I have two very social teens, and they are suffering due to the lack of social interaction with their friends that they've had to endure over the past year. I decided that it was time to get creative and find some fun ways for them to connect virtually while the weather is still too chilly for outdoor meetups. There are several ways that the kids can gather online... Zoom, Google Meet, Messenger groups, and Face Time are all great options. Here's a list of great ways for tweens and teens to spend time together online:
1. Scavenger hunt
Use the free GooseChase App to design a scavenger hunt! Want to create your own? Creating your own requires some parental assistance (or a "game master"), but it is super fun for the kids. Generate a list of items that the group can find in their houses or outside (within walking distance). Reveal the items one at a time while the teens are together online. The first one to locate the item and show it on camera for each round gets a point, and the one with the most points at the end of the hunt wins a small prize.
BONUS: Try it with selfies for even more fun!
2. Virtual bingo
I was an avid bingo player in high school and college. Weird, right? But I'm telling you, it was SO MUCH FUN and it gave us something different to do with our friends. Pick your favorite pair of pajamas, or your wackiest outfit, and try your luck at the My Free Bingo Cards site.
3. Painting class
There are about a million painting tutorials on YouTube, and canvases are not terribly expensive. In fact, you can often find painting canvases and art supplies at your local dollar store! Bob Ross is making a serious comeback among high school and college kids, and he has quite the arsenal of tutorials online. Just sayin'. Gather up and let your creativity shine!
4. Window art contest
Everyone has at least one window in their house. Am I right? Decorate those windows! Then either share that creative decoration online or take part in a drive-by parade of participating homes. Get families involved by having them vote on their faves! It will give everyone a chance to get out of the house and have some fun. (To create a paint that's easy to wash off windows, simply mix two parts tempura paint and 1 part dish soap.)
5. Secret pal
Use Elfster to easily manage a group gift exchange. It's free and does all the work for you. Your teen and their group of friends can deliver small gifts to their Secret Pal for a designated amount of days or weeks. It's even more fun when they leave a clue with the treat, and try to guess their gifter. Be sure to establish a spending limit to keep it equal.
6. Talent Show/Open Mic Night
The sky is the limit for this hilarious activity. Prerecord or go live, but be sure to have fun and showcase your "talents." Set a time limit for each act. TRUST ME.
Most kids are at least familiar with Pictionary, even if they've never actually played. Use Drawize and play online for free with friends. The group will quickly divide into the talented and not-so-talented artists, and the results are definitely going to be good for a laugh... or ten.
8. Virtual murder mysteries
My daughter and I have been binge-watching all 15 seasons of Criminal Minds for about a year now, and we are really into murder mysteries. The hubs and I went to a few live murder mystery parties back in the day, and we remember them so fondly. What a blast we had! We found some awesome free virtual murder mysteries that your teen can solve with his or her friends. (The free versions start at No. 13.) Hint: It's even more fun if they dress up in the theme of the game.
9. Cookie or cupcake decorating (à la the show Nailed It!)
Attempt to recreate a professionally-decorated cookie or cupcake while hanging out with friends online. I guarantee there will be a ton of laughs when they reveal their final products. Must do: Shout "Nailed it!" when it's your turn to reveal.
10. Virtual escape room
Escape rooms are all the rage right now, and many local locations offer private live sessions for families. We found a pretty cool list of virtual escape rooms that can be played as a group. (Scroll down to #13 to find the free versions.) You may want to watch the festivities if your teens try this activity. It will be just as entertaining as a spectator if your teens are anything like mine. Let's just say there was A LOT of yelling and laughing, and general hysterics, going on that night.
11. Trash bag fashion show
The rules are simple for this fun activity. Each player gets a large black trash bag, which they have to use to design something to "wear" on the runway at the fashion show. Decide ahead of time what supplies they are allowed to use to create their masterpiece. I think you'll be shocked and amazed at what they come up with! Well, most of them.
12. TikTok duets
Let's face it. Your teens are already on Tik Tok daily. Why not use it to your advantage? One teen chooses a dance or lip-sync, and then the next duets it, and the next duets that one, and so on, until you have a series of awesome, or not-so-awesome duets. Either way is hilarious! An instant memory that can be saved forever. Sidenote: If you have no idea what I'm talking about, ask your kids to show you a TikTok duet. LOL!
13. Costume party
Choose a theme or make it a free for all! No matter what, everyone loves the challenge of transforming yourself into something else for a change. Okay, maybe not everyone, but it can still be a ton of fun. Parents can help make this an event to remember by delivering some classic party treats to each house so the group can munch on the same buffet while they hang out online, or outside when the weather is warm!
14. "Would you rather?" night
There are enough "Would You Rather?" books out there that will make this activity simple to execute, or get creative and have each player come up with a few of their own questions. Coming up with the questions won't be hard, but answering them might be!
15. Two truths and a lie
My daughter's teachers are even using this game as an ice breaker in their Zoom meetings for remote learning because it's simple to execute, requires no supplies, and is a great way to get to know your friends (or people you haven't met). Tell three things about yourself: Two truths and one lie. Everyone takes turns guessing the lie before you reveal it to the group. There are usually some real shockers in the mix that get the group talking!
Socializing with others is an important part of maintaining our mental and emotional health. Hopefully, you and your teen will find our list of suggested activities helpful... AND FUN!
Christen Reiner is the publisher of Macaroni Kid Lakewood-Littleton and Macaroni Kid Denver in Colorado.