Family Magazine

Teenagers+Summer = You Gotta Have A Plan

By Joanigeltman @joanigeltman

"Idle minds are the devils playground." No truer quote applies when thinking about teens and summer. If you haven't yet gotten into the summer mindset, here is your wake-up call! Everybody needs down time, but 10 weeks of down time for teens can spell t-r-o-u-b-l-e, especially if you are a working parent. If you anticipate leaving your house for work at 8 AM with your sleeping teen snug as a bug in a rug, thinking that all is well, get you head out of the sand. The devil will be over to visit.
Regardless of good intentions, too much time = too much potential for temptation. We're talking sex, drugs/alcohol and general mischief. Once boredom sets in, which it always does after the initial bliss of no structure, look out. The planning should start now. If you have a younger teen, 13-15, this is a bit harder. They are too old for day camp, too young for most jobs, and too inexperienced or  not motivated to find something on their own. Many older teens are unmotivated as well, or lack the confidence to find something on their own. So the first thing is to have realistic expectations of how much your teen will do independently to make something happen. Your job is to make your expectations clear, that is step #1. "I get you are looking forward to the summer, and having free time to hang with friends. We want you to have time for that too, but it's also important for you to have other things going on for you as well, either  a job, or a volunteer/educational/internship experience, or camp, something that gives you a feeling of accomplishment and purpose. How would you like to go about this? What kind of help do you need from us?. Here is the deal, the question isn't, do you want to do something or not? but what is it you would like to do?"
This can be a slow, painful process, as mostly you will get a lot of "I don't knows." If you have some extra money, there are many great programs that cater to particular interests of teens. If they want a job, expecting that they will have any idea of how to go about looking for one is unrealistic. Do this together, making a list of the kinds of places that are of interest to them, and then drive them around to pick up applications, and sit with them as they fill them out. If you just say to your teen, go get some applications, and have you filled our those applications probably not much will happen. I worked in a work/study program for 14 years with teens, and rarely did I find a teen who felt confident enough to follow through on expectations. What looks like laziness is actually low-self esteem.
It is important to let them know that if there don't seem to be any jobs, and volunteering or interning is the fallback, that you will provide them with some kind of stipend. But, and this is important, if they choose to be idle, and do neither, then you will choose  not to provide them with any summer spending money. Sitting around with both nothing to do and no money is not fun, and will get old really really fast. So provide incentive and reward for those idle minds, and keep that devil at bay.

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