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30 ways to occupy your bored teenager in lockdown

Teenager happy in front of laptop screen

Teenagers are often caricatured as lazy, duvet-loving individuals who enjoy any excuse to stay in a darkened room doing very little to exercise their minds.

But, at the moment, they could be excused for fulfilling that stereotype: with schools closed and exams cancelled again, some will lack the incentive to get up and face the day.

While those in their mid to late teens might be trying to follow the curriculum in preparation for future exams, students reaching the end of their qualifications are most likely to need some new kind of stimulus.

An opportunity to develop new skills

In fact, the latest lockdown may provide the perfect opportunity for older teenagers to take on fresh challenges.

Now is the time to learn new skills and pursue existing interests to another level. Quite apart from finding inspiration in self-isolation, it might be useful for them to keep their minds active – and enhance their appeal to admissions officers and future employers.

What are MOOCs?

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have been available for almost 10 years and are growing rapidly in popularity as people turn to alternative ways of expanding their horizons in a world of confinement.

Available on a number of platforms, these short courses are all free and provided by the world’s leading universities. Their appeal lies in their flexibility and in the variety of subjects on offer.

How they work

MOOCs vary in length from a few hours in total to a weekly commitment of a few hours over several months. Generally, they involve watching video lectures, reading online material and completing brief assessments at the end of each topic. Only rarely do lectures or workshops need to be accessed at a specific time, meaning students can usually start the course at any point and fit it to a timetable of their choice.

There are no entry requirements – so your young person is free to experiment with subjects that pique their interest or deepen existing knowledge. They can just choose a course difficult enough to pose a challenge without leaving them floundering. Sometimes, individual modules can build to a programme that offers credits towards a degree course. Certificates of achievement for completed courses are available for a fee.

The most overwhelming thing is the vast array of courses on offer – so here are some of our favourites, along with a selection of other online opportunities.


AI for Everyone explores what artificial intelligence (AI) is, its applications and how it is transforming our lives. Students will learn basic AI concepts including machine learning, deep learning, and neural networks as well as discussing ethics, bias, jobs and the impacts on society. This IBM course involves one to two hours a week over two weeks.

Computer Programming for Everyone explores the art of computer programming and what code can do. Your teen can boost their digital skills with the University of Leeds and Institute of Coding over two weeks, with two hours’ study per week on such topics as: how programming works in real life and writing basic code.

Design a Feminist Chatbot is for anyone interested in the social implications of technology – or anyone who finds chatbots intensely irritating! In this course, devised by the UAL Creative Computing Institute and Institute of Coding, students learn how to design and prototype a chatbot that doesn’t reinforce harmful gender stereotypes. A four-week course involving two hours’ work a week.

Video Game Design and Development is an introduction from Abertay University to game programming and could be a young gamer’s first step into a multi-billion-dollar industry. In six hours’ study spread over two weeks, your teen will get an introduction to the major concepts of game programming, including user input, rendering and collision detection plus a detailed look at core programming concepts such as loops, conditional statements and data storage. Some mathematical understanding needed.

Creative arts

An Introduction to Screenwriting is offered by the University of East Anglia with instructors and recent alumni from their famed course in Creative Writing. Over two weeks, participants learn about character, cinematic story, structure and the role of dialogue through videos, script analysis and practical exercises. Three hours’ work a week are needed to kickstart a budding film-maker’s career.

Hollywood: History, Industry, Art is a four-week course from the University of Pennsylvania exploring the history of Hollywood, from Edison and the birth of film to the rise of the internet. Students learn about the studio system, how to analyse a film and the impact of global audiences. It will take three to four hours a week to get to grips with this complex industry.

How to Write Your First Song is a practical introduction to the mechanics of song-writing offered by Sheffield University. Over a six-week period, involving three hours’ work a week, students will be introduced to established musicians and songwriters.

Modern Fairies brings together leading songwriters, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers and researchers to develop exciting new work, exploring what folklore means to us in the modern world. Five episodes are available as part of Oxford University’s podcast series.

Stage and Screen is a collection of podcasts from the BBC looking at artists and works that have defined film, theatre and dance from Beckett to Chaplin, flamenco to hip-hop, Frankenstein to Antigone.

Start Writing Fiction focuses on the central skill of creating characters, with the help of authors such as Louis de Bernières, Alex Garland and Michèle Roberts. Over eight weeks, your young person will learn how to develop their ideas; reflect on their own writing and editing; hear writers talk about their approach to research; and start turning events into plot. Suitable for anyone over the age of 16, this Open University course requires three hours’ study a week.

Fashion and photography

Fashion as Design is a seven-week course offered by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), focusing on a selection of garments and accessories from around the world, ranging from kente cloth to jeans to 3D-printed dresses. Through these, students look closely at what we wear, why we wear it, how it’s made, and what it means. They hear directly from a range of designers, makers, historians, and others working with clothing every day. Seventeen hours’ work required.

Fashion’s Future: The Sustainable Development Goals is for anyone interested in fashion, fair trade and international development. Over four weeks, involving three hours’ study a week, participants explore how the clothes we wear every day affect the world around us.

Seeing through Photographs is a six-week course looking closely at photographs from MoMA’s collection. Your young person will explore what a photograph is and how photography has been used throughout its 180-year history, from artistic expression to a means of documentation. A total of 14 hours’ study.

Health and well-being

Managing Mental Health and Stress provides practical support in stressful times. A popular two-week course run by Coventry University, involving three hours’ study a week, students look at the connections between mental health issues and work-related stress.

Nutrition and Wellbeing is aimed at anyone interested in the links between food, health and lifestyle – and will help to demystify the complex and conflicting messages we hear today. The University of Aberdeen offers this four-week course, which will take three hours a week.

The Science of Well-Being from Yale University must be the world’s most popular MOOC, with nearly 2.5 million people worldwide enrolling since December. Students will find out, over the course of 18 hours, the truth about happiness and ways to change their perspective on life.


The First World War: Trauma and Memory is a three-week course offered by the Open University, looking at the physical and mental trauma suffered both on and off the battlefields in World War One. Students will also study how the trauma of war has been depicted in art and literature – and what we’ve now learned about PTSD. A total of nine hours’ study is involved.

Warriors, Rebels and Adventurers is a collection of podcasts from the BBC looking at influential figures throughout history – from the Spartans to Napoleon, Joan of Arc to Amelia Earhart, Lawrence of Arabia to Haile Selassie.


How to Make an Animated Movie is a step-by-step introduction to animation from scriptwriting and storyboarding to modelling and sound design. Perfect for Pixar fans, there are 17 lectures spread over about two hours.

Making Text Animated Short Videos will teach you how to create short viral videos for social media. Your young person can build their social media brand and become a vlogger with this course of 11 micro-lectures over less than an hour.

Science and nature

Exploring our Ocean looks at how our everyday lives are connected to the ocean depths and the ways we can safeguard its future. Participants meet scientists exploring the ocean – from the deepest undersea vents to the chilly waters of the Poles – and learn how the deep ocean is no longer out of reach. For all lovers of the Blue Planet, this four-week course is provided by the University of Southampton and involves three hours’ work a week.

Forensic Facial Reconstruction will appeal to all CSI enthusiasts. On this course from The University of Sheffield, students learn alongside the experts who worked to determine the identity of Mr X, after the gruesome discovery of a body in a bag on a Sheffield industrial estate in 2000. They’ll spend four hours over two weeks studying the basics of forensic anatomy and its application in police investigations.

Stargazing is a series of short talks and presentations from Oxford University’s Physics department. Your young person will find out more about our night sky and the vastness of the universe – from new planets to far-off galaxies – thanks to leading astronomy researchers.

Technology Metals for a Green Future explores how critical raw materials are found and used, and their role in contributing to a more sustainable future. This four-week course from the University of Exeter will appeal to those with an interest in geology, science, economics, politics or geography. Four hours’ work per week needed.

World of Spies: Keeping Secrets is specially aimed at 13- to 18-year-olds who enjoy puzzles, want to develop problem-solving skills or find out more about espionage. They’ll learn about code-making and -breaking, encryption and logical thinking – and discover whether they’d make a good spy. Developed by Purdue University, this four-week course will involve four hours of work per week.

Social sciences

An Introduction to Psychology from Monash University investigates the history and science of psychology. Students spend six hours a week over a two-week period exploring the origins of psychology, its breakaway from philosophy, the early schools of thought and some of the key individuals who shaped the field.

Dog Emotion and Cognition introduces the exciting new study of dog psychology, what the latest discoveries tell us about how dogs think and feel about us, and how we can use this knowledge to further strengthen our relationship with man’s best friend. This eight-week course run by Duke University takes about 12 hours to complete.

Exploring Stone Age Archaeology is a four-week course run by academics and field archaeologists at the University of York. Participants will discover Star Carr – one of the world’s most important archaeological sites – and explore what life was like over 10,000 years ago. They’ll learn about the use of stone, plants and animals in daily life and evaluate how digital technology and experimental archaeology can be used to investigate the past. This one takes four hours a week.

Football: More Than a Game explores the role of football in the world today, including finances, clubs, nations and rivalries. From street soccer to multi-million -dollar transfers, from the men’s game to the women’s, from the global to the local, from the beaches of Brazil to the fight against poverty – this course by Edinburgh University looks beyond the pitch, to explore football’s role in society and possibly a community near you. Your teen will need to commit to 18 hours of study over six weeks.

Japanese for Beginners is a five-week course from Waseda University that covers basic Japanese expressions. Once your teen has mastered introducing themselves and ordering food, they can move onto Part 2 (a further five weeks), which covers asking directions and explaining travel plans. Each course takes about three to five hours to complete.


Images: JenkoAtaman, Юлия, Oleksandr all; Fabian Grohs, Brooke Lark, Thomas Kelley, Jakob Owens, Humphrey Muleba all Unsplash; Yuting Gao/Pexels


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