“What time is it? The time of our lives. Anticipation. What time is it?” Summertime. School’s out, scream and SHOUT!” A familiar tune from High School Musical-2.
Yes, it is summer time, and time for our children to come home for a break, as they ascend to the next phase of school. If you are a parent of sons like me, you are dreading the incipient refrigerator raids and perpetually empty pantry as a result of their constant snacking and eating. And just like me, you are also reminded that there is a 2-3 month break between now and next school year, and you are filled with dread about what to do, and how to fill in that time with meaningful activities for them.
Well, worry no more! Here are my tried and tested, no-fail ideas for activities for your teens. I have used these tricks for nearly 10yrs as my sons have transitioned from middle to high school, and now to college. However, my sons are very different, so some of the ideas had to be modified for each child, but for the most part, they worked.
Since they are often just returning from a stressful school semester or year (whether you are home-schooling or they are in traditional schools) I often allow them to take the first week or two off to de-stress, rest and relax from the drama of school work. This short period of downtime comprises of sleep, eating, more sleep, their assigned housework and whatever else they like to do to entertain themselves. As you can guess, it’s mostly video games to their cell phones, listening to music and back to video games…ugh! Because two of my boys play musical instruments, they are often also rehearsing their various musical instruments.
We often have dinner together as a family, and just talk. We talk about school, what they learned during the entire year, and simply catch up on each other. No electronics are allowed during this “sacred time”. This is usually the most fun time for me, in particular. I do miss them a lot when they are gone, and even the youngest who is still at home is mostly “gone” during the school year because of his homework obligations, extracurricular activities and an early bedtime. So, we try to enjoy each other this first week.
This is also the time we call grandparents and extended family members to catch up on them.
This is something very important to me. As a pediatrician, I always ensure my patients schedule their annual physicals during the summertime when school is out, to avoid missing out on school. The appointments can also be made earlier in lieu of school closing if you like. In addition, the doctor’s offices are not often as busy because most folks are out of town on vacation. This is when you want to schedule them for their vision, their dental, general well-child exams, and get updates on their vaccines and other minor issues that might have come up while they were in school.
Since I have sons, this is also the time to get their own personal hygiene taken care of. They get a nice hair cut for the summer, refill on their allergy medications or any meds at all, and get new clothes if needed for those who have had a growth spurt during the school year. I do realize some parents wait until the end of summer to do the back to school shopping, and that is also fine.
Read a book or two
As an avid reader, this is one activity I don’t compromise on. Luckily, most middle and high schools often have summer reading assigned to the students, and that is a bonus for my children. I require as a rule that my sons read for 2 hrs daily, for every 2 hrs of video games they play! They absolutely hate this, but they still do it. What I often do is, take them along with me to the library or make them go to the library for 2hrs daily. It ends up being fun for them, but not before they have complained a lot. Reading in the summer also helps keep their academic skills going. This way they don’t forget some of the stuff they were taught during the school year. Summer reading is somewhat more fun because the teens have the freedom to pick whichever book they like to read and read at their own pace. We often block 10am-12noon for reading, that way, we all read together, and it becomes a bonding activity at the same time.
Finally, they have to do a book report on the books they have read, and we have a day or two set aside to discuss the books them. Once in a while, they want to re-read their old favorites, and I allow them, as long as they read.
For those of you who know me, you know that I am very big on volunteering. It is one of my most enjoyable past times. Teens could volunteer at home, or in a more structure set up like the regional hospital. Helping others, not only builds empathy, but it also builds compassion, mindfulness and a healthy dose of kindness and gratitude, and helps your teens learn the value of giving back to the community. These are a few of the guiding principles I discuss in my brand new Amazon bestseller, “How to Raise Well Rounded Children” available on Amazon or on my website.
I believe that volunteering not only builds character, it also opens one’s mind up to experiences well beyond their personal imagination, and will ultimately help create a much better world for you and me. If you have not tried volunteering yet, do try it. Register your age-appropriate teens for various volunteering opportunities. Check this list for ideas of places you could all volunteer this summer. Remember, these experiences could also last into their adult years, so go for it.
Get that summer job
Beginning around the age of 13yr in most states in the US, most teens can start working. It could be around the home as babysitters, dogsitters, mowing the lawn, or other odd jobs to get paid by their parents. As they get older, the type and complexity of the jobs change and before you know it, they are older teens working in the corporate world.
I love the idea of teens working for pay, be it minimum wage or more organized pay because it is often their first taste of adulthood. It is also the best way to teach them responsibility, time management, money management, and independence. It is the ideal introduction into their employee or entrepreneurial future. While my eldest son just qualified to drive uber 3days ago when he turned 21yr, he has been holding down 2 jobs at Stanford since his early days as a freshman. Though reluctantly, he worked at Pizza Hut as a young teen, and that helped encourage his immediate younger brother to also seek employment at Pizza Hut in his high school days. Both sons are well versed in money and time management today, thanks to an early work habit. Not to be left out, my 14yr old youngest son was actually employed at his middle school this past school year as a football referee.
The money earned from work can be used for their own personal needs or saved in the bank, invested or used to help out their parents. One thing I made sure I did for each of my sons as soon as they turned 18yr was to open up an investment account for them. The accounts are funded by their own employment earnings. If you are not doing this yet, I strongly suggest you consider it. In all, working as a teen has much more benefits, than not.
Whether it’s learning a new language by immersion, learning how to save and budget money, drawing up a functional itinerary, becoming independent and responsible for oneself, or learning about and experiencing different cultures, (foreign) travel is the ultimate way to spend a summer. It could be a study abroad program as part of a college or grade school curriculum, or a family vacation, or simply traveling together with friends. Either way, teens can learn a lot about the world at large by actually experiencing it. They develop critical thinking skills, tolerance for others, communication in foreign languages, and an open-minded world view.
As a teen, I studied French in high school and got a rare opportunity to travel to Togo, and Benin Republic, two neighboring countries to Nigeria where French is the Lingua Franca. I also got traveled to Germany, the United Kingdom, and Greece as a young adult. All these countries shaped my life and my personality today. More recently, my children and I have visited Canada, The Bahamas, and Mexico. My eldest son toured Europe with the Stanford Orchestra last summer and came back a changed man. He sang praises about Europe and can’t wait to go back when he is older. His brother will sign up for a study abroad program with his Architecture class from Texas Tech next academic year. All three children have visited Nigeria numerous times.
I cannot overemphasize the power of travel to the developing mind. I am almost inclined to declare that “the traveler lives his or her life twice as much; first as themselves, then through the people, they meet in the course of their travels”.
Hang out with their friends
Summertime is a time for reconnection with (old) friends. Your teen should be allowed to travel with or simply hang out with their friends (vetted or not). Good friends balance you out as much as bad friends do, and teens can actually learn a lot about themselves through their friends.
Case in point: My middle son is already home from college. He asked to go hang out with his friends a few days ago. I let him take the car. He returned within an hour. Puzzled, I enquired about his early return home. He explained that his friends had decided to hang out at the pool and drink alcohol at 5pm in the afternoon! Since he does not drink alcohol, he opted to return home. I was filled with so much pride and admiration for him. He made the right call. The safe call, all on his own. He chose to not hang out with his friends that afternoon because he “knew they were going to eventually get drunk and he did not want to be around them”.
Having friends and feeling connected to a group gives teenagers a sense of belonging and being valued, which helps develop self-esteem and confidence. Friendships also help teenagers learn important social and emotional skills, like being sensitive to other people’s thoughts, feelings, and wellbeing. A teen’s friends can be a powerful influence, positive or negative, and the teen must know when to say no to the negative influences of such friends.
In all, allow your teens to live their lives out loud this summer. You have done most of the hard work, the rest is on them. Remember to listen to words said and unsaid, and in all things, live your best life as a parent, so they can emulate you, their first and most important teacher.
“You become the choices that you make, so choose wisely” ~ Dr. Lulu