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How to get a teenager out of their bedroom

A few years ago, I wrote a series of posts on family activities for teenagers. The emphasis was on exciting, physically active, low tech ideas – including suggestions for winter, spring and teen-friendly family weekends away. All great ideas. But, sometimes, the biggest challenge is just to get a teenager out of their bedroom in the first place. So I thought I would come up with a list of shorter, smaller ideas to help tempt your teen out of their room for just long enough to snatch a little bit of precious family time with them.

Having an often-bedroom-bound teen resident in my house, I thought I would start with a bit of research and ask the expert. This turned out to be a salutary reminder that it is always a good idea to ask teenagers their opinions rather than assuming! I was hoping my teen would pretty much write this post for me by coming up with a list of things he likes doing with the family. Or suggestions that he might like to try out (I had one eye on getting ideas for our summer ahead!).

But when I asked my teenage son for ideas that would get him out of his room and interacting with the rest of us he was stumped. I rephrased the question. (He’s not a wordy chap, outside his own interests, at the best of times). “It depends,” he said. I tried again. “What does it depend on? What’s the difference between when I make a suggestion and you join in and when I make a suggestion and you don’t?”

At this, his face transformed. We’d found some common ground of understanding. “It depends what mood I’m in,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what you say if I’m not in the mood.”

So, the list below comes with a huge caveat. Timing is everything! Just because your teenager knocks back a suggestion once, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying again (and again…). Some days certain ideas will get a teenager out of their bedroom and engaging. And other days, no idea will work.

For my own teen, he doesn’t do spontaneous family time and prefers to plan ahead. If I can get him on board in principle with a suggestion then we can progress to talking about doing it ‘soon’ and eventually fix a day/time. It takes a lot of flexibility and patience and, yes, sometimes the day arrives and he still doesn’t want to do it. So, his one piece of advice for parents of teens was to talk about it the day before you want to do it. (For balance, my other teen would probably have given a very different answer!)

So, the list of ideas below should be taken with a dose of realism. If they’re not in the mood, pretty much nothing will get a teenager out of their bedroom. But don’t give up. Because tomorrow that same idea might just work.

Food

Teenagers can have huge appetites so food is great bait for tempting them out of their rooms. Some teens can be enticed by a trip to their favourite fast food or spicy chicken restaurant while others wouldn’t be seen dead eating out with their parents. Teaching teens to cook their favourite meal could buy you some precious time with them. Or, if they have a sweet tooth, then encouraging them to bake will at least get them into the kitchen (where you can wander through regularly to make cups tea and perhaps snatch a few word of conversation!). It might only be for a few minutes but the arrival of the weekly supermarket shop never fails to get my teens out of their rooms and into the kitchen!

Films/TV

Watching something together helps take the pressure off teens as they are not the centre of attention. It might be a 30-minute comedy on the TV or a full length film – anything they will watch, really. With covid, we tried to alleviate the monotony with outdoor cinema (both the drive-in variety and using a projector in the garden). You could boxset binge with popcorn and duvets on the sofa. Or try for a regular weekly TV slot (Gogglebox, The Apprentice, Taskmaster and The Great British Bake Off have all been popular in my house). Try to find out what your teens are watching in their bedrooms for a clue – my boys have introduced me to some brilliant programmes that I never would have come across.

The previously forbidden

Are there things that your teenager hasn’t been allowed to do before because they were too young? Activities that weren’t allowed when they were younger can sometimes have enough novelty factor to tempt teens to join in. Whether it’s a 15-rated film on Netflix or driving a golf buggy, are there things they always wanted to but couldn’t because they were too young?

It doesn’t have to be a big activity, just something they are finally responsible enough to attempt. My teen and I have recently done a lot of DIY and decorating together – painting walls and doors etc around the house. This wasn’t something he had been involved in before and those kind of jobs can make teens feel very trusted and grown up (you could start with their bedroom?!). And the great thing about decorating is that it takes a long time and you are stuck in a room together! In our case, we also attached some ‘wages’ to his labour – which brings me to….

Earning money

Different parents have different views on whether teens should be paid to do chores. Our approach has been to have some basic expectations and then attach monetary rewards for the over-and-above tasks (like bigger garden maintenance and DIY projects). Money can be a great motivator. If they have an interest in music or clothes or an expensive gaming habit, then finding ways to help them earn money can definitely get a teenager out of their bedroom. And hopefully learning some new skills and being social too! Even if they are earning those wages outside the home, driving them to that babysitting or car parking job could be a little window for conversation….

I’ll give you a lift

Because sometimes grabbing some family time isn’t about exciting ideas to tempt a teenager out – it’s just about making the most of those essential forays out into the world that they can’t avoid. Using those moments in the car to have a quick conversation or just listen to music together. For many parents of teens, it is the time we spend ferrying teens around that provides the most moments to connect.

Shopping

I know lots of parents go shopping as a way to spend time with their teens. Obviously, shopping involves money so this is not an everyday option. But if it is something you both enjoy, or you are happy just to browse, or if there is a special occasion coming up as an excuse (a prom, a wedding, a birthday), then shopping can be a great way to spend time with your teen. And if you are trying clothes on too, it’s a chance for them to see you in a different light and give advice rather than always being on the receiving end.

Day trips and events

If you do have a teen who prefers planning, then bigger suggestions can be effective and create opportunities for those smaller moments of connection to happen. (My teen is not keen on coming out of his room to eat meals with us but he will come on a three day walking trip – go figure!). You’ll definitely need to involve your teen in planning. And, again, you’ll need to keep in mind the costs involved. Low budget options such as hill walks and picnics or free museums or a trip to the beach (if you are close enough) are often just as successful as the bank-breaking ones. Check out Kids Week for free theatre tickets in August in London’s West End. We have also enjoyed free contemporary circus performances on London’s Southbank and trips to the Tate Gallery.

But, to go back to my initial point, even if you throw money at it, it will always come down to your teenager’s mood. Ask them on one day and you might get short shrift whereas on another day they might be up for your idea. So keep trying despite the inevitable knock backs. And, of course, even if they do agree, it doesn’t mean that it will always be fun and conflict free!

Parents of teens, I would absolutely love to know your top tips to get a teenager out of their bedroom. Do share your successes and fails in the comments!

photo of smiling teenager in article on how to get a teenager ut of their bedroom by parenting expert Anita Cleare

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