place the furniture. A room makeover doesn’t have to mean buying them all new stuff—they can get a whole new look just from borrowing throw pillows, blankets, and other decor from other rooms in the house, or simply moving their bed to a different wall. Just set some parameters about what they can or can’t do, but try to give them as much leeway as possible. And if you have the budget for some changes, make sure the amount they’re allowed to spend is crystal clear. Once the guidelines are out of the way, give them the creative freedom to redo it as they wish. It’s a great opportunity for teens to express themselves and to feel a sense of autonomy and responsibility. 

Sign up for virtual college tours.

If your teen is a high school junior or senior and had plans to visit colleges—or even if they didn’t and you just want to spark some interest—sign them up for virtual campus tours. Several websites such as Campus Tours and You Visit provide links to thousands of colleges, with interactive maps, mobile virtual walking tours, and more. In some cases, they can even speak virtually with current students who are happy to answer your teen’s questions about college life.

Have them start a side hustle.

Many parents of teens told us their kids planned to start summer jobs this year but many have either been canceled altogether or parents are simply no longer comfortable with the idea of having their child interact with the public. While understandable, it doesn’t mean your child shouldn’t hone their work ethic and perhaps even earn a little money over the summer. From cleaning windows and cars for neighbors to walking dogs and tutoring younger kids virtually, there are many ways that teens can launch a side hustle safely. 

Have a backyard campout.

Nighttime skies offer a great opportunity to pull your teen’s attention away from screens and towards the heavens. Try downloading a free astronomy app such as SkySafari, Star Rover, or Night Sky, so they can point your smartphone at the sky and learn about the stars, constellations, and more. If you’ve got a tent, let your teen camp out overnight in the backyard with a friend (setting up two tents even allows for socially distanced sleepovers!). Or just let them spend time out there with flashlights, sleeping bags, and s’ mores until the comfort of their plush bed inside is too irresistible to ignore any longer.

Teach them to drive.

In addition to myriad online driver’s ed programs, this is a great time to take advantage of empty parking lots and teach your teen to drive. Companies like Virtual Drives and FLVS provide online driver’s education classes for teens looking to earn their permits and driver’s licenses. In most cases, they can take the classes at their leisure 24/7, so if you’ve got a teen who likes to stay up late and sleep in, perhaps they can make the late-night quiet work in their favor. Just make sure virtual driver’s ed is recognized in your state.

Have them organize safe events.

From group bike rides that honor social distancing rules to picnics in the park, clothes or toy drives, and more, it’s always a great time to encourage altruistic endeavors. Not only will they be doing a good deed for others, but they’ll also build leadership and organizational skills that will serve them well for years to come.

Encourage them to become a “best buddy.”

Speaking of altruism, Best Buddies International, the nonprofit organization that creates opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, has an ebuddies program that pairs students with other kids their age for an email exchange program. Teens are trained in how to communicate safely by email, and in most cases, they’re paired with someone the same age with similar interests.

Let them walk dogs at a local shelter.

Animal shelters such as ASPCA are always looking for volunteers to walk and feed dogs, and many allow students 16 and older to sign up for the job. With minimal contact between people and the chance to walk dogs outdoors, the risk of contracting COVID-19 is relatively low, making this the perfect volunteer opportunity for pet-loving teens.

Encourage daily exercise.

Most doctors recommend that teens ages 13 to 18 get at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity most days of the week. Whether that’s shooting hoops in the driveway, following along with a YouTube exercise video, or taking a long walk with friends, committing to that daily hour of exercise will do wonders for their physical and mental health. From preventing obesity, high blood pressure, and other health ailments and conditions to boosting their mood, regular exercise is more likely to become a habit the earlier kids start.

Sign them up for a leadership course.

One Facebook mom tipped us off to a free virtual course, Leadership 101, being offered to anyone at Troy University. The class covers personal development, leadership style and action, cultural diversity, and current events, all through the lens of effective leadership. We don’t know about you but we don’t know a single teen—or even adult—who wouldn’t benefit from this. The course will be taught by some of Troy University’s most distinguished faculty, including the school’s chancellor. With no fees for course materials and no textbook requirement, anyone can join either of the two four-week sessions. U.S. News & World Report includes Tory University in its annual rankings of top universities year after year, so there’s a chance your teen may even earn college credit for the course. 

The former Content Director at Parenting, and several other brands, Ana Connery is a writer and content strategist whose work appears in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Cafe Mom/The Stir, Momtastic, and others.