Summer break is approaching. Kids and teachers are counting down to freedom; parents are counting down too, many with a mix of anticipation and dread. Most parents I know look forward to the more relaxed atmosphere and not having the intense schedule that rules their lives the rest of the year. This excitement is short-lived, however, as only a few weeks in, many parents start to ask, “But what will I do with them all summer?” And then the countdown to school begins.
By now, many parents have already made plans for their elementary-aged kids, but what do you do about the teens? Teenagers are largely self-sufficient (or are at least capable of being so) and are much more vocal about what they want to do (or silent in a way that says so very much). The types of summer camps that working parents rely on either exclude or do not appeal to teens. Besides, at this age they don’t need a babysitter anymore. An idle teen is likely to find things to do; however, maybe not the sort of things you would approve of. You don’t want them doing nothing all summer, but it can be tough to find something that is productive and worthwhile, yet interesting enough to get them on board.
There are some camps for teens, but you may have to get more creative to find them. Community colleges may offer arts, STEM or career-oriented camps where they can try out an area of interest without making a commitment to study the subject long term. Boy and Girl Scouts offer camps, which they can attend as a camper or a counselor. (This may or not be a paid position, and in some cases, you may have to pay for them to attend, it being considered training.) Your local 4-H Club may also have interest-specific camps. If you live near a major metropolitan area, local theaters and art studios may offer teen classes or mini-camps.
Summer school is another option. We often associate the term with remedial classes, to catch up when one has done poorly the past year, but there are other possibilities as well. Some community and even four-year colleges offer programs for high school students to take college level classes for credit. These credits may later be applied to a college degree. Some of these are exclusively for high school students and may include room and board. These can be a good way to learn about a particular college and experience dorm life for a short time.
Your teen can get a job. Many retailers as well as movie theaters, nursing homes, and any business that is seasonal (like mini golf or life guarding) are open to hiring teens. Babysitting, pet sitting and lawn mowing are other options and may reveal entrepreneurial aspirations. In addition to giving them something to do, they will also earn some money and can start learning how to manage it. This can also provide lessons in time management and interpersonal skills.
Volunteering also has its benefits. Look for organizations that your teen has an interest in. Animal shelters, libraries and similar non-profits frequently are struggling to meet their basic needs and welcome additional hands. Museums and zoos usually have volunteer or docent programs ranging from hands-on work with exhibits to behind-the-scenes office work. (Many of these organizations look to their volunteer pool first when hiring, so this can lead to a more permanent job or internship.)
Create jobs or other responsibilities. Watching younger siblings, driving them to activities, helping with household projects, etc. all benefit the family. Giving teens a challenge, such as to create a water-based fun obstacle course can make it more fun for all. Take advantage of their knowledge of technology or other talents. Ask them to research vacation options or how to complete a needed repair or project around the house. When handing out responsibilities, give them some measure of control; let them make mistakes and learn how to fix them.
Encourage them to have fun. Going out with friends or having people over to play games, sit around a fire pit and consume large quantities of snacks are also part of being a happy, healthy teen. High school can be stressful. They worked hard over the year and deserve some time to relax and recharge. As parents, we can help them find a balance. In June summer may seem long, but from the other side, it goes too fast.