Ten Off-Screen Ways to Connect with Your Teen: And Ten Ways to Connect Using Screens, by Cara Day

If you do some simple math when your child starts high school, you’ll discover that you only have about 1,350 days, or 192 weeks left with your child before they head off to their next chapter, whether that’s college, work, or some other endeavor. And, of course, we all know this actually starts a bit sooner, once kids start driving and become more and more social as they bridge to independence.

So, what can you do to play full out in the last few years before your nest is emptied? Here are my top ten suggestions for things to do without a screen. And, to balance it out, ten things you can do with a screen that help create a ridiculous bond between you and your teen.

  1. Cook: Creating QT around things you do anyway is a great way to connect with your teen. Teens love food and it’s great for them to learn how to cook before they stop living with a full-time chef!
  2. Play practical jokes on people: Think of your own, or look up cool ideas for practical jokes and then have a little fun with the people you love. This is a great way to show your teen that even though you are their stodgy, protective parent, you are also passionate about having fun with them. This Buzzfeed article can help you get started: http://www.buzzfeed.com/mikespohr/awesome-april-fools-day-pranks-your-kids-will-totally-fal#.sfD73pgZ6
  3. Random acts: Think of them! Don’t hesitate! Do them! Whether it’s randomly giving $20 to someone in need, cleaning up something for a neighbor, or a larger act of service, make a commitment to doing random acts of kindness with your teen. If you do just one per month starting from their freshman year of high school, that’s 45 memories you’ll have of brightening the path of another that you wouldn’t have had otherwise.
  4. Play cards: Cards help build the brain and the bond. There’s an endless supply of card games to play with your teen. Our personal favorite is rummy. Keep a little book of your scores and personal family records. Add a few friends on special occasions and make up a tournament chart to add some friendly (or heated) competition!
  5. Life skills: Commit to teaching your child one life skill per month in high school. This could be “how to clean a bathroom” to “how to organize your clothes in a closet” to “how to wash a car.” Until you have a child that moves out, you might take for granted that you’ve actually explicitly taught these skills to your child in a way that they could now do them on their own.
  6. Exercise or walk: If you’re not used to working out with your child, consider making them your newest workout buddy! Whether you decide to walk, go to the gym, do 5K races, or some other organized activity, it’s awesome to have a kid who is finally old enough to do a real workout with you!
  7. Play with your pets: Benefit your bond and your pets by making time to play with them–together. By doing this, you not only show your teen that it’s important to spend QT with your pet, but you also get to rub elbows and laugh with your big furry pet, too. If you don’t have pets, go to your local shelter and shine some of your light there!
  8. Alone trip: Spending a few days or more alone with your teen is a life-changing experience. That’s all I’m going to say. The sooner you do it, the better. And this doesn’t mean a boy scout trip or some other adventure that includes other people. Choose any destination, but this is just you and your teen. The longer the better.
  9. Read the same book: Go to a bookstore or hop on Amazon and together find a book you can read at the same time. Whether fiction or non-fiction, buy two copies and encourage each other through in-depth conversations about what is taking place or what you are learning.
  10. Have a sleepover: Whether you move a mattress into the TV room or hold it in one of your bedrooms, having a sleepover with your teen is super fun. Play cards in bed, eat snacks and candy, watch a movie or comedian, look funny things up on the web, cuddle with pets, look through magazines, and any other fun activity you can think of.
  11. (Ok, so it’s 11 things) Make cool things–Use the Dangerous Book for Boys, or the Dangerous Book for Girls to get great ideas about cool little things you can make with your teen. We’ve made lights, traps, candles, you name it. Teens love melting, destroying, creating, and exploring new inventions, made greater with you at their side.

And some terrific ways to connect with screens:

  1. Shutterfly: Go to shutterfly.com, upload your pictures, and make an album of your year, a vacation you took, or just some fun times—together. The application is easy to use and you can make a book from as small as 5X7, all the way up to 12X12 or 11X17.
  2. Watch a comedian: Find comedians that make both you and your teen fall apart with laughter. Netflix has a hilarious line-up.
  3. Do his thing: See what he’s doing on his computer and join in. If it’s not something you can join into, grab your laptop and sit next to him and you can each do your own thing, but in close proximity and the ability for conversation.
  4. Random act shopping: Visit Amazon.com and pick out small gifts to be delivered to friends and relatives you love. There’s nothing quite like getting something in the mail, especially when it’s a surprise.
  5. Random act greeting card: Similar to random-act shopping, you and your teen can share the love by sending online greeting cards to the unsuspecting. Free at www.123greetings.com or for a small fee at www.americangreetings.com.
  6. Online workout: Get your workout clothes on and find a HIIT workout online. You can each do it at your own level while enjoying both sweat and laughter.
  7. Startcooking.com: These online video cooking tutorials can help inspire your teen to want to jump into the kitchen with you. The videos are bright and easy-to-follow and are about things teens would actually want to eat. Who doesn’t want to try some Nutella crepes?
  8. Learn something new: Since we have about 20,000 thoughts per day, and about 18,000 are the same thoughts we had yesterday, it’s important to keep opening new file folders in our brains. Grab your teen and search for something completely new that neither one of you knew anything about before you logged in.
  9. Learn geography: Even with traditional geography education in schools, it’s alarming how little most people know about it. Sheppardsoftware.com has fun games for learning everything geography, and Google Earth is always a trip.
  10. Lumosity Competition: You can play up to 3 free brain games per day. Building neuroplasticity is made even more fun when you and your teen are handing the laptop back and forth in competition. It’s fascinating to see how much you can improve in just a few attempts, or who is naturally better at which types of games.

Ok, so those are 21 things you can do with your teen that she’s sure to remember a lot longer than whether the floor was clean or what kind of car you drove. Even if you did each of these only once, that’d be about 5 memories per high school year that you would have missed out on otherwise.

For reference, here’s a handy chart you can use to keep track of your engagement. I keep ours on the side of the fridge and put a tally mark each time we do the activity because research shows anything we track expands. The activities in regular print are offline, the ones in italics are online.

Our 20

cook practical joke random act play



teach a life skill exercise or walk play with pets alone





same book

sleepover at home make



make shutterfly album
watch a comedian random act shopping random act greeting card do an online workout
learn something new learn geography lumosity competition do what they are doing or work side-by-side