Spring activities are winding down and school’s almost out for the summer. I love this time of year. The sun is shining, the weather is warmer and our lives seem to slow down just a bit as activities begin to come off the calendar. Sure, there are final tests to be taken, year-end band concerts to attend and last day of school field trips to be chaperoned, but generally, our nights start to free up and our household gets a little less crazy. No more Boy Scouts on Monday nights or Tuesday afternoon jazz band practice. Wednesday night church has finished and the spring sports calendar has come to a close.
All this extra time is great for a few weeks, but once school ends, our teens seem to have almost too much time on their hands. This can be a recipe for disaster at any age, but with phones, computers, gaming systems and TV at their disposal, too much free time can easily result in electronics overload.
Long gone are the summer days when camps, field trips and nannies kept our teens occupied. They’re now way too cool for those activities and, frankly, they don’t really exist for the 13-18 age group. Although we no longer stress out about the logistics of camp registration and daycare options, that stress has been replaced with this now daily conundrum of creating a plan that limits their screen time, yet maximizes their fun time. When I googled “summer teen activities” I found sites that listed ideas like this:
- Grab a blanket, spread it out in the grass and cloud watch
- Grow some lavender so you can make your own potpourri
- Create a summer safety poster for the local library
- Learn how to define and spell 5 new words from the dictionary
- Meet with a financial planner and start saving your money
Seriously? Would any teen you know do any of these things? If I suggested any of these ideas to my kids, they would laugh me out of the house.
One obvious opportunity to keep teens busy is for them to find a job. Our teens are excited to begin earning their own money, but most places require kids to be at least 16 years old before they’ll hire them. Babysitting and lawn mowing are options, but won’t likely occupy them all day.
Our solution, simple as it may seem, has been to sit down with our kids at the beginning of the summer and put some structure to their days. This proactive approach has helped them navigate their time together and, we believe, has saved countless arguments amongst the three of them. A few years back, we asked them to come up with their own “template” for a summer day at home alone and here’s what they created. Not a bad start, right?
These days, we have a teen driver in the family and that additional mobility opens up a lot of options. We’ll collectively put together a list of places they want to visit during the summer, including spots like Valleyfair, the Minnesota Zoo, the local library, mini golf, Minnehaha Falls and Centennial Lakes. They also love to do things like read at Starbucks, go out for lunch and take afternoon jaunts to Freeziac or Cherry Berry for treats. We’re lucky they get along well and actually enjoy doing things together. We thought we’d save money once they were done with camps and nannies, but instead, those costs have been replaced with costs for park entrance fees, food and other incidentals.
In addition to helping them plan activities away from home, we also set expectations about how they should spend their time while they’re at home. Their daily agenda includes some reading and math as well as some household chores. They need to keep the house clean, help with laundry and dinner, and take care of the lawn and flowers. We limit their TV and gaming time, but it’s tough to enforce time restrictions on their phones…they seem to be an extension of themselves.
All these rules and expectations might sound a little overbearing and over-structured, but it’s worked pretty well for us and I guarantee they still have plenty of time for texting and TV!
What do your teens do during the summer months? Please share!
Originally published on June 4, 2014. And with summer just around the corner, we thought some of these ideas for tweens and teens were too good to forget!