Dr. Wes: The last day of school is just weeks away. If you’re a senior (like Miranda!) your high school days are even fewer in number. So what’s on your teen agenda for summer 2012? If the answer is limited to video games, sleep and general mayhem, now is the time to plan a summer overhaul. I’ve come to believe that summers need a little more structure than I might have liked at 16. That doesn’t mean being shipped off to camp in the Poconos, but just a balance between relaxation and accomplishing something.
• Relaxation. Kids face more than their share of anxiety during the school year. Between schoolwork, extracurriculars, employment and social life, there’s a lot to worry about and get done. Teens deserve some unstructured time in the summer to decompress, and parents should keep that in mind before over-scheduling summer plans. A good rule of thumb is to have about 25 percent to 30 percent dedicated to nonproductive activities, though there may be some debate about what that includes. While parents might see a vacation as a time to lounge, some teens will count that as structured, so it’s best to get everyone on the same page before the negotiations begin. I’d like to include recreation in this side of the equation as long as the teen sees it as fun, but competitive sports teams and camps usually fall into the next section.
• Accomplishing something. An under-scheduled teenage summer increases the chances for problems. That old saying about “idle hands and the devil” came from somewhere, and I’m guessing it was the summer of some Pilgrim’s 16th year. Miranda offers several good ideas to keep summer honest in between naps and excursions into video-game heaven, so I’ll just suggest that structured activities balance learning with earning. With the economy down, kids have to work so hard to make money and may miss chances to improve themselves. Try to find balance in this, too, so that teens accomplish a little more than minimum wage. For those who can’t find jobs, particularly younger teens, never underestimate the value of volunteering in terms of resume building and networking.
Miranda: Yes, summer is a beautiful thing, and you won’t find a lot of kids who deny that. However, day after day of sitting around watching daytime TV can get a little old, and it’s important to use your time effectively. That doesn’t have to be boring or miserable, however. Teens should pick their top priority for the summer and work everyday to achieve a smaller goal that adds up to a big summer accomplishment. And for seniors, summer is a great time to prepare you for big changes of next fall.
• The summer job. This is a staple of summertime for most high school kids. We’re lucky to live in a university town because a lot of students leave during this time of year, leaving more jobs (or more hours at an established job) for teens. If making money for a car or college tuition is your biggest goal, I suggest starting in the summer. When it comes to a part-time job, start searching now, not at the end of May.
• Summer school. Many readers will jump to the next section because they think they don’t “need” summer school. For high school seniors and juniors however, taking college coursework is a great way to get a head start on prerequisites. Community colleges are especially great for this, offering smaller class sizes, more one-on-one with professors, and eight-week courses for credit.
• College workshop. If you already have a passion (writing, theater, athletics, engineering, etc.) you can look up workshops for high school students on college campuses across the country and work on your craft. These offer incredible learning experiences and can be great resume builders. Watch out for the price tag, however. Depending on the length, cost of travel, and tuition, these can get costly.
Follow our advice, and next August when you’re back at school and everyone asks, “What did you do all summer?” you’ll have something to be proud of.