Youth isn’t wasted on the young: activities for teenagers in the UAE

As a new club for teenagers prepares to launch in Abu Dhabi, we look at what other activities youngsters can get up to in the Emirates.

It’s an age-old cliché that parents of teenagers hear so often, usually accompanied by a loud groan – “I’m bored, there’s nothing to do.” Is it just a standard teen rant heard by parents the world over, or is there not enough for them to do in the Emirates?

Sensing that teenage kicks are harder to come by here, Zayed Sports City is poised to launch a fortnightly club night for teenagers, called Code Z. It was due to open this weekend, until adverse weather conditions earlier this week put a dampener on the plans.

Zayed Sports City’s general manager Barry Bremner says he had been “pestered” by his own 17-year-old, Zack, into organising Code Z. “These teenagers feel that, yes, there are lots of things for kids to do in Abu Dhabi, but not if they want to enjoy music and dancing.”

One British mum, Rebecca Fahmy, says that like many teenaged boys, her 14-year-old son Amir doesn’t seem to get enthusiastic about anything – “but he did show some excitement about Code Z”. She recalls the heady atmosphere at the party Zayed Sports City held following the 5km Neo Run in October, when 5,000 teenagers daubed in UV paint danced the night away.

“When I turned up to pick him up and saw all of the kids going crazy, you could see how much they were enjoying themselves,” she says, “and it became clear that there wasn’t usually anything like this for them in Abu Dhabi. There’s a massive gap in the market for 13- to 20-year-olds.”

Ahsan Tariq, a 15-year-old Pakistani, is looking forward to tomorrow’s Colour Run at Yas Marina Circuit, during which thousands of youngsters will run, walk, skip or dance 5km around the F1 track, while having coloured powder thrown at them. As they cross the finishing line, DJ Max will be spinning the beats during the colourful mayhem of the “Finish Festival”.

But such light-hearted opportunities to let off some steam are far and few between for Tariq, who mostly spends his weekends playing tennis or jet-skiing at Al Bateen. “Quite honestly, there’s nothing for teenagers to do in Abu Dhabi, except one or two events a year for adults which teenagers can join in, too. Most of the activities we do are hobbies based on our own individual interests. We don’t have social gatherings that bring us together.”

Tariq also feels he misses out on being able to work part-time or experience an internship, opportunities that are harder to access for teenagers in the UAE. “Apart from a lucky two per cent, teenagers don’t get to work here, so we don’t get any exposure to what working life is like. I have to ask my parents for money, and that’s very limiting, and I don’t get to spend it how I want. You miss out on a sense of independence.”

The perceived feeling that “there’s nothing to do here” inclines many teenagers to return to their home country for the final two years of their schooling.

Chloe Mccarthy, 17, is leaving her family behind in Abu Dhabi to start boarding school in the United Kingdom in September, after five years in the UAE.

“A lot of Chloe’s friends went back to the UK at the end of their GCSEs, to readjust to UK life,” says her mum, Niki. “Chloe didn’t do that, but now she’s ready to leave. She goes to a mall, hangs around friends’ houses and plays tennis, but it’s not enough. Chloe goes back to the UK in the summer holidays, and her friends are doing so many things – it’s really hard for her.”

But not all parents are of the mentality that teen life in the UAE is unfulfilling. Zara Amiri, a Tunisian who’s mum to 17-year-old Fathi, thinks being bored is all just part of the growing-­up process.

“When a teenager says ‘I’m bored’, let them sit down and work out what they want to do,” she says. “They don’t need their parents telling them. If you’ve got sporty kids, they can fill their time with matches, competitions and training. It’s a very positive thing, and gets them outside doing stuff.”

Last September, The Club in Abu Dhabi’s Al Mina opened a gym for teenagers, called Studio Two, in response to complaints from teenaged members that there wasn’t enough for them to do at the private members’ club, giving them unlimited use of the gym and classes.

“Studio Two provides teenagers with functional, full body and body weight activities, designed to help with strength and stamina,” explains The Club’s fitness manager, Elisha Udoh. “When it’s all fully set up in here with the boxes and the rope, it’s like a playground – they’re on a bungee rope, running, and they don’t even realise they’re working out.”

Udoh runs boot camps, TRX and boxfit classes for her teenaged clients, and there are also free-time sessions – “for teenagers to come in with their iPods, put on their own music and do their own thing”, she explains. “We understand that although they want to be supported, they also want to feel like adults and do what they want in terms of exercise. It puts them on the right steps to feeling that fitness is a way of life.”

Kristin Mcgrath, a 16-year-old Brit, is on the teenaged committee that helps Udoh to oversee Studio Two, and gives her regular feedback on what their fellow teenagers want. “Thirteen- to 15-year-olds tend to be unmotivated – I know I was, I just didn’t want to do anything,” she says. “But now because Studio Two is running, I do work out. It’s good to see other teenagers now really wanting to work out, too.”

Samiha Hamze, a 15-year-old Lebanese, says she’s lost 10 kilograms in the past year from attending regular sessions at Studio Two. “Before, I was quite chubby. I come here now to maintain my weight,” she says.

Hamze met Mcgrath while exercising at Studio Two, and although they attend different schools, Hamze explains that they’re now great friends.

“Some of my friends just go to the mall every weekend, which gets really boring after a while, so it’s nice to get together with ­Samiha and just work out,” Mcgrath says.

Last month, Studio Two held its first party, which was attended by about 40 teenagers. “It was a good number, but it was very last minute,” Udoh says. “A week before, pretty much no one was booked. To see the party in action was fantastic. I’ve been so passionate about making something here work for teenagers, as I know it’s really needed.”

• Studio Two costs Dh100 per month, on top of The Club’s regular membership fees. Non-club members can be accompanied by a member, for Dh35 weekdays or Dh70 weekends, and half-price any day after 3pm. For more information, visit Code Z will be held at Zayed Sports City; entry will be Dh100. For more information, visit

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