Backyard Teen Retreat

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Backyard Teen Retreat

I am looking for ideas to turn my backyard into a teen retreat, so my teenage girls can have a fun place to hang out. Any ideas?

Conversation and Roasted Marshmallows

As the father of two teenage boys, I've been amazed at how much they've enjoyed our fire pit. We started with an old copper kettle and burned wood in it. I was careful to supervise the fires, especially when their friends came over, but I've found that they will sit for hours around that fire talking and playing guitar for each other.

We have an elevated deck and a big yard so we're able to look out over the area of the fire pit and keep an eye on things. Both teenage boys have hosted evenings where 10-15 teenagers come over with no plans other than to hang out around the fire. My oldest son's birthday is in a couple of weeks and he said that he wants to just have some kids over and build a fire. Of course, we'll have other food, but they always seem to want marshmallows to roast.

If you don't have a container to use, you could simply find a place in the yard away from other trees and dig a it out. Then build the fire inside the pit. If available, use old and broken branches from the yard for wood.

Obviously, anytime you're talking about teens and fire you need to use an abundance of caution. Make sure that they're old enough and mature enough. Burning down your home or visiting the emergency room is no one's idea of inexpensive fun!

Get Your Girls' Input

I think it's a good idea to collect ideas from all your sources, including your daughters. However, do not commit to any without going through all the ideas with the girls. The objective here is to let them select the treatment they want. You'll want to temper wild or overly expensive ideas, but let them know why you decided not to go with such elements. Getting the girls to buy into the project will ensure they actually use your backyard.

Even Big Girls Like Playhouses

I've also set up a family size tent in the backyard, threw in a couple of sleeping bags and it becomes their "playhouse." An outdoor extension cord from the garage ensures they can have their radio or even a small television. The best thing is that it is free and I can keep a close eye on them.

Let Them Pamper Themselves

As the mom of three girls (ages 21, 17, and 14), we've had our share of backyard parties. I would recommend plenty of seating in a shady place, some privacy, a volleyball net, and a source for music. Be sure to spray for mosquitoes and other bugs. Have ready access to cold sodas and snacks. A pool is always a hit, but that's pretty expensive. A nice flat area and lots of big beach towels for tanning might be nice.

One time we had a "pamper party," which included a bucket of nail polish, files, toe separators, lotion, etc. The girls sat out there for over an hour painting each other's nails, and they used it several times after that, too. It gives them something to do while they chat.

Observe, But Don't Hover

First, define the space. Do that with furniture set in a small circle. Standard outdoor furniture (even mismatched) is great. Bean bag chairs or folding lawn chairs are other great options. Something in the middle for the kids to put their feet up is ideal.

Then set the mood. Add strands of white lights (purchase at yard sales or use extras from your closet). Paper lanterns hung from the trees or eves of the house are always nice.

If you have a swimming pool, that's a huge plus, but if you don't, set up horse shoes, darts, leave a Frisbee around, even a Hula Hoop, a football, etc. Pick up these items from yard sales.

Enjoy the greatest books of all time without ever reading a word!

Don't forget to feed them. Create a "drink and snack cart" with soda, cups, an ice bucket and chips set up on a small table. The ingredients for making S'mores is always a hit.

Be there to serve and observe, but don't hover. Teens want their space and they want to feel a bit grown up. Popping in from time to time with a treat or more ice is a good way to stay connected. However, hanging out with them is a sure-fire way to dampen their enthusiasm.
JR in Houston

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