After-school and weekend hangouts where your tweens and teens can hang out, have fun, and be safe.
By Karen Harpold
The reality of Houston’s explosive growth can be intimidating, especially if you are the parent of a ‘tween or teen who is ready to experience independence. But on the flip side of the coin, you can count yourself lucky to be a parent in a city that has so much to offer its younger residents!
Houston is teeming with great after-school and weekend hangouts for your ‘tween or teen. Whether your child prefers indoors or outdoors, solo time or social time, there is truly something for everyone. Here are some ideas to get you started, along with tips for maximizing the experience for everyone.
Houston is home to a number of well-planned shopping centers and malls that offer older kids an opportunity for independence and social interaction with their peers. Depending on the part of town you live in or are within driving distance of, you have many options. These include:
- Rice Village (ricevillage.org)
- CityCentre (citycentrehouston.com)
- River Oaks District (riveroaksdistrict.com)
- Sugar Land Town Square (sugarlandtownsquare.com)
- Galleria (www.simon.com/mall/the-galleria)
- The Woodlands Mall (thewoodlandsmall.com)
These destinations have several things in common: they offer a circumscribed area where ‘tweens and teens can walk and shop with their friends (even if it’s just window shopping), and they offer dining options including quick-service locations like Chick-fil-A along with more trendy restaurants like Torchy’s Tacos in Rice Village and Hopdoddy Burger Bar in River Oaks District. In addition, each of these destinations routinely offers interesting events, including live music at CityCentre. Check websites for details on stores, restaurants and scheduled events.
Your ‘tween or teen might be more the outdoorsy type – in that case, he or she is in luck. Houston is home to some unique parks that provide great hang-out locations for older kids. Houston has in recent years set a priority on green space, and the options that are available now to Houstonians reflect his. One of the best things about most parks is that they are free to enter, and often activities are either free or low-cost.
Discovery Green: Discovery Green is an appealing 12-acre urban park that features over 300 planned events each year. These events include concerts, movies, festivals, and ice skating (Dec. & Jan.). Other activities offered include exercise classes, kayaking and paddle boarding. Or just bring a football and play catch with your friends on the green grass! The park also is home to two permanent restaurants, The Lake House and The Grove. The Grove is a fun fast-casual concept that your ‘tween or teen can enjoy on the south shore of Kinder Lake. www.discoverygreen.com.
• Hermann Park: If you grew up in Houston, chances are you rolled down the hill in front of Miller Outdoor Theatre. It’s still there, and your kids can do the same! Of course, Miller also offers free theatrical, musical and dance performances and movies through mid-October. Hermann Park also boasts the Japanese Garden and is within walking distance of the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Houston Zoo and a golf course. Your ‘tween or teen can easily stay busy for a full Saturday here. www.hermannpark.org.
• Buffalo Bayou: This may be the coolest park that your kids (or you!) still have not visited. For starters, the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern has recently opened to visitors – this historically and architecturally significant site is sure to inspire your ‘tween or teen. Buffalo Bayou Park is also home to the Johnny Steele Dog Park; Lost Lake, where your kids can rent paddle craft; The Kitchen (a grab-and-go food counter); and miles of hike and bike trails. At the Waugh Drive Bridge, they can witness the sights and sounds of over 250,000 Mexican free-tailed bats. The park also is home to a skate park and beautiful pedestrian bridges. www.buffalobayou.org.
• Memorial Park: If your ‘tween or teen is a fan of organized activity, Memorial Park may be a great place for him or her to hang out. The numerous playing fields provide a location for your older child to get together a game of softball or flag football. Or if golf is their sport of choice, the golf course is very popular. There is also a web of hiking and biking trails like your kids will find nowhere else in Houston. Beck’s Prime has a central location near the golf course so they don’t have to leave the park when they get hungry. www.memorialparkconservancy.com
Other Hot Spots
Aside from large venues like shopping centers and parks, Houston is also home to other unique and appealing locations for ‘tweens and teens to hang out.
• Coffee shops: Coffee shops like Starbucks and other independent locales around town are great destinations for ‘tweens and teens to spend time with friends. They may want to load up their books and meet at the nearest coffee house for a study session or to work on a group project. Crave Cupcakes in the Woodlands is a dual-concept coffee house and cupcake bakery. Or they may want to try The Teahouse, which has multiple locations throughout Houston, including one coming soon in Rice Village. www.starbucks.com, www.cravecupcakes.com, www.teahousebeverage.com
• Libraries: The Houston area is home to two separate library systems, Houston Public Library (www.houstonlibrary.org) and Harris County Public Library (www.hcpl.net). Both systems are very well run and provide not only multiple locations across the city to curl up with a good book, but also extensive programming for kids of all ages year-round. Programs vary by location, but generally all libraries will have after-school and weekend programs available for ‘tweens and teens. Kids might make crafts, watch movies or play games as a group.
• The Movies: One of the most popular hangouts for kids, especially of this age group, is the movie theatre. And movie theatres have come a long way! Edwards Theatres (www.regmovies.com) and AMC Theatres (www.amctheatres.com) provide the classic movie experience complete with buttery popcorn and a huge Icee or Coca Cola. But if your ‘tween or teen wants to really ramp up the experience, he or she might want to check out Studio Movie Grill (www.studiomoviegrill.com). This theatre offers the same wide array of films and cinematic experience but also boasts in-theatre dining. And then there is iPic (www.ipictheaters.com) – considered the “ultimate” in movie-going luxury. For a little bit steeper price, older teens (most movies are skewed to an older age group) can enjoy gourmet dining and spacious leather seating. Premium Plus seats recline electronically and come with a complimentary pillow and fleece blanket.
Tips for Making it Work
As your kids begin to assert their independence and learn to navigate a big city like Houston, you want to encourage their confidence and set them up to succeed. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. With a little bit of pre-planning, you can feel as good about your ‘tween or teen’s independence as they do.
- Parking: If your teen is driving, have him or her figure out ahead of time the best place to park for the activity. Ideally it is best to park as close to the entrance as possible, especially during the evening hours. If you are dropping off your child, plan ahead exactly what time and where you will pick up.
- Money: Your ‘tween or teen should carry with them the appropriate amount of money – enough for the activity plus $5-$10 extra for emergencies. Make sure they check the location’s website to determine expected costs.
- Check-In: Set a time for your child to check in with you either by call or text. This way, you won’t have to worry how things are going.