By Raising Children Network
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Three teens running along a beach
Teenagers need free time to explore their own interests, be with friends or just unwind. If you and your teenager can find free time activities to enjoy together, it can be a great way to build your relationship.

How teenagers spend free time 

All teenagers are different. But many like to spend their free time doing things like shopping, going to parties, being with friends, using technology for games or other online activities, social networking, texting, watching movies, reading and going to the beach or park.

Teenagers are also spending an increasing amount of their free time in structured extracurricular activities such as arts and sports. And they often feel bored with unstructured spare time.

Free time with parents and family

One of the joys of the teenage years is discovering the things you have in common with your teenager, or new things your child might open your eyes to. Spending free time together is a great way to stay connected with your teenage child.

Finding the balance between showing an interest in your child’s activities and being ‘in his face’ can be tricky. Our articles on supporting your teenager’s independence and privacy, monitoring and trust in the teenage years have practical tips.

Activities with you
Doing something one-on-one with one or both parents can be a treat for your child, especially in larger families. An occasional movie together, or even a quick meal or a drink in a café after another activity, can feel a bit special.

These activities might not happen spontaneously. You might need to discuss ideas with your child and plan to spend some time together

Other mums and dads suggest the following activities for sharing free time with your child:

  • seeing a movie you’re both interested in
  • listening to music together at home or going to a concert
  • going to a football game or other sports match
  • checking out local events such as markets, festivals or environmental activities
  • going away for a weekend to an event, such as a show or an exhibition
  • cooking together
  • going out for a meal together
  • working on a home project together – for example, redecorating a room or making furniture.

If spending free time with you is a new thing, your child might take a bit of persuading before she’s keen. If this is an issue, you could consider inviting one or two of your child’s friends along as well.

If you spend time together often enough, your child will probably build up more enthusiasm, so keep trying. You might need to try a range of activities before you find one you both like.

Shopping! My daughter and I just love shopping. Then we stop for a coffee or juice and just talk. It can feel so strange doing that with my daughter, but I love it.

Activities for the whole family
If you’ve got teenagers and younger children, a family meeting can get everyone brainstorming activities to enjoy as a family. You could make a couple of lists – activities to do together, and activities that only some of you will do.

Some activities the whole family could do might include:

  • watching a family-friendly DVD – you could check out our movie reviews for ideas
  • having a picnic
  • playing a favourite game or activity at a local park, such as soccer or throwing a frisbee
  • planning a special meal with everyone suggesting a dish
  • planning a holiday
  • going for a bushwalk
  • going for a bike ride
  • walking the dog.

Video Family meetings

This short video demonstration shows how planned time together, especially on a regular basis, is a great way for a family to talk about upcoming events, changes to family life or just what's going on for everyone.
We go down to the park on a Saturday afternoon just to kick a ball around. I’d actually forgotten how much fun running around a park can be!

Free time with friends

Your child will also want to do things with his friends. Agreeing on some rules about free time can help keep your child safe when he’s out and about.

Here are some things to think about when you and your child discuss free time with friends.

How much do you need to know about where your child is going, and who with? What details is it OK for your child to keep to herself? Can she ring you if her plans change? Will she leave her mobile phone on while she’s out?

Monitoring your child is OK, as long as you’re doing it with the intention of making sure your child is safe. As your child gets older, you can reduce your supervision and involvement in his activities.

You could think about how available you’ll be for providing transport. Can you drive your child to things if you have enough notice? Are you available in an emergency? Will you offer transport to other friends? Do you expect your child to use public transport unless she gets ‘stuck’?

Although being your child’s taxi can be a hassle, it’ll help you to know he’s travelling safely. It also gives you the chance to get to know his friends.

Open house
Getting to know your child’s friends shows your child you understand how important her friendships are.

One way to do this is to encourage your child to have friends over and give them a space in your home. You could think about how open you want your home to be. Will there be a curfew? Will you provide meals, snacks and drinks? Does your child need to take responsibility for having friends over – for example, tidying up the kitchen or family room afterwards?

Your child might find that some of the activities he’s interested in cost money. You might talk to your child about what activities you’re willing to pay for, how often and how much. You could also talk to your child about pocket money. Consider how much seems to be a fair amount in your family. Can extra jobs earn extra money?

Screen time
Screen time is time spent watching TV or DVDs, using a computer or tablet, playing video or hand-held computer games, and using a mobile phone.

A healthy family lifestyle includes limits on daily screen time, and sets a routine for when screen time finishes each evening. You might want to have a talk about how much time family members spend on these and other activities during daylight hours when they could be doing things that are more physically active.

Some negotiation about screen time during the school week, on weekends and in the holidays might also help your child develop some valuable time management skills.

Free time on their own

Sometimes your child will just want to spend time by herself, not doing very much. You might notice this as your child spends more time studying – it’s partly about recharging her mental batteries. Solo free time is fine, if it’s not all the time and is balanced with spending time with friends and family. 

It’s also OK for your child to feel bored sometimes! Being bored can motivate your child to find something creative or new to fill his time.

Video When your child is out and about

In this short video, parents and teenagers talk about the right age for teenagers to do things by themselves or spend independent leisure time with friends.

Activities covered in this video include getting to a friend’s house on public transport, going out with friends, and catching the bus to school. Both parents and kids agree that it’s important for parents to stay in touch with what kids are doing.

  • Last updated or reviewed 15-05-2015
  • Acknowledgements This article was developed in collaboration with Natalie Bolzan, University of Western Sydney.