When they’re babies, you’re the very air your children breathe. Fast forward a decade or so, however, and those adoring glances and adorable hugs have been replaced with eye-rolls and excuses to do virtually anything other than spend time with you.
“Raising a teen poses several challenges and the overall reason is that you are learning to balance raising a child in a very different way,” says licensed mental health counselor and life coach Dr. Jaime Kulaga, Ph.D. “There is a fine line between allowing them the flexibility to learn, finding their identities, and trying new things while also giving and sticking to consequences for actions that push this boundary into an area of life that can be dangerous, scary, and pose serious problems for your teen now and their future selves.”
With that in mind, we’ve compiled 40 fun ways to bond with your teenage kids, each a great way to get in that quality time those sullen teenage years might otherwise have you missing out on.
Have dinner together.
If you’re looking for an easy way to spend some time with your teenager, try making family dinner a non-negotiable part of your schedule. Not only is this a great time to catch up with your kids about what’s going on in their lives, but researchers at the University of Montreal have discovered a link between family meals and physical and emotional wellbeing in children.
Schedule a weekly movie date.
Want to make your relationship with your teenagers healthier and happier? Try making a regular movie date with them. Not only is this a nice break for you, it provides the perfect opportunity for you to spend time together without it feeling like you have to talk the whole time.
Catch a concert together.
Even if you’re not the biggest Taylor Swift fan or can’t name a single song by Rihanna, a concert is a great bonding experience for you and your teen. Sure, your hokey dance moves might embarrass him or her, but getting to see their favorite artist in the flesh is sure to be an experience they never forget.
“Music is so good for the mind and soul and it has a way of connecting you to a moment or a person. Go to a concert, festival, etc., where music is playing and enjoy some quality time with your teen and good music,” suggests Dr. Kulaga.
Do work together.
Even if bringing home work doesn’t sound like the epitome of fun to you, tackling those post-work projects while your kids finish their homework can actually be a great way to bond. While you try to remember what you learned decades ago about polynomials, your kid might just be able to provide some unique insight about a problem your Monday morning staff meeting couldn’t figure out.
Prepare meals as a team.
You’ll get more out of cooking with your teen than just a great meal. In fact, it’s one of the best bonding activities there is. Not only can cooking help you tackle a fun project together, research suggests that people who regularly prepare their own food eat more fruits and vegetables and have lower rates of obesity than those who rely on takeout.
Plant a garden together.
What’s a better way to get to know your kid than revisiting one of their favorite toddlerhood pastimes: digging in dirt? Even if you don’t have space to plant a garden at home, you can enjoy some bonding time together at a local community garden. Better yet, you’ll have plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to use in your cooking together.
Start a book club.
Sure, your teenager might not want to read Middlemarch with you and your adult friends, but starting a family-only book club can be a fun way to get your kids invested in an intellectually-stimulating activity without breaking out the flash cards. And considering how much evidence there is about the benefits of reading to and with kids, you never know if this will be the bonding activity that turns your teen into a genius.
Hit the gym together.
Get those endorphins pumping, break a sweat, and bond with your teenager in one fell swoop by hitting the gym together. Even if you can’t convince your kid to hit up Zumba with you, even using side-by-side ellipticals and chatting about the most recent episode of Chopped can be a bonding experience.
Bury a time capsule.
If you want to experience a gift that keeps on giving with your kids, try burying a time capsule together. Put in your favorite books, some family photos, and a few mementos of the time period in which it was buried, and in a decade (or more), you’ll get to relive those precious memories.
Do a community clean-up together.
Do some good for your community and your family by organizing or taking part in a local community clean up. Not only will you help make your community more beautiful, you’ll teach your kids a great lesson on how much impact they can make, even at a young age.
Volunteer at a soup kitchen.
There’s nothing like volunteering together to help you bond with your teen. Feeding others at a local soup kitchen together can help your teen better appreciate their own good fortune while doing a good deed that’s unlikely to be forgotten by those on the receiving end of it.
Take a cooking class.
If your culinary skills are limited to the preparation of macaroni and cheese, try taking a cooking class with your kid. Not only is trying your hand at preparing something special together a great way to bond, it can also liven up those family meals in no time.
Reminisce about their babyhood.
There are few things that can bring a family closer than taking a trip down memory lane. When you’re struggling to bond with your teenager, try reminiscing about when they were little—even the most sullen teen can’t help but laugh at photos of his or her parents in their retro gear, trying to give their little one a bath in the sink.
Have a spa day.
Who says that pampering should only be for parents? If you want to treat your teen and get in some good bonding time, hit up your local spa. A mud mask, a massage, and a manicure later and it’ll feel like you’re old friends again.
Tackle chores as a group.
While few people relish doing chores, tidying up the house together is a great way to get in some bonding time with your teens. Not only will you be leading by example (and hopefully imparting some of the professional-grade cleaning tricks you’ve learned over the years), you might just be able to get your kid to open up to you as you’re tidying up.
Go shopping together.
A little retail therapy can be a great way to bond with your teens, no matter how uncool they think you are the rest of the time. Grab some back-to-school essentials, take them to their favorite comic book store, or just enjoy a little shopping spree together—you’ll be amazed at how quickly they open up.
Read magazines together.
Bring out that stack of Vogues and get reading with your kids. Even for kids who can’t be bothered to read a novel in their free time, reading magazines together gives you something to discuss, and has the benefit of not being yet another screen-based activity.
Plan a staycation.
You don’t have to shell out tons of money on a lavish vacation to get in some serious bonding time with your kids. Plan a staycation where you ditch the work and phones and just hang out at home watching movies, catching up, and making memories you’ll cherish.
Carve out weekly family time.
One of the easiest ways to ensure some bonding time with your teens? Schedule some weekly family time. In doing so, you can sidestep those arguments about scheduling and simply enjoy one another’s company.
Take some time for a one-on-one chat.
Even if you have a big family, it’s important to make time to talk to your teen one-on-on. The teenage years are a major transition for a lot of kids, so ensuring that you have plenty of face time with them can make it easier to keep abreast of all those ups and downs.
“Talk about them, listen, and don’t always give your advice. Sure, you have been there and done that before, but honestly, they often don’t care and don’t want to hear it. They want to vent and talk about themselves,” says Dr. Kulaga. “They are going through it now in life, and no matter what you say, your issues back then probably don’t compare to theirs (in their eyes, that is). So, hear out your teen not to respond, but to listen.”
Paint a room together.
Want to bond with your kid and improve your home in one easy step? Try repainting one of your rooms. Not only is this an easy and fun activity, it’s a great way to transform your home without hiring a pricey contractor.
Teach them to drive.
Like it or not, your teenager will likely want to learn how to drive at some point. While it may be terrifying for the both of you at first, guiding them when they’re behind the wheel is a great way to catch up while teaching them a valuable life skill.
Whether your passion is knitting, needlepoint, or crochet, crafting with your kids can be a surprisingly good way to bond. And considering how many teens aren’t getting art education in school these days, it might just be an outlet they learn to love.
“Getting creative is a great way to destress, get in the zone, and chit-chat. Let your teen pick a craft they like (painting, creating music, crafting, et cetera) and have them make something for someone else—a grandparent, parent, sibling, or friend. While they create, you talk with them, learn more about them, and just bond,” says Dr. Kulaga.
Take a nightly walk after dinner.
Burn off that meal and bond with your kids with one easy activity: a nightly walk. Walking together is not only a great way to get some exercise and enjoy an endorphin boost, it gives you a prime opportunity to talk about what’s going on in your lives without it feeling forced.
Redecorate their room.
Those decorations and pieces of furniture your kid has had in their room forever might not cut it when they reach their teen years. Luckily, if you want to bond and give them a chance to update their style, redecorating their room provides a perfect opportunity for both.
Raise money for charity.
Whether your kids are passionate about animal welfare, refugee aid, or just want to help raise money for your local community center, tackling a fundraising project can bring you closer than ever before.
Tackle a home improvement project.
If you want to revamp your home and enjoy some bonding time with your teen, try tackling a home improvement project together. You’d be amazed at how much patching a little drywall or adding some crown molding can bring two people together, and how much it makes your kid appreciate the value of hard work.
“By giving your teen anything they want without them putting in work, their own money and/or sweat equity for it, you will find a teen who thinks they deserve everything. This can lead to a teen losing respect for the parents and even begin to run the household,” says Dr. Kulaga. “Be sure that, no matter how amazing your teen is, that you make them work for the things want. Some teens may have to work harder than others, but nothing should come free. After all, in the real world, nothing comes for free.”
Learn an instrument together.
While those violin lessons may not have been your favorite activity in elementary school, learning an instrument with your teenager can be a great way to bond with one another while building a lifelong skill.
Get involved in activism together.
No matter which side of the political aisle you fall on, getting involved in an activist cause can be a great way to bond with your teenager. Not only will getting to partake in an adult activity like attending a protest make your teenager feel respected, it can also give them some firsthand insight into the power of their voice.
Make a weekly board game night.
Break out the Apples to Apples or Scrabble and you’ve got yourself a great bonding activity for you and your teenagers. After all, what’s better than a little friendly competition to bring people closer?
Play “Would You Rather?”
Even if you don’t have the official game, playing a few rounds of “Would You Rather?” can help provide some much-desired insight into what makes your kid tick. And anyway, how else would you ever find out if they’d rather have feet made of shrimp or hair made of crab legs?
Take a vacation.
A little rest and relaxation can do you and your teenager some good. Even if you’re not going on a major overseas excursion, a weekend trip to a neighboring city or town can provide you the perfect opportunity to catch up with one another.
Have a slumber party.
While your kids sleeping in your room may have been a nuisance when they were little, as teenagers, it’s a great way to spend time together. Set up a mattress for them on the floor, watch some movies together, read some books, and you’ll wake up in the morning feeling like old friends again.
Take their friends along with you.
Who says that the only way to bond with your kids is one-on-one? If you want to really get to know your otherwise-distant teen, invite their friends out with you. Get to know who they’re hanging out with, grab dinner with them and their friends, and you’ll instantly get some great insight into their world.
Take a painting class together.
A little creativity goes a long way when it comes to bonding with your teenager. Even if they’re not up for an afternoon of making papier-mâché at home, taking a painting class can provide some perfect bonding time for the two of you.
Instead of snooping in your teen’s journal, try making journaling an activity you do together. While it’s important that you don’t insist upon them telling you everything they write down, the very act of writing down their feelings might just have them opening up to you, too.
Clean up your yard.
You don’t need much of a green thumb to make your outdoor space look more beautiful while getting in some quality time together. Put on some music, grab some rakes, and do a fall clean up together for a fun way to bond without spending any cash.
Take a road trip together
Even if you don’t have anywhere in particular in mind to go, hitting the open road can be a major boon to your relationship with your teenager. Better yet, if they have their license, let them take the wheel, too.
Take a self-defense class.
There’s nothing more empowering than feeling like you can defend yourself. If you want to give your kid the gift of self-protection while getting in some great bonding time, a self-defense class might just be the perfect solution.
Watch the sunrise together.
While you may not want your kid to stay up until the wee hours when they’re having a sleepover at a friend’s house, who says they shouldn’t be able to enjoy a late night once in a while? Bake some brownies, watch some horror movies, and catch the sunrise together before hitting the hay once and for all.