Achieving Summer Goals

Today we continue with a three-part series on summer choices for teens. Last week’s article provided parents with tips on how to discuss and prioritize summertime goals. Today’s post discusses ways in which parents can help teens reach those summer goals. Be sure to check back next Monday for information on how to choose the right summer plan! 

Achieving Summer Goals

Last week we provided an activity to get you and your teen talking about summer goals. Once you and your teen have discussed, compromised, and agreed on goals for the summer, it is time to decide which activities will help achieve these goals.  While there are many types of specialized programs available for teens in many communities, most of these programs fall into four basic categories: jobs, camps, school, and volunteering.

Summer Jobs
Potential Goals Achieved: Earn money, build resume, have fun, make new friends, spend time with old friends, gain new skills, improve old skills

Summer jobs offer many important benefits. Jobs teach teens about responsibility, the importance of being on time, and interpersonal skills.  They also have the additional benefit of providing an income source that may be necessary for the family, for educational goals, or for pocket money for your teen.  On the other hand, summer jobs may also limit other opportunities for your teen, as it can be difficult for temporary workers to have weeks off for vacation or camps.  If your teen decides to find a summer job, it’s vital that he or she  does the work involved in finding possible employers, asking for the application, and filling out the application him or herself.  If your teen is not responsible enough to handle the task of finding and applying for a job, they may not be ready to handle the job itself. You could be setting them up for job failure by taking over these important tasks.  Also, employers can usually tell when a parent has filled out the application.  For many teens, a summer job may be their first employment experience and, while scary, exciting, and new, this is an important developmental milestone that parents can facilitate in positive ways. For more information, read our post “Hi ho, Hi ho, It’s Off to Work Teens Go,” to determine if your teen is ready for work and how parents can help.

Summer Camps
Potential Goals Achieved: Earn money, build resume, have fun, make new friends, spend time with old friends, gain new skills, improve old skills, give back to community, train in sport or instrument, spend time with family

There are many, many different options when it comes to summer camps for teens.  Some programs actually combine aspects of a summer job within a camp setting. Counselor-in-Training (CIT) or Leader-in-Training (LIT) programs may even offer a stipend for teens who complete their programs.  Applying for these programs is similar to applying for jobs, and the teen should be responsible for contacting the camp, completing the application and ensuring that it is received by the camp before the deadline.  Deadlines for programs like this vary greatly, from mid-January all the way to early May, so it is important to begin this process early if your teen is interested in a leadership program.

Many camps have specialized travel camps for teens, either in wilderness or in urban settings, and may be focused on leadership, language acquisition, or service among other possibilities. These programs offer meaningful opportunities to acquire new skills, make new friends and develop life-long memories.  Unfortunately, travel camps are often expensive and may not be financially feasible for many families.  It is always important to check with the hosting organizations to see if they have scholarship opportunities.  As with all summer experiences, your teen should be actively involved in researching and applying to these camps.

Additionally, there are quite a few special interest summer camps for teens, many of which take place on college campuses.  Sports camps are a great way for athletes to meet potential college coaches while developing skills in an intensive environment.  Fine arts camps give musicians, dancers, writers, and visual artists an opportunity to learn from and develop relationships with professionals in their field, while pushing themselves to excel at their art.  Tech camps are great places for teens interested in computers and science to experience hardware and software that might not be accessible to them at home.  If your teen has a unique medical need, there may be a camp that specializes in that, providing an opportunity to have fun in a safe and supportive atmosphere.  All special interest camps have one thing in common: they allow teens with a specific interest to meet other teens who share that interest.  This may be a life changing and eye-opening experience for your teen. Many of these options and more can be found using a search tool  provided by ACA accredited camps.

Summer School
Potential Goals Achieved: Build resume, have fun, make new friends, spend time with old friends, gain new skills, improve old skills, complete service/school requirements, spend time with family

While summer school may not be a choice for some teens, it may still be part of a larger summer experience.  Remedial summer school may be necessary for your teen to graduate with his or her class.  Or perhaps driver education is offered for free during the summer at your local public school.  Or maybe your rising high school senior would like to get a jump on college credits by taking a class or two at the local community college.  One of the benefits of summer school is that it often leaves time for other activities such as a summer job, volunteering, or spending time with family and friends.  Your teen may struggle with the idea that the summer break from school will include time in the classroom, but that struggle carries a valuable life lesson.  A remedial summer school experience may be an appropriate way for your teen to experience the natural consequences of his or her actions during the school year.  A supplemental summer school experience, such as taking an advanced course, can give your teen an opportunity to see the benefits of future planning and determination.

Potential Goals Achieved: Build resume, have fun, make new friends, spend time with old friends, gain new skills, improve old skills, give back to community, spend time with family, complete service/school requirements

Volunteering is an excellent way for teens to look beyond themselves to the larger world, to develop empathy for their fellow humans, and to give back to their communities.  Volunteering is also a way for young teens to have a maturing summer experience as they meet the expectations set forth by the volunteer program.  Volunteering can also provide a way to explore potential career interests and could possibly lead to a paid position down the road if positive connections are made.

Finding the right place for your teen to volunteer is essential.  As with picking a camp, or applying for a summer job, your teen should take the responsibility for finding a volunteer opportunity; however, your help and input may be necessary, especially for young teens who may need permission or help with transportation.  Most teens work best in volunteer situations that are well structured, project oriented, and supervised.  Volunteering together may be an excellent opportunity for you to do something with your teen this summer, although be sure your teen has a central role in the project.

Many places of worship have volunteer opportunities specifically for teens, while hospitals, retirement communities and large non-profits also often have such programs. (LINK)is an excellent resource, and can help your teen find an organization that fits his or her interests.

While volunteering may be more flexible than a paid position, make sure your teen understands the extent of the commitment.  As with a job, taking on a volunteer role requires perseverance, even when the work is boring.  Volunteering can teach many of the same life lessons as a paid job, as long as your teen understands they are expected to arrive on time, complete the tasks set before them, and fulfill commitment to the organization.

Next week we’ll finish this Summer Plans series by talking about how to choose the right summer plan for you and your family. Until then, share with us your comments below:

Which types of summer programming activities did you participate as a teen? Which did you find most useful?


Article by Anne Henningfeld


Anne Henningfeld, MA, CTRS is a Recreation Therapist and the Managing Partner of Beyond Recreation, a consulting firm dedicated to creating opportunities for deep connection through recreation and leisure.  She currently develops programming and trains summer camp staff around the country.  She specializes in working with teens with specialized medical conditions, as well as providing life skills through the sport of gymnastics.  She is the younger of two daughters, and an aunt to three amazing boys.