How pre-teens and teenagers spend free time
Many pre-teens and teenagers enjoy spending their free time doing things like shopping, going to parties, being with friends, gaming and using social media, texting, watching movies, reading and going to the beach or park.
Pre-teens and teenagers might also spend their free time doing structured extracurricular activities like arts and sports, community activities or volunteering, or casual work.
Free time and activities with you
Spending some free time together is a great way to stay connected with your child.
Doing something one-on-one with parents can be a treat for your child. You could go to a movie or concert, cook a meal together, go for a walk, look through family photos, or work together on a project like redecorating your child’s room. It just depends on what interests you and your child.
These activities might not happen spontaneously. You might need to discuss ideas with your child and plan to spend some time together.
If spending free time with you is a new thing, your child might need some encouragement before they’re keen. If this is an issue, you could plan short activities you know your child is likely to enjoy to start with. And you could ask your child whether they’d like to invite a friend along.
If you spend time together often enough, your child will probably start to feel more enthusiastic, 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.
– Sarah, mother of 16-year-old daughter
Free time and activities with the whole family
If you’ve got pre-teens or teenagers and younger children, you could have a family meeting to brainstorm 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 include:
- watching a family-friendly movie – you could check out our movie reviews for ideas
- having a picnic
- playing a favourite game or activity at a local park, like soccer or frisbee
- planning a special meal with everyone suggesting a dish
- planning a holiday
- going for a bushwalk or a bike ride.
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!
– Richard, father of 14-year-old son
Free time with friends
Your child will also want to do things with their friends. Here are things to think about.
Your child’s friends
It’s a good idea to get to know your child’s friends. This shows your child that you understand the importance of their friendships. It also means you know who your child is spending time with.
You can do this by encouraging your child to have friends over and giving them a space in your home. If you do this, you could think about things like behaviour, curfews, food and responsibility for tidying up after social events in your home.
Your child might find that some activities they want to do with friends cost money. You might talk with 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. Can your child do extra household chores to earn extra money? Or are they interested in casual or part-time work?
Going out with friends
If your child wants to go out with friends, you can help your child prepare for going out independently. This might involve negotiating rules for going out and talking together about how to stay safe. You can also help your child put together a plan for emergencies.
It’s also OK to think about how much you need to know about where your child is going and who with. You might ask your child to keep their phone on while they’re out and let you know if their plans change.
You could think about how available you’ll be for providing transport. Can you drive your child to things if you have enough notice? Or do you expect your child to use public transport in most situations? Will you offer transport to your child’s friends? Are you available in an emergency?
Sometimes you might think you’re showing interest in your child’s activities, but your child thinks you’re getting too involved. It’s a tricky balance. Building trust can help. Mutual trust means you can reduce your supervision and involvement in your child’s free time. This will help your child to develop responsibility, confidence and independence.
Free time for pre-teens and teenagers on their own
Sometimes your child will just want to spend time by themselves, not doing very much. You might notice this as your child spends more time studying – it’s partly about recharging their 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 their time.
Your child might spend some of their solo free time watching TV, using a computer or tablet, playing video games, and using their phone.
Healthy screen time for teenagers is about choosing quality programs and apps. It also involves a balance with other activities like physical activity, extracurricular activities, socialising and sleep.