Nothing to Do, Lots to Say

How a lack of activities and places influences Teen behavior


Aurora Nicol

Students response to a poll on thiings to do in Kansas City, from left to right; visiting the museum district (Kemper and Nelson), thrifting and getting coffee in Westport, trying new well-loved snacks like boba or sushi, going to the symphony, rock climbing at roKC, going to the dog park with your friends, ice skating, getting friends to play an organized sport at macken

Aurora Nicol, Editor in Chief

There’s a lot of interest in what you can say about teenagers being a marginalized group. That’s something the director of the Nelson Teen Council said a few months ago that struck a chord with me. Teenagers are routinely pushed out of spaces, they’re labeled as being too loud, violent, or dangerous. The metaphorical and literal insurance premium goes up for us. And sometimes, (like it would be with a car), rightfully so. But this leaves young people in an even more vulnerable space when there aren’t activities or places to go. Regularly, you can find a group of teens wandering target or in a parking lot because they feel as if there’s nothing to do. While dreaming of adulthood, teenagers are left empty with little advertised to them that’s unrelated to school. And for those that aren’t excited about football games or intensive academic activities, it leaves the undying question of “Where am I supposed to go?”

If you want to hang out with friends and don’t struggle with, “Well, what are we going to do?” I envy you. Growing up I hated the process of having to ask, “Can my mom ask your mom and then we can play?” and it got even worse if our moms didn’t like each other- kiss that playdate goodbye. But part of that seemed so simple, coming to each other’s houses to play with legos. Of course, you can still do this. But social cues have seemingly created a barrier to coming to one another’s house just to “hang out” or, depending on the context, “hang out” is a euphemism for something else. You also face the constant feeling and need to do or complete an activity with another person, going shopping or to an event, rather than having lunch together or hanging around each other’s houses- that’s a new stage in a friendship that comes later. Yet it’s difficult to find things to do. Unlike adults and children who both receive targeted activities for them such as pop-up bars and a column of events in The Star for the former and an entire magazine (KC Parent Magazine) devoted to events for the latter, teenagers don’t. However, some attempts from institutions try to solve this- such as teen councils at public institutions like the Nelson Museum, the Kemper Museum, or even the Kansas City Public Library. All of whom curate events for teenagers, but with an arguably small reach.

It’s reminiscent of similar problems in the UK, which complained about a growing obesity rate among their secondary school population, and when their Public Health administration investigated the issue, they were met with disappointed students who told them, “The government is complaining that there are less people being fit but there’s not really more facilities and stuff for teenagers,” this sentiment echoes in the American midwest. As people become less connected to one another, and school is less of the haven it once was in our youth, we’re forced out in the open with nothing. School events are sparse or poorly advertised to a point students are unaware they’re occurring, or any events targeted to teenagers aren’t spoken of in the mainstream, leaving the ever-hanging, “what to do?”

When I first proposed this problem, asking if those around me knew what I was referring to, a friend of mine joked that, of course, he spends his weekends smoking weed; there’s nothing else to do. This is an exaggeration, but at the same time: is it? Part of it comes from a similar underlying issue of a lack of new interesting things to do. And a lot of the media around us portray drug usage as something new and exciting that can make events more fun or enjoyable. Oddly, when TV or movies include drug usage, their rating moves up a category, yet these shows still feature high schoolers. A predominant amount of modern media that feature teenage characters is rated Mature, N-17, or R. Meaning, the people the show is portraying aren’t even supposed to be watching. They do, but it’s an interesting contrast. Although, this is an accurate portrayal. Teenagers have been fond of indulging in what’s illicit for decades. It’s not a new problem. It’s actually a lessening problem- the national institute of drug abuse reported that in 2022 the significant decline in self-reported drug use among teens persisted. The reported use of substances decreased dramatically between 2020-2021 and was believed to be due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And in 2022 the report showed similar results. Suggesting when students are forced to be home they do fewer drugs, meaning my hypothesis that the less engaged in activities students are, the more likely they are to turn to other sources is untrue.

Some things do remain true: the national center for education has been reporting since 1995 that students’ who participate in
extracurriculars has a vast improvement in grades and well-being. Being engaged in something- whether it’s academic or a hobby- changes students’ outlook.

Today, it’s easier than ever to fall into a poor cycle of phone checking, (I’m a victim of it myself) where one notification leaves us glued for hours, scrolling endlessly. We feel less of a need to spend time with one another in person when we can virtually, and the spaces online we might exist in are more inviting than the ones in reality. There are many factors that influence why fewer people go to school events, (basketball games are famously unattended) but the general push to stay home drives these in my opinion. Teenagers are pushed out of spaces- they’re watched extra in stores and museums, and banned from attending certain places without an adult (River Roll Skate Center most recently shut their doors to minors without an adult). In a student survey sent via email to Northtown students, one hundred students chose to respond anonymously, 32% said they participate in illegal activities such as drinking or doing drugs when they’re with friends. Is this from a lack of opportunity to participate in other things? Is smoking weed the fallback when there isn’t a movie worth seeing in theaters; if there isn’t anything to do this weekend? But even when there is- will kids still do it? Most likely: yes.

When there aren’t activities and interests for young people to engage in outside of school they do worse. Without events to attend, and hobbies to participate in, you fall into default without a well-rounded lifestyle. Make time to spend with the people you love- you both need it.