Young Teenagers with Nothing to Do

As parents, we all hate that whiney moan, “I’m sooooo bo-o-o-red,” usually heard 10 minutes into the six-week summer holidays. Many people will say, “Why not just let them be bored?” I read recently that “boredom is the crucible of creativity”. There is a lot of truth in this, but boredom for children with emotional and behavioural issues can also be quite dangerous. I have found that too much boredom is more likely to lead to dangerous self-destructive behaviour than to some lovely creative craft project.

In any case, I don’t think there is any harm in having an arsenal of bright ideas and suggestions for things to do up your sleeve. Most of these proposals will likely be met with a “THAT’s so boring/lame/pathetic/difficult” wail, but there is a chance that something will filter through.

The ideas below are aimed specifically at young teenagers who I think are generally the most under-catered for age group – too young to go off on their own completely independently, but too old to be able to participate in most of the activities laid on for children during summer holidays.

I have also tried to concentrate on ideas that they can do on their own – many of our children battle with friendships and can be socially isolated, and I lack the time (and inclination) to spend every waking hour doing things with my children.

Ready, steady, bake!

A time limit, an ambitious showstopper assignment, time to research, design and prepare and … bake! You could go the whole hog and have them do all three elements that appear in the TV show, including a technical challenge set and prepared by you – if you think they won’t find it too overwhelming and potentially disheartening. I would go for just the showstopper as it’s the most creative and as there isn’t any real competition there’s no chance of losing. The result can be eaten – a bonus for the sweet-toothed.


Dig a wildlife pond

If you have a small bit of garden to spare and can afford the price of a few metres of pond liner, this will keep a nature lover occupied for ages (well, for at least one afternoon). It has the benefit of being good hard physical labour and provides the opportunity to get really dirty, which is appealing to a certain type of child.

All that needs to happen is for a pretty deep hole to be dug with one side gradually sloping. The bottom cleared of sharp stuff, an old towel or something like that laid in the bottom, the liner placed inside and weighted down on the edges with stones or brick, and the whole thing filled with water. Amazingly, if you build it, they will come – “they” being all sorts of interesting creepy crawlies. The sloping edge on one side will allow frogs to climb out if they should decide to occupy the pond.

You should be able to pick up a couple of oxygenating plants for a pound or so at your local garden centre. Of course, this will not be a beautiful addition to the garden as it is, but over time marginal planting and fancier surrounding stones can be added. We particularly like the little solar fountains that can be picked up very cheaply.

pondThis is what we found in our primitive child-built pond this spring. Yes, it is frog spawn. We were delighted. The slugs, not so much.

Fashion show

An activity better suited to more than one, but not impossible to do alone. Outfits need to be selected and accessorized, hair and make-up done and music chosen. The show should be rehearsed several times, especially the quick changes.


Camp in the garden

If you have a small tent and enough space to pitch it, get your teen to set up camp in the garden. They can turn it into their holiday den and lounge around in it instead of inside the house.

If you think your child will want to overnight in the tent and you don’t want that to happen for whatever reason, then it would be best to avoid this idea. But if it is possible for them to sleep out overnight safely then you double the fun and side benefits for you.

camping-1539006_1920Incidentally, it is also well worth having a practised tent-pitching expert in the family.

Learn to knit

A useful skill, an absorbing activity and a way of being creative all rolled into one. I didn’t have the patience to teach my daughter, so enlisted Granny’s help, which was most successful. Do not be tempted by starter kits and the like – go for the real thing because they are usually easier to manage and the result is more satisfactory.

Crochet is, of course, another option and I am told you can achieve speedier results with it than with knitting.


Build a bug hotel

These can be quite elaborate affairs such as the one pictured, or quite simple – a box or a few wooden pallets filled with suitable nesting materials. There are plenty of instructions and inspirational pictures online.


Fashion shoot

As with the fashion show above, this entails careful outfit selection to fit a theme so that the resultant photos could be turned into a magazine editorial layout. Hair and make-up and accessories are equally important, but this time setting and posing are also critical.

You may be required to press the button for the actual shots, but all the rest of the preparation is done by the model.


Three-course dinner

Planning, cooking and serving a fancy three-course meal might appeal to the gastronomically inclined teen.

My daughter likes to write out the menu and make place name markers. “Tablescapes” are also a thing if even more creative challenges are required.



This can be as simple as gathering together or printing out a load of cute pictures of kittens, say, and cutting them out and sticking them in a book. Or it can be a very elaborate effort with fancy background papers and stick on accessories and embellishments. Both are very satisfying for some reason.

Make a movie

With smartphones and tablets being practically ubiquitous, most children seem to have access to some sort of video recording device. In order to make a proper short movie, though, they will need to do more than film random scenes. All aspects of movie production will need to be explored from story selection, scriptwriting and casting, to sets, locations, costumes, sound and lighting. A storyboard will have to be produced and a shooting list prepared.

If you have a video editing app they can use that to have some post-production fun. But without it, they can still produce something reasonable, simply by filming the whole thing in sequence.


Put on a show

Aspiring thespians can have a whole-holiday project which would include choosing material to perform, rehearsing, set design and construction, costumes and make up, music and sound effects, lighting, publicity, ticket sales – the whole shebang. This definitely works best with more than one performer, but it is possible to do the whole thing as a one-person play.

Many years ago, I edited a book called Showtime! by Reg Bolton (Dorling Kindersley publisher) which was bursting with wonderful theatrical ideas. I see you can still buy it for pennies second-hand from Amazon and AbeBooks. No doubt there are many other similar books and online resources.

Showtime cover

Redesign and decorate a bedroom

There are plenty of fun free interior design apps to try so they can rearrange their rooms virtually (beware the lure of in-app purchases, though). Or you could try to get your teen to take the whole idea seriously and paint a picture, sew cushion covers, redecorate a mirror frame, make colour co-ordinated accessories, etc.


For inspiration and how-to instructions there are, of course, many excellent sites on the internet. This is one I like: And there’s always the world of inspiration that is Pinterest.

It doesn’t need to be expensive — charity shops and pound shops are full of things that can be repurposed and redecorated to fit a theme.

This particular idea has the brilliant added benefit of getting them to tidy and reorganize and even clean their rooms.

If you are a very kind (or foolhardy) parent you could even let them loose with a paintbrush and get some proper redecorating done.


Make jewellery

By this I do not mean kiddie beads, but proper fashionable jewellery. Supplies such as earring hooks and catches and jewellery making tools can be bought cheaply online or from craft shops. Those old fashioned necklaces and brooches that you find in charity shops are excellent sources of beads and other bits and bobs.


Build a den

It is amazing what can be achieved with some branches and a ball of garden twine. This particular effort kept a group of children aged between 5 and 15 years old happily occupied for the best part of a day.



I suppose this is really just a standard teenage hair and make-up session, and giving it a name is helpful just so you can propose it as a thing to do.

However, if your teens are  unhappy with the way they look, you could suggest that they do a bit of research into what hairstyles suit their face shapes, what colours go with their skin tones and what clothing styles appeal to them and look good on their own body shapes. You could then go to a hairdresser armed with pictures of the resultant choice. And a shopping trip for a new outfit could be a possibility, too.

beauty-15932_1920I am not too sure about proposing this as I have never tried it with my daughter who could not care less what she looks like, but it seems like something that might actually be helpful to a younger teen. I think any involvement you try to have with an older teen’s style choices will backfire disastrously.

Bury a time capsule

They can gather together objects that reflect who they are today. Ideally these should be things that don’t require tech to access them, because in theory the machinery used will be obsolete by the time the capsule is unearthed. For the capsule any strong waterproof container will do. A plastic food container should be okay, especially if each item inside is also sealed in plastic. Possible contents could include a current magazine, today’s newspaper, a selfie, a drawing or painting, photographs of pets, friends or family, a diary entry describing a typical day, a picture of their current favourite outfit/food/activity, a takeaway menu, some pressed flowers, etc, etc. Wrap well in a black plastic bag and seal with tape and bury the whole shebang in a deep hole in the garden.

Make a picture wall

I came across the picture below while looking for images to illustrate the time capsule. I think this wall of photos looks amazing. Forget the kids, I want to make one for myself!images-382006_1920Most of these ideas sound great and most of our children won’t even try them let alone succeed in creating anything spectacular or even vaguely pleasing. You will need to manage their expectations and yours. But the product is not the point — the filling of a few hours in a vaguely healthy and creative way is. Please don’t let any project become the means for further disappointment and negative self image on either side. Keep it light (if you can).

Picture credits: Cake, pond, cake, den and book cover © 2017 Sheila Hanly. All other images are stock photographs from and are used purely for illustrative purposes.









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