Screen-free fun with teens: five unexpected ways your Gen Z kid can connect to community



Oklahoma City family fun can grow alongside your child and teens too are part of that dynamic.

Last week, I wrote about the Oklahoma City Museum of Art's Babies at the Museum program but promised we'd visit the other side of the age spectrum this week. The children in my household range from 5 months to 11 years, so we're always looking for activities that keep everyone engaged.

Activities for teens are some of the most-requested content we cover at MetroFamily and now that I have a middle schooler, I see why. 

Here are three reasons why it's harder than ever to find things to do for t(w)eens that I didn't know until recently:

  • Kids now seem older than ever but still need supervision: Sam's 11 going on 16 and I feel like that's true for many of his peers. The issues I expected to tackle later, those tough topics no one looks forward to, have already come up. In just this first month of school, we've talked through the classmate who won't stop messing with other kids in class, the classmate who OD'd on vodka and ended up in the emergency room and the classmate who has marijuana at home. Sometimes it does feel like they know just enough to be a danger to themselves. Fewer kids play out, no one walks home from school that I know and they're generally cooped up, way more so than when I was a teen a couple of decades ago. 
  • Friends are everything: Not surprisingly but probably more than ever, the need to include friends in activities or meet up with people seems more pressing. I've seen the meme "My kids make a lot of plans for people who don't know how to drive" and definitely concur. Gone are the days of tooling around the house with friends. A playdate from elementary school is now expanded to include a must-try activity.
  • They've been there, done that: Despite intentional efforts to slow down, do less and not take as many extracurricular classes as we '90s kids were shuttled to daily, Gen Z has been to all the things for kids. A lack of field trips doesn't always mean lack of outings. There's more of a gap when it comes to venues previously considered adults-only, like museums, but that too is closing.

Launching into this new life stage with Sam has been a reach up. Times have changed since we were kids but so much of what they love as Gen Z is really based off of what we did too as Millenials and Gen Y. 

Access to technology is totally different for them than it was for us, of course, but rules about it still vary for every family. Atari, N64 and XBox factored heavily into my husband's adolesence but I won't allow a videogame console of any kind in this house since we've had enough of a challenge with Roblox and iPad games, so my sons are left to entertain themselves without screens. Our house is Fortnite-free and that won't be changing because there's so much else to see and do. We're screen-free here, other than a school-provided Chromebook and limited access to Netflix. We've simply gone old school with what our kids do. And that's a very individual choice. What works for us may not work for every family but I called a time of death on the screens a couple of years ago then weaned them off our home's devices.

Here are five unexpected activities Sam loves that your older kid might too:

  • Volunteering: Interest in volunteering to serve the community feels way less forced than when I was a teen; those dismal service hour requirements took me down some nursing home halls and into second-hand items sorting rooms that could have been a better experience. Kids want to volunteer with their friends, which doesn't surprise me since Millennials are closely linked with concern for social causes. That has apparently made an impression with how I parent too. Sam is part of a church youth group that volunteers at a kitchen for the homeless and he wrote recently about volunteering with MetroFamily's group at the Regional Food Bank this summer. I have seen him advocate for other kids' access to the food pantry at his school and stand up for later-comers who would have missed a meal. That's a win, as a parent and as a human. If I could take Sam and his friends to volunteer every weekend, I would. Right now, we're trying for every other month with this list of Family Volunteering Opportunities.
  • Kinesthetic activities: Gym classes have been cut at middle and high schools everywhere. Sam doesn't have PE for the first time since starting his school years. If you're looking for an afterschool activity, find our guide here. I have been very selective about which sports to participate in but we'll probably be looking for a gym membership later this year as a family present at Christmas. Activities like ClimbUp, gyms that have a Ninja Warrior-type approach and family swim nights at Pelican Bay or Goldfish Swim School top Sam's list of what's fun. I've heared other kids love trampoline parks like Elevation and we're headed to try Main Event later this month.
  • Everyday experiences you thought were boring in the '90s: The highlight of Sam's summer was visiting The Beacon, one of Oklahoma City's few remaining drive-in movie theaters. He had never done that before. I'm amazed that with all the ability to stream literally anything in the world, Sam asked for a record player for his birthday. And a Polaroid camera. Walkie-Talkies. Everything old is new again. Some of my hipster friends lent us a typewriter and all three of my children old enough to care were entertained for days. Cooking and sewing clubs at his school are full. "Did you know you can tape songs off the radio and make your own mixed tape?" is a phrase I didn't expect to hear from a generation that cut their teeth on our iPhones.
  • Easy earning: Walking dogs, doing lawn care, house sitting: I see a renewed interest in small side jobs for kids. Baby Boomers seem to be asking, willing to pay for young people to lend a hand and their requests go largely unanswered due to safety concerns and the fact that kids are already busy. I've let Sam rake leaves for neighbors and he now cares for their pets every day after school. These are people we know and it doesn't take that much time. I'm glad to see him cultivate work ethic, especially considering the lack of homework in middle school. If your child shows interest in starting a business, I think that should be encouraged. 
  • Museum visits: Long gone are the days when museums were hands-off and regarded as boring. One of our favorite family venues in town is the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Sam also loves Myriad Botanical Gardens because he feels like it's peaceful. All that yoga and meditation they've seen us do or talk about has circled back around. 

Although I'm not looking forward to the next decade's inevitable boundary-testing and separation, it's all a process and we're going to get through it by doing what we've done all along: spending time together. 

That's what I hope matters, regardless of the activity itself, as we face adolescence with its endless social situations and choices to make. 

An older parent told me last week that it's not people that change, just the times. I hope that's true because I like who Sam is now at 11. And on the days that I won't as adolescence rages, I think we'll just get out of the house and go do something different.

 

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