10 Tips for Keeping Tweens and Teens Busy During the Summer

Working parents of tweens and teens face a special challenge as school winds down and summer approaches.

Once kids reach the preteen age, they’ve typically left daycare and afterschool programs behind. And once parents say goodbye to daycare, they’ve also said goodbye to a built-in summer structure.

As a therapist working with children and families, I encourage my clients’ parents to make sure their children have some structure to their summer. This is important for all children, and especially for those who struggle with emotional or behavioral problems.

And most parents are eager to make sure their children are not sitting in front of the television, computer, or video games for hours each day.

When I talk with parents about summer plans, I find it’s often the parents of tweens and teens who struggle the most to establish a summer schedule that will keep their kids busy and engaged.

Among the ideas that have proven successful for families I have worked with are:

1. Summer Camp. When I work with parents of tweens and teens, I encourage them to look for themed camps that allow campers to explore specific interests. Whether your child’s special interest is sports, music, acting or cooking, chances are there’s a camp for them. Talk to coaches or those who coordinate the extracurricular activities in which your child participates to find information about themed camps. For more general camps, check out your local YMCA, talk to the school guidance counselor, or look for notices in your local paper.

Student Conservation Association (SCA). SCA provides high school and college kids the opportunity to become involved in a variety of conservation activities. SCA’s national crews provide month-long summer projects around the country for high school students. Working under the supervision of crew leaders, the national crews build trails and restore habitat in national parks and other public lands. The work is hard, but kids gain a sense of accomplishment and often establish deep friendships.

3. Summer Jobs. If your child isn’t old enough for a formal job, he can still find ways to keep busy and earn a little spending money over the summer. Young teens and tweens can babysit, do yard work, wash cars, or pet sit. Preteens who are not yet ready to babysit can be a mother’s helper. Mother’s helpers provide care and supervision to children while their parents are at home. This gives parents a chance to accomplish household chores or other responsibilities while someone else cares for their children, and it helps tweens ease into the babysitting role.

4. Volunteer. Whether stacking shelves at a food pantry or walking the dogs at an animal shelter, volunteer jobs keep kids busy while giving them a sense of accomplishment. I encourage my young clients to think about their special interests and to decide where there might be a volunteer opportunity related to those interests. Parents and kids can also use Volunteer Match to help find relevant volunteer opportunities.

5. Job Shadowing. Many local businesses will welcome teens as part of an informal job shadowing program. I’ve had clients work with local hair stylists and veterinary offices on an informal basis. All it took to set up the job shadowing was a quick phone call to the owner of a salon or a local vet. These business people welcomed teens who were interested in learning more about their jobs and the teens got a chance to explore a job they are considering.

6. Take a class. Summer can be the perfect time for your tween or teen to explore new interests or hobbies. Local recreation departments, YMCAs, and community colleges frequently have short-term classes on a variety of topics. When you encourage your child to take a fun class, kids are reminded that learning can be fun and that it can be a lifelong process.

7. Pursue a hobby. If your tween or teen has a hobby or interest, buy some materials and help your child map out a plan for summer projects. Encourage your child to set a goal. For example, a teen who enjoys cooking might have a goal of working his way through a new cookbook. A tween who enjoys music might set a goal of teaching herself to play the guitar by the end of the summer.

8. Prepare for a yard sale. Let your tween or teen clean out the basement, organize the garage and sort through closets to gather old and unused items for a yard sale. Think it will be hard to get them motivated for cleaning and organizing? Tell them they can keep all the money from the yard sale. You’ll keep your child busy, give them some spending money, and get a cleaner and better organized home.

9. Plan family outings. Put your tween or teen in charge of planning family outings for the summer. Perhaps you want them to plan a few day trips, or maybe even the family vacation. Provide any limitations (time frames, budget, etc.) up front, and let them come up with the ideas. They’ll gain a sense of pride in being trusted with the responsibility, and it allows them to practice planning and basic math skills

10. Organize a club. One client I had put together a summer book club for herself and her friends. She modeled her club after her mother’s book club and she and her friends chose books to read and met one afternoon each week to discuss the book. If your child is not a reader, encourage him to find an activity she and him friends share and to plan some summer activities around their common interest.