I have stumbled across a few places in the world where parents are walking the impossible line of risk assessment in the midst of a pandemic with teens and young adults who naturally should be out in the world discovering who they are in relationships with their peers. We are the parents writing the manual of how to do this. No one has done it before us. Hopefully, no one will have to do it after us.

It might have been “fun” to embrace the challenge in the beginning but as time goes on and we all get weary it can start to feel easier to risk all the things in order to help lift the spirits of our young people who are struggling. Yet, it is still dangerous. It is not just a cold we are talking about. There isn’t a clear path of who survives this virus and who dies from it. We are all having more risk management discussions than we thought we ever would. So I wanted to come to this space and make a list of ways to keep those teens connected, building relationships and safe.

For research I turned to my resident experts, asking my own children how they were staying connected with their peer groups. I do feel like we have a bit of an advantage here as my boys have been staying in touch with far away friends for over a decade now. That’s not to say it is any easier just that they have had to exercise this muscle a little more frequently.

The first thing they said was “DISCORD!” I am hard pressed to believe there are parents of young adults out there who don’t know what Discord is but I did not realize how many things you could do in this simple application. Turns out you can use if for all kinds of connecting. Shared screens so you can all watch the same movie at the same time with additional ability to text chat or pause and audio chat to discuss plot twists, suspenseful moments and what just might happen next.

This ability to screen share also makes it the ideal space to do some skill sharing. Depending on the interest level of your Teens they could set up a weekly skill share passing around the leader role to whoever is ready to teach their friends something new. Along those same lines, they could to a craft kit or drawing kit together. Everyone orders the same candle making kit on line and when it arrives turn on those cameras and follow the directions together. Or maybe they have all wanted to learn how to build a birdhouse, watch a youtube video, screen share to create the blueprint together and take it away from there.

My sons both love to play video games so this has been an endless source of connection and joy with their peer groups. Here is a look at a few low cost options for those looking to get into some on line game play with their peer group. I am assured there are plenty of free on line cooperative games both through the App store on handheld devices, within Steam and with your own google search. In fact, my oldest just finished completing a jigsaw puzzles with his peers from three different states.

Jack Box Games have been a hit for us as a family and with friends. They are having a sale at the writing of this and could make great gifts for peer groups leading to lots of fun through the winter months. For a small fee as well you can purchase Table Top Simulator and then Steam offers plenty of free versions of classic board games that can be played with all sizes of groups. Again since this is an online digital purchase no holding your breath for the post to arrive in time for the holidays.

My youngest son reminded me of all the ways Minecraft can keep giving back to people. Whether it is just side by side play in a discord call or adding a mod pack and joining a server together the open world is endless in possibilities. I have seen peer groups replicate places they have visited together, creating their dream utopia or challenging each other to complete a list of tasks. Whatever they choose it is hours of conversation, decision making and creativity. That’s before we even begin to talk about the cooperation and team building skills. As a side note, getting involved as a parent is a bonus gift. The other day my nephew, I haven’t seen in almost a year, called to tell me all about his Minecraft adventures. He’s freshly five and it’s all brand new and I was able to keep the conversation going because of what I learned through gaming with my own boys!

I have also been told by my resident experts that Stardew Valley, available on multiple platforms, gives an open ended space for recreating farms, villages and even trying out new relationships. A way for peers to set up and test their skills at running a world with some creative life choices.

These free games are a for sure way to bring friends together to build cooperative thinking skills in high pressure situations. Apex Legends, CSGO and League of Legends all require players to work as a team toward a common goal. They are responsible for my boys building more skills than I can fit in this post!

I can not leave the gaming topic without mentioning Ultimate Chicken Horse which I have heard hours of laughter stemming from all the in-game cause and effect decisions that need to be made. And there is Among Us, a recent addition to the gaming world that has captured the hearts and attention of all age groups. Also, why not do some trial and error on those free games in the App store and compile their best most hilarious reviews of the positive and negatives of the game.

If you have readers, Discord can be the platform for your book club. Chefs host a night to teach your friends to make your favorite dish. Send out the recipe ahead of time so everyone can gather the resources they need. Or take it a step further and put packages together to safely drop on the porch to be used for the culinary adventures. Maybe they have neighbors that could use a home cooked meal or baked cookie surprise this holiday season.

What about pulling apart a favorite play and having each person record their lines. Someone can then take on the editing job and create season 1 of your own playhouse. This could even involve the mocking or remaking of favorite TV programs. Why not write a song together, someone gathers the tracks and puts the new hit together.

These times require an endless supply of out of the box thinking in order to keep connecting as our old familiar activities fall away. I like to think though of what it is my sons are learning in this time. They are learning a resiliency I never had to, they are taping into creativity I didn’t lean on at their age and they are adjusting goals and expectations to meet the changing world. It is sad some days and it is glorious others when we recognize these humans will one day be the leaders of our world and they’ve already thrived through their first pandemic with all kinds of survival skills.

I can’t end this post with out mentioning, to you parents out there reading, don’t forget to join in on these activities with your children. This time is affording us a chance to be together more often, to learn from each other and grow in directions you couldn’t even see a year ago.

Please fill the comments with all the ways I missed that the humans in your home are finding to stay connected.