Well, here we all are, on the fringe of summer. Finally. We’re all desperate to decompress from the wild pace of the school year and enjoy a little downtime. But for parents of teenage kids who are past the age for camp and too young to find summer jobs, there’s a slight problem. What in the hell do we do with them all summer long?
At that awkward age, like from 12-15, most kids are too old to be campers and too young to be hired for any real jobs. And that can be a big, fat pain to deal with when there are ten long weeks of summer staring us in the face.
Having a kid at home with nothing to do over the summer can be a disaster, especially when most teenage kids are terminally bored to begin with. Because even though most kids that age can be left alone for extended periods of time, they’re definitely not qualified or ready to be designing their own day-to-day schedule, the likes of which would probably include unlimited gaming time, never-ending social media time, and one endless mealtime involving grotesque amounts of artificial colors and flavors.
Thankfully, though, I’m on the other side of all that now, since both of my kids are gainfully employed. (Thank you, Lord.) This is our first summer with both kids out of camp and holding down paying jobs. But for a couple of years there, summertime was dicey in my house. Not because we didn’t love summer (we’re big summer-lovers), but because, at different times, our girls were that awkward in-between age where they were too old for camp and too young to work. So not fun.
It was that bizarre transitional period where they were desperately seeking adult-type responsibility but were still too young on paper to get real jobs and totally fend for themselves.
I can remember those conversations leading into summer like they happened this morning. Those weeks leading up to vacation where they’d plead their case that they just wanted to relax for the summer. I just wanna chill out, they’d say. It was an exhausting school year and I just want some time to catch up on sleep and just hang out with my friends. To which I’d gently remind them that it’s physically impossible to catch up on lost sleep and they must be on crack if they think we’re going to let them just flit around downtown all day every day for two months. (Yes, I actually used the word flit. It seemed powerful at the time.)
Then they’d pull out the old, But we’ve got all that summer reading to do and that’s gonna take up most of the summer, so I don’t have time for anything else. And to that, I’d just laugh directly in their face, making sure to spit a little for emphasis because it was just that ludicrous. Then I’d remind them, in a very calm and soothing voice, that they’ve almost always left all their summer reading to the last four days before Labor Day, which would inevitably stop the entire conversation cold.
See, the very last thing any parent of a teenager wants is an open-ended day where our kid has nothing to do and there’s no one watching them. And string a whole ton of empty days together, one after another after another, and now you’ve just enabled aimlessness. And aimlessness is very, very bad.
That’s why we need to take some action to ensure that our kids aren’t roaming free-range all summer. And how we do that is by encouraging them to do things like volunteer or even create their own summer job.
We have them call local summer camps and ask about becoming a counselor in training (CIT) for the summer or reach out to local churches or rec centers to see if they need junior counselors or assistants. Or look into summer athletic or enrichment programs offered by local colleges. There’s stuff out there, you just need to find it.
And if none of that looks like it’s gonna work, suggest that they creatively put themselves out there as babysitters or dog walkers or lawn mowers or tutors for younger kids. Remind them that those things will earn them some real cashola. (Make the cha-ching sound, they like that.) Then tell them the story of how Bill Gates and Paul Allen got super entrepreneurial one summer and built Microsoft in someone’s garage.
Either way, there are plenty of things for our awkward-age kids to do. Finding those things just takes a little creativity and patience. And who knows, maybe your kids will get super industrious and build themselves a little empire like Gates did and then all of a sudden you’re retiring early. What? It could happen.
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.