What Should Your Teen Do This Summer?
Many parents of teens face summer with uncertainty. What should their teen do during these hot months? Should they have time to just relax and be free from responsibilities? Should they be enrolled in lots of programs or get a part-time job? Should they be working on academics that they found difficult during the school year? Should they be obtaining experiences to develop their resume? There are so many choices that it is hard to know the right balance between encouraging teens to enjoy their last throes of youth and setting themselves up for a solid future.
One thing all parents should know about summer is that it can be a risky time. Teens who are bored, have a lot of downtime, or have less supervision run a higher risk of falling into the wrong pastimes. Incidences of first-time cigarette, marijuana or alcohol use for underage kids spike significantly during the summer months. Juvenile crime also increases. While adults may dream of days where they have nothing to do, this type of relaxation can be a recipe for disaster with youth.
Parents can consider getting their teen involved with local youth programs, sports programs, summer camp, classes, volunteer opportunities, or a part-time job. With so many options, it’s important to remember not to overschedule your teen. Begin by sitting down with your teen before the summer and discuss their interests and talk through pros and cons of various options. Try to define a goal for the summer break on which you both can agree. Perhaps your teen would like to help others, meet a personal challenge, earn money, or improve a skill. Establishing a goal can create a bond between parent and teen, model responsible goal-setting, lead your teen to just the right activity, and, most importantly, increase your teen’s feeling of success when the summer comes to a close.
Once you have established a goal, research summer opportunities that match your teen’s interest. Here are some ideas:
Academics. If your teen wants to improve their grades, round out their college application, or just loves to learn, academic enrichment programs might be right up their alley. Colleges and local schools usually offer programs that may focus on gifted students, remedial students, opportunities for research in a certain area of interest, leadership programs, language-based courses, or college/SAT prep.
Community Service. If your teen wants to help others, connect them with volunteer projects. Local options include animal shelters, halfway houses, nursing homes, churches, homeless shelters, soup kitchens or doing yard work for an elderly neighbor. Your teen could also get involved with a service program that takes a group of students (12 to 25) to an impoverished area in the United States, or even to a third world country, to help with remodeling of living quarters, teaching, constructing a school, working with underprivileged children, caring for animals, or environmental projects. Community service can keep teens occupied while developing a sense of purpose, self-confidence, gratitude, and personal responsibility. In addition to teaching teens the joy of giving back, volunteer work looks great on college applications and resumes.
Part-time Job. If your teen is interested in earning money, a part-time job is an excellent and constructive use of their free time. The benefits of summer employment include: obtaining valuable work experience for a resume, learning time management skills, developing new confidence and independence, gaining workplace skills to make your teen more marketable in the future, and providing the opportunity for your teen to manage their own finances.
Internships. Consider helping your teen gain hands-on experience in an occupation of interest. Young people are often not aware of all of the different types of careers available to them or what types of skills each career needs. Summer internships for high school students are designed to provide valuable on-the-job experience for young people and help them figure out what direction they want to take in life. Most teen internships require that students be at least 16 years old and have completed their sophomore year of high school. Some are paid, but most are not. You can visit internships.com to learn more or have your teen discuss this option with their school guidance counselor.
Language program. For the adventurous, your teen could take an immersion language program, where they reside in another country to learn a foreign language. Some programs house teens in dorms at foreign universities, while others place teens in homes with host families. Just Google “teen language program” and you will find lots of options.
Classes or programs. Check out your local YMCA and newspapers to see what sports programs or fitness programs are going on over the summer. Exercise is great for kids of all ages and you may find a sport in which your child is interested. Visit your local parks and recreation department to see what classes are being offered for teens. Your child may learn a new skill or hone in on a new hobby. Consider dance, art, cooking, sewing, music lessons, or other ventures. You might even find a leadership program, which would provide your teen some valuable skills for their future.
Summer camp. Although summer camps can be pricey, the benefits are well worth the cost. There is no better way to make constructive use of free time than learning a new skill, exploring an unfamiliar place, or meeting new people. Summer camps are usually very fun and teach all sorts of valuable skills that your child won’t get in school. For example, wilderness camps emphasize responsibility, self-awareness, teamwork, and communication, and challenge teens to achieve their personal best. Teens are introduced to a new group of peers and learn to relate to people of all backgrounds. They live in a structured, highly supervised environment, which helps teens gain perspective on life at home and build self-confidence and hope for a brighter future.
Connecting your teen with the right summer activity can help him or her become more responsible and independent, develop problem-solving skills, improve social skills, become more open-minded, explore interests, and increase self-esteem.
As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, it is also important for your teen to have downtime. Do not try to overschedule your child, as they deserve to enjoy spending time with friends. Be sure you know what, where and with whom your child will be spending time, but definitely allow them the space to have fun!