5 tips for keeping teens and tweens busy during the summer

When kids hit the tween and teen years, summers change. Not only are the kids who were just playing hide-and-go-seek yesterday no longer interested in spending the day at the children’s museum, but they’re getting old enough to pull their weight at home and start learning important life skills. And as a mother, you start feeling the pressure to help them do just that.

Believe me, I’d love for summer to just be one big pool day after another, but older kids need a little more direction than that–not just for the sake of learning and growing, but for keeping them out of trouble. (Or at the very least, from becoming lazy slobs!) Yes, summer is meant to be a fun break from the rigidity of the school year, but no mother wants that to mean sleeping until noon every day and spending hours in front of a screen. A big part of summer fun for teens and tweens can actually be found in challenging, meaningful experiences. (I know that doesn’t sound very fun, but stick with me.)

Before you start planning “productive” activities for your teen or tween, keep in mind that you want them to buy into the idea. They need to feel like it’s their plan if you’re going to get any kind of cooperation, let alone enthusiasm. Most tweens and teens don’t like being told what to do and when to do it (like during the school year), so letting them plan their summer based on their personal interests and goals may be just the thing to get them motivated. (Not to mention it’s great practice for real life!)

Make time to sit down together with a big calendar and map it all out, letting them choose from a list of prescreened activities while staying open to their suggestions. Fill in the big events of summer first like family vacations, reunions, or sports camps, and then brainstorm together to fill in the blanks. Be sure to leave plenty of room for down time and hanging out with family and friends–resist the urge to over schedule summer! That being said, I would also suggest making a loose daily schedule you can both live with. There’s nothing worse than having the same “discussion” over and over again about how they’re sleeping in too late or failing to help with family chores.

Now that I’ve completely overdone the set up (smile), here’s my list of the Top 5 ways to keep your tween or teen busy during the summer:

  1. Home work. No, not that kind. In addition to regular daily chores, invite your teen or tween to do things around the house they don’t normally have time for during the school year like bringing in and putting away groceries, helping with yard work, making dinner, or doing laundry. Remind them that the more they help, the more time there will be to do something fun. Block out full days to work together as a family on bigger projects like cleaning out the garage, re-organizing the pantry, or preparing for a yard sale. (You can motivate them by letting them keep a portion of the money.) Do fun activities following big work projects, and put your teen or tween in charge of the planning. Summer is also a great time of year for teaching basic life skills such cooking, ironing, balancing a checkbook, etc. Kids in this age group are often more capable than we think and will feel a sense of pride when they learn how to do these “adult” tasks.
  2. Paid work. Part-time work helps teens make friends, comply with authority, develop a strong work ethic, and learn the value of a dollar.You’d be surprised how many places are willing to hire kids as young as fourteen years old. (I was fourteen when I got my first “real” job.) Use your child’s natural interests and talents as a jumping off point. Have them apply for work at places they like to spend their free time, or have them work for you if you have your own business. If your teen isn’t sure what they like to do, they could even sign on with a temp agency and get several small jobs in a variety of areas. Some other suggestions for places to apply for work include swimming pools, construction companies, grocery stores, car washes, medical offices (to do filing, etc.), garden centers, fast food restaurants, retail stores, the YMCA, hotels, amusement parks, museums, or pet stores. If it’s a tween we’re talking about, there are still plenty of opportunities to earn money over the summer by babysitting, being a mother’s helper, doing yard work, washing cars, pet sitting, or helping an elderly person with household chores. Get creative! One fun idea for both age groups is to make and sell something at the local Farmer’s Market.
  3. Volunteer work. Don’t just encourage your teen or tween to make money over the summer, encourage them to build their “resume” and gain practical work experience through volunteering. Many organizations offer internships for high school students, and many local businesses welcome teens as part of an informal job shadowing program. Volunteer hours are often required for graduation at many high schools, and volunteer experience always looks good on a college application. Also keep in mind that volunteer positions frequently turn into paid positions after a summer or two. All of that aside, volunteering keeps your teen or tween busy while giving them a sense of purpose and self-confidence that can only be found in volunteer service. Animal shelters, hospitals, libraries, soup kitchens, city and state parks, retirement homes, homeless shelters, churches–the possibilities are endless. Again, go with their natural interests and talents.
  4. Brain work. Even though they’ve outgrown the usual summer camps and classes, there are still plenty of ways to keep your teen or tween’s brain active during the summer. The summer reading program at your local library isn’t just for little kids. Have them check out magazines, how to books, cookbooks, or pool side paperbacks. (Any reading is better than no reading.) Look into online courses for credit. iTunes and YouTube have free online lectures from major universities across the world. PBS offers amazing educational content, and TED talks are always entertaining and educational. Plan a family game night once a week to hone a variety of skills. Research your county extension office for a wide range of youth programs. While not necessarily brain work, you can also visit colleges your teen might be considering in the future.
  5. Fun “work”. In the end, summer is really about having fun, and there’s really no better time to explore new interests and hobbies. Local recreation departments, the YMCA, and community colleges frequently have short-term classes on a variety of topics such as dance, art, cooking, sewing, music, videography, crafting, and sports. Be willing to buy materials and help your tween or teen make plans to complete projects and reach goals. For instance, my daughter paid for half of her stained art class last summer and I made sure to take her every Wednesday night for 8 weeks. (She’s actually great at many art forms, so I’ve been thinking of having her enter something in a state or county fair this summer.) Keeping physically active during the summer months is not only fun, but it keeps your teen or tween healthy and improves their mood. Even if they aren’t particularly athletic, encourage them to play around with miniature golf, hike or bike with friends to a favorite destination, swim (of course!), or hit tennis balls against a wall. Lastly, if you have the money, there are always summer camps. Check out www.summercamps.com and search by interest or state for camps that are not only fun, but teach a variety of skills your child won’t learn in school.

Obviously, there are enough ideas here to keep an entire high school of kids busy for the next 100 summers. Don’t think of this as a to-do list, but as a resource from which to glean a few ideas every summer. No matter what, you’ve got enough ideas here to keep both you and your teen or tween busy this upcoming summer. Have fun!

QUESTION: What are your ideas for keeping tweens and teens busy during the summer?

CHALLENGE: Buy a simple calendar and plan some time to sit down with your teen or tween to map out the summer.

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