Here’s the short list of reasons you don’t want your teen loafing the summer away: Because you don’t want him or her still loafing around your house as a 30-year-old!
Summer is prime opportunity to build the skills that will carry your teen into college and beyond. The good news: There are as many different ways to rack up those skills as there are kids.
Truth be told, although a little downtime is healthy, most teens don’t realllly want to face down a Summer of Nothing. Where to point them:
Get ready for college.
Why it’s smart: Summer’s slower pace can be ideal for tackling one highly focused project (great fodder for a college essay or to explore a potential field of study) or for just knocking off pieces of college applications (a great way to cut the stress during the school year). We especially like this motivator from a college admissions officer to his own teen, a rising senior: All the college applications you finish before Labor Day, we pay for. All those after Labor Day: You pay.
What to suggest:
- Do just one amazing thing—a summer-long project—that reflects an interest or passion: Write a screenplay or song, build an app or learn to code, enter a contest, make something and sell it online, create a YouTube campaign video to draw attention to your favorite cause. Do something you can brag about at the end of the summer.
- Spend time on ACT or SAT test prep: independently with a study guide or with a tutor, with a goal of raising your score by, say, 10 percent. A result like that can mean tens of thousands of dollars in merit aid (a far better financial return than most summer jobs offer).
- Draft a college essay. It’s probably the biggest stressor during high school, so getting it out of the way can make the fall semester of senior year way easier.
- Research schools and make or plan campus visits. More than one out of three college students transfers out of their original school because it’s not the right fit. Investing the time in getting it right the first time can save a lot of time, money, and emotional turmoil.
- Read! It’s an unmatched vocabulary-builder (and great for test prep). Choose a writer or a topic area you love, and go deep.
Brush up on practical life skills.
Why it’s smart: During the busy school year, we often excuse kids from household chores and responsibilities (mistakenly, but that’s another story). Or we just don’t have the time to show them everyday basics. But mastering a few life skills fuels teens’ self esteem and confidence—and makes your life a little easier.
What to suggest:
- Learn to make a few great meals or become a awesome baker. All that’s needed is YouTube and persistence. Maybe you rotate turns, with each family member preparing a few meals each week. (A teen who can drive can also do the grocery shopping.) Bonus: You’ll eat better in college—and for the rest of your life.
- Learn a little bit about managing money. Open a checking account—and then learn to balance bank statements and create a budget for the coming year.
- Learn how to drive. Many kids can’t cram driver’s ed into a busy school-year schedule.
- Chip away at this list of 10 life skills kids need before they leave home. One quick example: Manage laundry. (If your teen still doesn’t know how to sort lights and darks or fold and iron, it’s time!)
Find—or create—a summer job (it’s not too late).
Why it’s great: Kids gain responsibility, a solid work ethic, time-management skills, and money-management skills (for all that cashed earned and, at least some, saved). That’s why colleges love seeing any kind of paid work experience and examples of entrepreneurship on applications.
It’s also a great summer for teens who want work, says the 2016 Challenger, Gray, & Christmas teen summer job outlook report. Overall teen employment is at its highest since 2008.What to suggest:
- Minimum-wage work. Entry-level retail, restaurant, and lifeguarding jobs are going begging this year, especially in larger cities.
- Classic summer gigs. Think lawn mowing, dog walking, babysitting, being a mother’s helper.
- Start a business. Examples: Offer tech support for older neighbors or sell something online.
Why it’s great: Volunteering can also give kids a chance to sample different kinds of careers and get practical experience in arenas that interest them. They get practice being responsible even if they’re still too young to get hired (as is often the case for tweens and younger teens). Schools increasingly require service hours before graduation too.
What to suggest:
- Look into joining a political campaign. It’s a great year to see how politics works from the inside.
- Offer to walk the dogs at a local animal shelter, play music for nursing home residents, help out at a church day camp, or tutor younger kids.
- Intern for an organization or family friend who owns a business.
- Check listings in local papers or sites like TeenLife or DoSomething.org for other ideas.
You’ll want time for family fun too. And they’ll want time to hang with friends. But by owning an experience all their own, they’ll be taking one giant step toward adulthood.