Boredom is common, but not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, boredom cultivated with care can actually be a time of unleashed creativity. The brain is more likely to explore creative pathways when faced with stretches of unstructured time, especially when screen time is limited.
There are tons of activities to kick-start a teen’s creative engine.
So, what are the 5 best activities to cure teenage boredom? There is an infinite number of possibilities available in books and on the internet. They can be time-consuming to evaluate. I’ve narrowed it
down to some of the best activities to give you a ready response to your teen’s next declaration of boredom.
- Create a short stop animation film
- Shake-up your living space
- Take something apart
- Make vs. Buy – DIY Something Useful
- Interview a family elder
Creativity and resourcefulness go hand and hand. These activities described below are well within a teen’s grasp; perhaps it is a plus that your involvement is o
ptional. Your help can range from getting materials and occasional troubleshooting to creating a project side-by-side. In other words, it can range from zero to co-conspirator.
A note about technology as suggested in some of the activities: Most teens are immersed daily in the consumption of media and the use of technology. There’s always a new meme or video around the next virtual corner to enjoy briefly before sharing and/or moving on to the next short-lived amusement.
Teens in the habit of consumption are far less likely to create new information, new projects, new synthesis of ideas. Boredom can be a useful tool in helping to transform your teen from a consumer to a producer of something new.
So while technology can enhance a do-it-yourself experience, it can also detract from it if the focus becomes the tech itself. You know your teen best: if the technology is a distraction, encourage them to choose a lower-tech activity. The goal is to focus on the creative process of construction or deconstruction or solving a problem.
The best of all possible outcomes to boredom is new learning, a new understanding or a different perspective.
Create a Stop-Motion Animation Video
Bringing objects to life through stop-animation video is a total imagination workout. It brings planning, staging, storytelling and creativity together to produce a fun short film that you can watch over and over again. The easiest way to create stop-motion animation is through the use of an app on your phone or tablet. There are several free Apps such as Stop Motion Studio available for Apple and Android devices.
The subject of the creation can be any inanimate object. Smaller and easily maneuverable objects work best. The goal is to bring these objects to life and tell a story. In our house, there is no shortage of objects – many artifacts from kid stages long past. Some of our favorites subjects are Lego figures, army men, crumpled paper, fruit, vegetables, Christmas decorations,
Hotwheels cars, rising dough … and the list goes on and on. Mix and match objects to tell the story. There really are no limits.
Some quick tips we learned along the way:
- You’re the director – create your vision.
- Create a storyboard to tell your story. This can be a simple sketch of the plot arc or be more complicated and represent a couple of scenes.
- Plan your animation from beginning to end using the storyboard. Then, break it down into a sequence of 10 frame segments. i.e. 10 frames for entry, 10 for activity 1, 10 frames for activity 2 , 10 frames for activity 3 and finally 10 frames for the exit. This is just a guide; the more interaction that your characters have, the more frames you’ll need to show the interaction.
- Often, It’s easier to start from the end scene and work backward or deconstruct.
- , Example: You’re building a message on paper and you want to show how it uncrumples into a smooth flat sheet. Start your first frame with the smooth flat sheet then crumple it up and show it uncrumpling frame by frame. For a little more drama, tear it into smaller and smaller crumpled pieces until it’s a tiny piece. When you’re done, resequence the frames to show the tiny piece evolving into the flat sheet.
- The camera must remain still and in the same position. Create a structure or a jig to hold your device in place.
- Make your lighting consistent – record in an area without shadows or lighting that looks different from frame to frame.
- The more objects in your scene the better – It will bring the viewer’s focus to the movement of the group and away from any single object’s movement.
- Food as an object can be playful. It can take on many forms and characters in a variety of scenes.
Shake-up your Living Space
A teen’s bedroom is more than just a place to sleep. It’s where they go to escape rules, adults and the push and pull of everyday teen life. Kind of like their own personal sanctuary and an expression of who they are.
So, why not shake it up a bit? Redecorate, move furniture around, play with some the latest teen trends and their personal interests. If they’ve never done this before, there may be some remnants from childhood still lingering in the decor. This can be a great opportunity to donate unused items. While it may be hard for your teen to let go of familiar objects, this project presents a blank canvas and puts the emphasis on a fresh start.
Take a deep breath and…let them paint. Whether it’s a wall, the ceiling or the whole room, it will go a long way to letting them express some individuality. Patterns, murals, still lifes … whatever!
Here are some expectations to emphasize ahead of time:
- If they start, they must follow through and finish, all the way to clean up and proper care of brushes and rollers.
- Designate the clean-up areas and describe what it needs to look like at the end of each work session and at the end of the project.
- Break the work up into mini projects. Finish one before moving to the next.
- When it’s time to move, redecorate or repurpose the room, they will prime and paint back to the original color (or other of your choosing)
Furniture forms the bones of a room. Large pieces especially define living patterns as well as energy flow. Encourage your teen to experiment with different arrangements to see what works or feels best. Try to provide some guidance. It could also be an opportunity explore the concepts of Feng Shui, the ancient Chinese art using energy forces and flow to harmonize individuals with their surrounding environment. The new layout should take into consideration that the room still needs to be functional. At a minimum, space providing, there should be a place for a good night’s sleep, a place for lounging with friends and a place to study.
Teens can share ideas and the new room with a friend through SnapChat, Instagram or Pintrest.
Take Something Apart
It’s no surprise that the makerspace movement has gained momentum in public and school libraries, clubs and garages in the past few years. The experience of experimenting with different materials answers fundamental questions that are essential to developing higher orders of critical thinking: What can I make? What makes it go? How can I use or re-use it somewhere else? Taking something apart is a stimulating way to satisfy curiosity and see what makes it tick. It also provides a hands-on opportunity to build familiarity and skill with various tools.
Do you have a broken appliance, obsolete electronics, etc.? Keeping safety as your main priority, take it apart. How does it do what it does? A broken appliance with no further use may not need to be put back together. However, encourage your teen to take it apart in a careful way as if it will be put back together. Try visualizing or drawing the reassembly. This will surely lead to her understanding the basic skills of troubleshooting and fixing things.
Repair all kinds of electrical products, from modern digital gadgets to analog antiques, with help from this updated book: How to Diagnose and Fix Everything Electronic!
Some of my most memorable times working with my Dad when I was a teen arose from repairing my first car, a VW Bug. My dad guided me through discovering how to troubleshoot problems like moisture entering through a cracked distributor cap. He also taught me how to bleed the brakes and fix a broken accelerator cable. I’m not a mechanic, but it gave me the confidence to dig into minor to moderate problems on my vehicles today.
And that was before the internet existed – we forget what a miracle DIY tool we have in that we can teach ourselves practically any skill that used to be taught one-to-one.
Sites like YouTube allow you access thousands of videos which teach the basics of of DIY projects. You can watch a video explaining how something comes apart and goes back together before you dig in. Unlike my dad, this resource allows unlimited number of rewind and replay options with a guide who can teach you exactly what to do.
Make vs. Buy – DIY Create Something Useful
Some of the best boredom-busters are born out of a unique repurposing of common household materials. This can be a beginning-level exercise in developing creativity or a more advanced one. Encourage your teen to look around and see the possibilities in your recycled plastic bottles, paper towel tubes, shoe boxes, scrap wood and metal, leftover paint, etc. Other ideas may involve a small investment in materials like PVC pipe and fittings, glue, small hobby electronics, duct tape, etc.
For example, the humble 2 liter plastic soda bottle can be repurposed into bird feeders, rockets, water sprinklers, planters and many other things.
A variety of creative projects can be made out of duct tape! It comes in a variety of designs and colors. Teens can create wallets, purses belts and bags which last forever and are waterproof to boot.
PVC pipe and fittings (tee’s and 90’s) can be used to create a frame and structures. For example, when combined with scrap wood or metal your teen can create a shelving unit for their room, a birdhouse or feeder or some other artistic creation. Or, maybe an innovative method for moving fluid from one place to another (it is pipe after all). The benefit of the pipe and fittings is that they are strong enough to hold together or be a support without glue for easy repurpose or disassembly.
If they’ve taken some broken appliance apart, are there useful components that can be repurposed? Recently, in our house, the paper shredder drive gear broke. I disassembled the shredder with my son to see what makes it tick. We found a small motor and a forward/reversing switch I removed as an assembly.
We went to YouTube and searched for project ideas for small electric motors and found a project using a motor, a switch, plastic soda bottles and a few other household items to build a hand vacuum. I could also see the assembly turning into a reversible fan or a mini makerspace tool of some sort. A little research, imagination and patience for trial and error can go a long way to finding a new life for some items that would otherwise go directly to the landfill.
For something a little less practical yet a lot of fun, check out this resource which teaches how to make magnetic slime: https://frugalfun4boys.com/make-magnetic-slime/
Interview a Family Elder
Your teen may balk at the idea at first. Yet, this has the potential to build a teen’s ability to see the world from another perspective, a core development of social/emotional learning. In addition, the new perspective may allow cultivation of a closer relationship with a family member.
Without an intentional project, it’s often that much of the details of a life well-lived go unshared.
Even if your parents were reserved about their feelings and experiences with you, a grandparent may be more open about the past with a grandchild. They may want to help their grandchild to see it through their eyes.
You can help prepare your teen with sensitivity. You’ll also be able to bring context to your teen’s preparation to interview this family member.
When and where were they born? How many siblings did they have? Where did they live throughout their life? What did they do for work? Are they a veteran?
For the teen, an essential place to start would be to create a timeline of historical events that occured during their interviewee’s lifetime. Construct your interview questions like a funnel. Start big picture with global or national events to get things started and work your way down to their individual everyday experiences.
Some examples of questions to start the conversation with someone in their 60’s-70’s:
- Do you remember when the Beatles came to America in 1964? Did you like their music? What was it like?
- My history class talked about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Do you think President Kennedy handled it well? Were you and your parents scared? Where did you live then? What was it like in the town?
- Did you follow NASA and the moon landing?
- Were you a hippy or flower child? What was it like when you were in college? Were their active protests?
- You lived with your parents in Pensacola growing up. What was that like? Did you go to the beach a lot? Who was your best friend?
- What is your happiest memory of your father? Your mother?
- What is the most important lesson your parents taught you?
- When you were growing up, what was your favorite thing to do? What did you want to be when you grew up?
- Knowing what you know now, what are the most valuable things in life?
- How did you meet Grandma / Grandpa?
Be sensitive to the feelings of the family member about recording the interview. If they are open to the idea, record the interview either on video or voice recording. Make a video and post it on a private YouTube Channel.
In this world that is over-saturated with electronic devices, challenge your teen to go unplugged. Encourage them to grow their creativity and not make technology the central focus. If used a tool, technology can augment or enhance the experience. While researching for this article the other day, I came across a quote from the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. As Robert M. Pirsig put it, “Boredom always precedes a period of great creativity”. Help your teen experience the art of productive boredom.
What if my grandmother or grandfather don’t live nearby?
The tech level could increase, but it’s not absolutely necessary. The US Postal Service still delivers first class mail. Your teen could send a handwritten letter. If his grandparents have access, there are some great apps like Houseparty where they can video chat. Depending on their comfort level, they can collaborate through a Google Doc.
When my teen takes something apart, what do I do with the unused parts?
Check your local recycling facility to see what they accept. If it’s metal, there are many people collecting scrap to cash-in at commercial recycling centers.
What tools would be good to have available?
- Socket set and/or nut drivers
- Phillips and Flat Screwdriver Set
- Torx screwdriver and hex wrenches
- Hammer and soft mallet
- Straight, Long nose and Diagonal (snips) Pliers
- Adjustable wrench
- Work gloves
What if all my teen does is spend his time online?
There are many helpful suggestions for managing online access. See How to Manage My Teen’s Online Access: Set a Media Curfew
See also: Are You a Parent Samurai?