Samantha: Summer should be relaxing for teens. We live a high-stress lifestyle, rushing from extracurriculars to monstrous homework assignments during the school year, and we pray for summer like a breath of fresh air. But should our summers be completely responsibility-free? No.
Summer is a time for hands-on, career-building experiences. How your teen spends the summer is important to many colleges and future employers. Camps or other activities can be fulfilling, but if there’s no educational, future career or volunteer component, your teen will miss valuable opportunities for résumé building. If he or she isn’t doing at least 10 productive hours a week in the summer, that’s a problem.
Most teens prefer to get paid for their efforts, so looking into jobs is a good first step. Teens who want employment have to be flexible. The job market is incredibly competitive; adults are taking good jobs that once went to college students, and college students are taking jobs from high school students. That leaves teens with jobs at grocery stores and fast-food places.
If your teen can’t find a paid job but doesn’t want to waste away the summer, an unpaid internship could be a great option. Often, university science professors are looking for help in their labs or classrooms. Teens interested in writing should try contacting a local newspaper or magazine about interning there. These options are great for busy teens because there is no expectation that the teen will continue to work during the school year.
Parents could also help teens start a business. Baby-sitting, mowing, car washing, dog walking, pet sitting, errand running and tutoring are all great ways to make money. Parents can offer seed money, advice on pricing, a mission statement and ways of advertising. But once the business is off the ground, the teen should handle all the details.
Finally, volunteering is a great way to spend the summer, and it also works as a supplement to a job that does not take up much time. Check out the website of the Roger Hill Volunteer Center (www.rhvc.org) for options.
Wes: We always emphasize balance at Double Take. Anything can turn into too much or too little — working, sleeping, socializing, gaming, Facebook, even studying for the ACT or reading great literature. One should have enough and not too much of a good thing. Even vegging out at the TV can fit into the greater balance of teen life, while working diligently for too many hours a week can overtax a teen. Because the daily structure of school is in recess right now (teens and teachers say “thank God” in unison), it’s harder and even more necessary to help kids strike that balance.
The job market is exactly as Sam suggests: tight for young people as well as established workers. However, I’ll bet there’s not one employer in Lawrence who would say they aren’t always looking for one more GOOD employee — if not today, next week. Turnover is an ongoing struggle, as someone quits or is “let go,” so teens and young adults who are ready to go the extra mile are still in demand and will ultimately find work. Unfortunately, that sword cuts both ways. Eager teens with good work ethics are also easier to exploit because the employer has another 30 applicants who say they’ll try harder, allowing them to push good employees to the brink without fear.
Parents are caught in a double bind, too, recognizing the weakness of the teen job market while needing kids to contribute more to their own upkeep in these recessionary times. Balance applies here, too. I actually think Samantha’s estimate is a little low. Kids who spend only 10 hours a week being productive are probably spending quite a few of the other 108 waking hours being really nonproductive or worse. Now I may be defining “productive” more broadly than Sam. I include reading, learning something, working on hobbies, etc. Pretty much anything that’s not just mindless idle time or getting into trouble. Balance means there’s a time and place for most fun things that are clean and legal, and a time for things that are important. Finding out how to manage and divide one’s time among many options is one of the most important skills a young person can learn. Most of us are still trying to master it as adults, in fact.
Kids should work a reasonable number of hours for a wage whenever that option presents itself. It not only provides a sense of how our economy works and builds a résumé, it’s also a great way to encourage college, trade school or military service later on. All of Sam’s other ideas are spot-on, too, just as long as the teenager doesn’t get so bogged down in one thing (work, volunteering, internship) that she or he misses the other aspects of summer life. On the other hand, it’s no secret that bored teens tend to make questionable choices, so keeping busy with a wide range of options is usually the safest bet.
Next week: A stepmom laments her relationship with her stepson.
— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Samantha Schwartz is a senior at Lawrence High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to email@example.com. All correspondence is strictly confidential.