How to Make Sure Your Teen Has a Productive Summer

Choosing between an internship, job, volunteering and "lounge" time is an important decision for kids to make

Job or summer class? Volunteer hours or chilling on the couch? Teens can do just about any of the above over the summer, or some of each. If your teen has some trouble deciding what she wants to do this summer (or if you want some ideas to share) here are some activities to suggest (or make them do!).

Summer is a prime time to get a real first job. Teens might work in a retail store, bus tables in a restaurant, ref youth soccer games or lifeguard at the local pool. Besides making money, they can learn about patience, how to work with a variety of people, how to do quality work and show up on time.

Another possibility is looking for an internship in a company or laboratory, where teens shadow a professional and can get a glimpse inside of a business or science setting. Teens can gain valuable experience in a field of work that might spark a new interest or deepen an existing one. If you have a job, try letting your teen shadow you for a day just to see how it works. Maybe they will like it and want to do it themselves later!

Of course, teens don't have to go to work for an organization to make money. They can also start their own business based on their passions. Teens can write articles for papers (sound familiar?), write an app or tackle another tech-focused task, babysit or give lessons to younger kids in music, school subjects or whatever the teen is particularly good at. I made about $50 transferring an older relative's music CD collection to his computer. Teens advertising their business is especially key in this situation: They can post flyers in community centers and other family hot spots and ask family friends if they need some help with something.

There are so many mix-and-match possibilities, but do listen to what your teen wants to do.

Teens aren't too old for camps, especially sleep-away experiences. Many rising high school juniors and seniors also have the opportunity to live at a college and take a course or two for anywhere from two to four weeks. Students can take a class they are interested in for a few hours a day in the morning, and then hang around campus in the evening and make new friends. If your teen hasn't been away from home that often, going to a college campus for a few weeks can greatly increase their independence, teaching life skills like waking up on time to get to class, doing laundry and realizing first-hand that eating junk food three meals a day actually makes them feel ill. (OK, that last one happened to me.)

Teenage boy chef learn to cook over the summer

If your teen has any personal goals, summer is the best time to achieve them, because there is so little going on. They might want to run three miles every day, perfect a spin tennis serve, read a whole book series or learn how to cook. Summer can provide the large amount of time needed to take strides toward and hopefully accomplish those goals. But you have to plan ahead.

Volunteering is another great way to spend some time this summer, because teens can discover a passion, feel grown-up because they are contributing to something bigger than themselves, and also rack up service hours — which most schools require.

The first time I did service at Operation Sack Lunch, I helped cook chili to serve as lunch to homeless people. After that day I realized that cooking was actually really fun. I felt like I wanted to continue to get better at cooking and was excited to go back to OSL as well as try some cooking of my own. I ended up going to cooking school for a week and returning to assist a younger kids' cooking camp.

But amid all these activities and possibilities, it is super important not to lose sight of the ultimate reason summer vacation exists in the first place: relaxation. I was talking to some kids in my class at the end of last summer and they were complaining about how they were so burned out because of all the summer activities they were doing. Don't force your teen to be busy all the time! Make sure your teen still has an appropriate amount of lounge time when they can hang out with friends or just chill and read or play video games at home.

There are so many mix-and-match possibilities, but do listen to what your teen wants to do. Let us choose the summer course, the volunteer work or the job we want to go after. You might think you know what is "best" for us, but we will put more effort into the topics and activities that are interesting to us, and we'll get more out of them in the end. Also, we'll complain less, and won't that be a summer vacation for you?

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