Choosing the Right Summer Plan

In the last two posts in this series on Summer Choices for Teens, we’ve guided you on how to align your goals with your teen on summer plans and suggested ways to put those goals into action. Once you and your teen have discussed the type of summer plan that will help you all achieve your goals for the summer, choosing a specific strategy that will meet these goals is vital for a positive summer experience.  While it is imperative that teens explore options and complete the application processes themselves, they are still teens, and need adult guidance when considering issues of safety, structure, finances, and responsibility.

Whether your teen is looking at a summer job, summer school, volunteering, or camp, safety is the top priority.  All programs should have adequate supervision from a boss, a teacher, a volunteer coordinator, or a camp staff member.  Employers must follow all laws and regulations regarding youth labor.  Specifics of youth labor are part of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and important details can be found on the Department of Labor’s website. Summer camps accredited by the American Camp Association follow strict guidelines on everything from supervision to equipment to philosophy.  When deciding on a summer camp, look for the American Camp Association accreditation, and ask for references. Check out this link to learn more  about choosing a safe camp.

While it’s important to be sure to pick a safe program, it’s also important to remember that your teen will be making many decisions this summer that have the potential to impact their safety.  Be sure you have an honest conversation with your teen about decision-making, personal values, and family expectations.   Let your teen know that you are counting on them to make safe decisions at home, at school, at camp and on the job.

Summer jobs and programs come in all sizes.  Together, you and your teen should look at the overall structure of the summer.  Will their new summer job allow for the family vacation that has already been planned?  Will your teen honestly have enough down time if he chooses to take summer classes, volunteer at the animal shelter, and get a part-time job?  Is six weeks at summer camp too long for your traditionally homesick teen?  Is the very flexible volunteering opportunity with limited oversight right for your teen with ADHD?  Is three hours of planned time a week enough?  Help your teen reflect on such questions, and also make your own expectations clear.  If you need your teen to help with siblings, or if you are uncomfortable with your teen having lots of unsupervised time, make sure they work that into the structure of their summer. This way, your teen will better assess and understand their commitments.  Make it very clear that you expect them to complete any obligations to which they agree.  And then allow them to make their decisions, even if you feel they are making a mistake.  Making mistakes can be important learning opportunities, and will help the teen prepare for adulthood.

Summer plans can range from being profitable to being very expensive.  Have an honest conversation with your teen about your financial expectations of them.  In addition, your teen needs to understand the extent of your financial ability to pay for camps or other possible activities. If you expect the teen to help cover the costs of their summer experience, that needs to be honestly discussed as well. Remember that transportation to and from commitments costs money as well, and be sure they factor that into any decisions they make.

Many employers begin hiring for the summer in late winter and early spring.  Summer camp registrations often open in January.  Summer school plans may require a multi-step application process.  Help your teen set out a timeline that gives him or her the greatest chance of having his or her first choice in summer experiences.

The level of responsibility teens can, or want to, handle varies from teen to teen.  Make sure your teen comes up with a plan that matches their abilities and interest.  But don’t underestimate them. It’s a delicate balance between encouraging them to stretch themselves and advising them not to over commit. You must also be strong in order to send a message to your teen that responsible adults carry through on their commitments. This means you must be willing to live with no bail-outs, or as camp directors say, no pick up deals.  If a parent says to a nervous teen on the way to camp, “Just try it out for a few days, and if you don’t like it, I’ll come and get you,” it sends the message that the parent doesn’t believe his or her teen is capable of working through difficult times without the parent’s help.  Send a strong message that you believe in your teen by holding him or her to the responsibilities they have committed to.

Making summer plans with your teen may be harder than it was when they were younger, but there are many benefits to planning a well-thought out, goal-oriented summer with your teen. No matter what the immediate result of the summer looks like come August, evaluating goals and making plan is a life skill your teen will carry with them forever.


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.