It’s funny how much time I now spend thinking of things to do with teenagers. When I first joined the motherhood, the idea of raising teens terrified me. I pictured it similar to snuggling an irate grizzly (while screaming, “Let me love you!”). Parent after parent reminded me to “hold on to these moments” while my children were small. Because the teen years were coming—in all their eye-rolling glory.

Now that I’m raising a teen daughter (my son is mere months from getting his “tween” card), I’m just gonna say it: Raising teens isn’t so bad.

I’m a better teen/older kid parent than I was a baby mom. Don’t get me wrong, I loved all the snuggles, coos, and lack of back talk. Maybe it’s a combination of me being older, having more sleep, and the fact that my kids are now semi-independent, but life feels a bit easier now. Not to mention the deep conversations, jokes that actually make sense, and the budding friendship that can come with our kids getting older.

Psalm 127 tells us children are “a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (verse 3). And if you look closely at your teens as they grow closer to adulthood (you may have to look harder some days), you might catch a glimpse of just how big a reward you’ve received.

But maybe this hasn’t been your experience. One of the best moms I know has a challenging relationship with her teen son. Yet even in the face of slammed doors and disrespected boundaries, she presses in. If your relationship with your teen has felt plagued with hardship, I urge you, too, to keep pressing in. And if they aren’t receptive to anything else, pray. (Here are 5 Prayers for Prodigals.)

6 things to do with teenagers

Despite my worst fears of parenting teens being (mostly) incorrect, knowing what to do with teenagers to tighten that bond isn’t always easy. When my teen was younger, a quick dance party, 20 minutes of playing Barbies, or a snow cone were all it took to make me the hero. Now, my dance moves garner eye rolls and Barbies haven’t graced our living room floor in years. (Snow cones are a still win.)

But what do you do with teenagers to truly connect?

I’ve asked this question a lot lately. So I’ll offer tips of things to do with teenagers from other teen parents and a few of my own. And don’t worry … some things might feel a bit unnatural at first (like giving them space … that’s a struggle for me). Our relationships are bound to look different as they grow. But the benefits of being closer to your teen far outweigh any awkward moments (like my dance moves—anyone else do the “Carlton” when their kids walk in the room?).

So here we go …

1. Make room in your calendar just for them.

As a work-from-home parent, I’m often present … but not. My daughter might be doing homework a few feet away while I’m on Zoom with co-workers. And that’s OK. The whole work/home balance looks a lot different these days. Don’t beat yourself up over it. (Though we do, right? All. The. Time.)

I’ve started “penciling” my kids into the daily/monthly calendar. When my daughter is doing virtual school and I’m working, we take breaks together to talk or play a board game. She sends me movies she wants to see so I can plan a date for the two of us around the rest of the family’s events.

Crazy schedules don’t always let us live spontaneously, but the chalkboard calendar by the door helps keep my priorities straight.

2. Get to know them (again).

Thanks to a too-tired-to-cook night that led to the Chick-Fil-A drive-thru, dinnertime convos got a little easier. The little pack of family questions in my son’s kids’ meal has led us through both silly and serious discussions. And started a bit of a tradition.

My teen, too, loves conversation starters—whether it’s for the whole family or just the two of us. And her answers have led to future vacation plans, goal-setting, and even some heart-to-heart talks where this mama had to humble herself a bit. Like the time my daughter let me know her frustration when I keep joking when she is totally not in the mood (that’s a fair assessment). And I’m sure that falls under “do not aggravate your children” (Colossians 3:21, NLT).

Pinterest is filled conversation starters for teens, but here are some to get you started:

  • What is the hardest part of being a teen?
  • What do you think adults misunderstand about your generation?
  • What’s one thing you wish our family did more of?
  • What’s one thing you wish our family did less of?

3. Don’t forget to treat them like kids every now and then.

It’s a strange world between childhood and young adulthood. It can feel closer to pre-adulthood when teens start getting jobs and planning for college. The pressure to properly plan for the future is real … and overwhelming.

So when you’re wondering about things to do with teenagers, don’t forget childhood favorites (like snow cones). Play mini golf or pull out the basketball and play a game of HORSE in the driveway. Host a family game or animated movie night. Play flashlight tag after dark. And if they want to wrestle on the floor, move that coffee table out of the way (but ask them to be gentle—we’re a little more fragile these days).

Not only does this create bonding moments, it helps set the standard for a healthy work-life balance as they get older. Sure, lattes and chit chat are always welcomed by my teen, but sometimes she needs a smack-talking game of Sorry or Phase 10.

Get together with your friends and learn the Art of Parenting.

4. Get to know their friends.

I’m sad to say my daughter called me out on this one. I’ve known most of her friends since they were in preschool or the church nursery together. I have special nicknames for these girls and hug them every time I see them.

So when a new friend came to stay at our house one night, I thought I was polite and welcoming. After taking her home the next day, I commented to my daughter on how her friend seemed like a quiet kid. “You didn’t really try to get to know her,” she replied.

She was right. I interacted with her, but not on the same level as I typically do with her other friends. And she noticed.

The next time this girl was at our house, I bought her favorite snacks, made her favorite breakfast, and asked her all sorts of questions to get to know her better. Now, she has her own nickname.

5. Give them space.

My daughter and I have always been close. Through early elementary school, she rarely felt comfortable more than five feet away. So the first time my teen chose to hang out in her room instead of seeing a movie with Mom, it stung.

“Don’t take it personally,” my friend told me. “It’s kind of how it’s supposed to be. She needs a little space to figure out who she is right now.”

I’m learning to be OK with my teen not wanting to be with me 24/7 anymore. (Ironically, I remember looking forward to this day when she was a toddler.)

6. Pray with and for your teens.

My not-so-proud confession: As my daughter got older, I prayed with her less.

We used to do “Mommy & Me” devotions over breakfast and faithfully prayed before bed. But when she started owning her faith, my role felt less important and I slowly prayed with her a little less.

But then a friend with older kids told me regularly praying with her teens kept them close, open, and honest with each other. She wouldn’t have known about friendships and boy/girl drama or the faith struggles her kids faced if she hadn’t been asking, “How can I pray for you today?”

Teenagers don’t need us less, just different.

As shepherds over the little sheep God gave us, we are called to be “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). So let them see us on our knees often.

(Side note: We all know kids face unprecedented pressures today. If you’re looking for things to do with teenagers to help them navigate who they are in an upside-down world, I highly recommend Passport2Identity.)

I’m also praying for myself and my husband as we seek to love our kids well, far past the teen years. And as I write this, I’m saying a prayer for you, too. Just by seeking to connect with your kids, you’re doing a great job, friend. The next few years are few, but oh-so-important.

“The days are long but the years are short…” has never felt so true.

Copyright © 2021 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Lisa Lakey is a writer and editor for FamilyLife. Before joining the ministry in 2017, she was a freelance writer covering parenting and Southern culture. She and her husband, Josh, have been married since 2004. Lisa and Josh live in Benton, Arkansas, with their two children, Ella and Max.