How to get your tween moving—when it’s the last thing they feel like doing

The tween years are hard. As kids move through preadolescence, they begin to change physically, emotionally, cognitively, and socially. Suddenly, the child that jumped on our knees to cuddle might not want much to do with us parents and it can be hard to connect.

Unfortunately, physical activity levels can plummet as they enter this age. This is a phase of a life where friends often trump family time, too, making it extra hard to get your child to participate in things you suggest. But we all know how important regular exercise is for our kids’ heath and development.

So how can you get your tween moving? If they won’t listen and jump on your first suggestion, how about setting an example? Try thinking of things they like to do like taking pictures on their phones, listening to music, getting icy drinks at Starbucks, or going shopping, and start planning some fun family time around those activities. Quality time together that keeps you both active can be the key to connection. 

It’s also important to remember that this can be a difficult time for your kid, so don’t push too hard, and try to focus on things that your child might be interested in. If you’re at a loss, here are some ideas to get your tween started. 

Get your steps in… at the mall

Step counter on your phone or watch? Set yourselves a goal and hit the mall. Some things never change, and for some reason, the mall seems to attract tweens. I don’t know about you, but I recall shopping days with my friends that absolutely exhausted me. What better way to get moving than to do a few laps of your local mall? See how many stores you can visit before stopping for a rest. 

Does your kid spot a friend? Think of a meeting spot and an agreed-upon time and give them some breathing room for a few minutes. But as soon as you meet up again, the race to get the most steps is on!

Next time you go, increase your step count and see if you can beat your record. Plan for a little celebration afterwards if you succeed. Maybe a latte or lunch?

If the mall’s not your cup of tea, your tween might be keen to redecorate their room at home. You can hit up your local IKEA. The store has a tendency to exhaust shoppers, and the extra perk of finding a little trinket (or two, or three) to dress up your home or bedroom is sure to be a hit.

Post some perfect nature pics 

Teach your child some basic photography techniques. Grab your phones or cameras and go on a nature hike. Have your tween experiment with some of the techniques they learned and start snapping some beautiful pictures. 

Does your tween have a social media account they can’t live without? Have them share their pics from your nature hikes with their friends. Pick a different natural spot every time you go and see if you can identify some of the techniques you use.

Rock, paper, scissors, GO!

Assemble the family and play a game of “rock, paper, scissors”: Everyone pumps their fists three times and signals a rock (made by a fist), paper (laying your hand flat), or scissors (holding out two fingers like scissors).

Rock wins over scissors (because rock smashes scissors). Scissors wins over paper (because scissors cut paper). Paper wins over rock (because paper covers rock).

The first winner chooses the destination for a family walk or family activity, for example: 

o   Let’s go the beach

o   We’re hiking! Pack up some gear and we’re hiking this trail!

o   Tennis time!

After the destination is chosen, it’s time for Round 2. The winner picks what you’ll be doing at your location, for example:

o   Let’s go paddleboarding or swimming

o   Bike ride, anyone? Maybe go exploring some new trails

o   Learn the basics of geocaching and give it a go! Here’s a cool app to get you started.

Once you get to Round 3, the winner picks what’s for dinner or what to snack on after the adventure.

If you have a fourth joining in the fun, the Round 4 winner picks a family game after dinner (or a movie if you’ve had enough interactive family time for one day!).

Giving each family member a chance to make some decisions will motivate them to participate—and get them doing things they might not have ever thought of before.

Reward them afterwards 

Even the most hesitant tweens can’t resist a reward. Have them join you for one of these great activities before ending the date with a treat:

  1. Got some tennis equipment on hand? Find a nearby court and practice hitting the ball back and forth. Can you make it a friendly competition? The winner picks the reward.
  2. Mini golf anyone? It’s the perfect slow-paced game that will give you the time and opportunity to connect, laugh, and get some fresh air! Finish off the game with a stop at Starbucks for a cool drink.
  3. Go for a bike ride. Grab your bikes and let your tween choose the route. You have to follow their trail and try not to eat their dust. Rejuvenate with a cold treat after your ride.
  4. Beach or river nearby? How about a stone-skipping competition where the winner picks the next activity? Grab a smoothie after a day at the beach.
  5. Yoga buddies. What better way to spend time than by stilling your minds and sharing a peaceful practice with your tween? You’ll both feel better after.

Playground obstacle course

Hit up your local playground when it’s empty. Have your tween design a tough obstacle course for you to get through. Next, it’s your turn to challenge your kid!

Don’t forget that you can be creative with the equipment: 

  1. Jump on or off benches with two feet
  2. Climb up the slide
  3. Do a long jump off the monkey bars
  4. Try to cross across the swing set without touching the grounds, using the swings as steps

Time yourselves and try to beat your record every time. 

TikTok dance lessons

Have a teen hooked on TikTok? If you can’t beat them, join them! Your kid will appreciate you making the effort to connect to “their world.” Although not always the best medium for quality instruction, the app’s dance challenges and tutorials are sure to get you moving. There’s something for everyone too.

Try some of these family-friendly dances to get going. Just watch and try to replicate. 

A few things to remember when using this app: 

  • TikTok users may use inappropriate words or hashtags
  • TikTok collects information from users such as locations, contacts, etc
  • Some songs may have explicit lyrics

To make TikTok a bit safer if your tween uses it, you can set up “Family Pairing” and link an adult account to your tween’s. With this feature, you can control how long your child can spend on TikTok each day and you can limit inappropriate content.

Not ready for TikTok? Or is your tween just a little too young?

KIDZ BOP dance-along videos on YouTube are lots of fun and family-friendly. Have a dance party in your living room! Seeing you try to keep up will surely put a smile on their faces.

It can be hard to get tweens to participate in family fun with you. But if you can manage to get them to join, they will feel more connected, they will get some exercise, and you will all enjoy the time you spend together.

What’s important to remember is that kids this age are often seeking friend time rather than family time. Don’t force them to do anything they don’t want to do; you don’t want to push them away. But try to start some of these routines to pique their interest. Knowing they have the option and are welcome to join will open up the door to some wonderful memories.

And if it doesn’t work? Don’t take it personally!

What are some of your ideas to get your tween kids moving?


Read more about activity ideas for tweens:

New playground features aim to keep tweens active in parks

5 reasons tweens and teens drop out of sports—and what to do about it

7 ways to inspire your tween to get outside and active this summer

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