summer teens

The Relief, Frustration & Opportunities of Summer

The end of the school year can bring a host of feelings to students and their parents…

As students transition from the structure and routine of school to the possibilities of summer.

For children, parents usually arrange summertime programs such as day camp or other development programs in areas such as art, sports, and science.

But when these same kids become teenagers, parents can’t simply decide what they’re going to do and sign them up.

Teens have their own ideas and expect to be able to make decisions more on their own. And that’s because teens are now on the path to adulthood, that stage of life when they will be making the lion’s share of decisions on their own:

  • Where they go,
  • what they do,
  • and how they do it will all take place without parental oversight.

A successful young adult can set goals, make plans, and execute against those plans. Given that adulthood is coming up quickly, adolescence should be seen as the time to learn these critical skills.

And the ten weeks or so of summertime creates a perfect opportunity to do just that.

No More Sleeping In & Hanging Out

Many kids however, will want to avoid making plans. They’re living in the moment and relishing the feeling of relief that comes with school ending.

They’ll often say:

“I just want to relax, sleep in and hang out with my friends.”

Well, as parents, we know how that will work out. With no structure our kids will turn into blobs of lethargy and when they do get going, it often spells trouble.

With no structure our kids will turn into blobs of lethargy and when they do get going, it often spells trouble.Click To Tweet

“I saw this great computer programming camp that you’d love. You’re so good with computers,” says Mom.

“But I don’t know any of those kids. Besides, I know plenty about computers. I don’t need a camp,” says the teenager.

And so it goes with parents trying to encourage planning and engagement with their kids, and kids resisting.

If you’ve read in my earlier blog posts, you know that I’ll warn you against the danger of getting into a chronic struggle with your teen… lest it become a full on Control Battle, or a counterproductive relationship where parents and teens are unable to solve problems and make progress together.

I don’t mean to disparage teenagers.

Many are very motivated and clear about what they want to do. Many have jobs or plans, such as summer sport teams, community theater, and so forth.

And those teenagers that don’t have plans or the desire to plan, have enormous potential that would be unlocked in the very activities they are resisting.

So let’s take a look at how parents can successfully engage their teenagers and move past the struggle into successfully planning their summer.

Have an Open-Ended Discussion…

Some kids will have strong and positive ideas for their summer, but may be unable to convert those ideas into specific goals and plans.

For instance a teen might say, “I want to earn some money or I want to work on getting my car running.”

But any questions about how much money or what kind of job, or how are they going to go about getting their car running might be answered with, “I don’t know… why are you bugging me?”

Other kids can be clear about exactly the activities they want to do and have the talent for putting those ideas into action. With all kids however, it’s good to have a discussion about what the plans are and the details for implementation.

The first thing to do is have an open-ended discussion with your teenager.

The first thing to do is have an open-ended discussion with your teenager.Click To Tweet

Here are some ways to have that discussion, and some areas to cover.

Start by asking for their thoughts about what they want to do or accomplish this summer. No matter what they say, validate their thoughts and feelings.

For instance…

Teen: “I just want to kickback and hang out with my friends. I need some down time.”

Parent: “Of course you do… that makes perfect sense. How much kickback time were you thinking about and what else would you like to have happen?”

But avoid this…

“I’m not going to have you hanging around doing nothing all summer, young lady!”

Talk about the importance of using the summer to one’s best advantage. This is a values discussion and by focusing on values, it makes things less personal and invites less resistance.

Try this…

“I know you’re tired from school, sweetheart, so relaxing makes sense. Yet the school year is a time when kids have a lot of structure and not a lot of choices. Summer is a time where you can create your own structure and invest in things that you want to do. It’s important not to squander that opportunity. Let’s talk about some of the options and opportunities that make sense for you — that you’d like to take advantage of.”

Sometimes you will need to be firm.

“You absolutely are going to need to involve yourself in some productive things, so let’s take a look at some options.”

Here are some ideas and some of the benefits they offer.


Jobs help kids learn responsibility away from their parents. They’re accountable to their employer and often learn that their effort is very important to a business.

In the case of childcare, it helps kids learn they can make a difference to others and puts them in the position of being a role model and authority. Teens can feel great about having their own money and it offers them the opportunity to learn money management.

Make sure that there is a money management plan in place so all of their earnings don’t go into and quickly out of their pockets. Think long-term savings — car, college — short-term savings — guitar, bicycle — and pocket money — movies, pizza.


Volunteer jobs give kids many of the vital lessons of paid jobs. Kids learn that others count on them and they can make a difference. It gives kids a sense of their value.

Specialized Camps

Sports, music, art, and technology all give kids a chance to delve deeper into an area they care about. It gives them a concentrated period of time to really focus and develop their knowledge and skills.

It also gives kids experience making new friends who have common areas of interest, yet might be from different schools, locations and cultures. It expands them socially.


Visiting a relative in a different city or town gives kids a chance to deepen extended family relationships and gives parents and teens a break from each other. Often kids behave better away from their parents and it breaks bad habits.

Family Vacations

Think of family vacations with children and teens more as adventures than as vacations.


Because they are often not relaxing but they do add significantly to shared family history. They offer a chance for you and your teens to engage life and each other out of your routine and share new experiences together.

If you’re open to it, include kids in making the choice about where to vacation. If the destination is set, invite input into what the activities will be.


Whether it’s at a camp, a family camping trip, or older teens going off by themselves, using the opportunity of summertime to get into nature is a wonderful thing. It gets us away from the tyranny of technology and gets us into the beauty and simplicity of nature.

We get reminded of who we are at a more essential level and being in nature is important to gain perspective and renewal. Help your kids find the time and means to experience nature.


If your teenager is having significant and chronic behavior problems such as substance abuse, delinquent behavior, self-cutting, even debilitating depression, using the summer months for a treatment program can be an important shift on the road to health.

There are many kinds of programs designed for teenagers with specific issues. Contact a licensed placement professional to make sure you’re making the best choice.

A more engaged role in the family during summer can be important, too. Kids can play a bigger role in home life such as menu planning, shopping, cooking, cleaning, yard work, animal care, and home projects. All of these activities teach skills important for their independence and they build self-esteem.

So if you’re teen is not managing their summer well, don’t allow yourself to become frustrated and helpless. Help them make choices, plans and structures.

These are the skills they will need in their next stage of life.

What will your son or daughter be doing this summer?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Posted in Parenting.


  1. Thanks for adding to this conversation, Dr. Burdick.

    Yes, outdoor programs can support kids who are at an important crossroad in their development. And with your assistance, I’ve seen and been part of amazing adolescent and young adult transformations. As I’ve written about extensively, if there has been a Parent-Teen Control Battle or “Beast” in the family, changing that dynamic will allow the placement to have a long term positive impact.

    If the young person returns to the same family dynamic and negative peer culture, the positive impact will predictably evaporate.

    Kids who are doing reasonably well but need a boost also can benefit from programs designed to enhance their social skills, leadership, and self esteem.

    – Neil

  2. I’m that Licensed professional consultant that can help make those decisions about unique and motivating, if not compelling outdoor experiences. Not all meet the same objectives; it’s not a one size fits all. As you know Neil, using a therapist such as yourself in concert with my own recommendation makes it a ‘win-win’ for both the client and the family. I hope to see more of this type of conversation on the blog as you gear up for the big release of your book on control battles. Programs are a meaningful part of solving family battles, and visit my website : for more information on the subject. [sorry had to get a plug in!]

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