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Summer Opportunities for Teens

Attention students — summer is here!

Unless you were raised on a farm, summers probably bring to mind camp, sports teams, and long, lazy days hanging out with nothing to do but complain about being bored. Not bad, eh? But, at some point during adolescence, most people discover that they’ve outgrown camp, that teams only take up part of the day, and that summer (after the first week or so of luxuriating in unlimited sleep-time) looks like a long stretch of nothing much to do. So, what’s the alternative?

If you’re as smart as you look, you’ll probably find summer work (paid or unpaid) or other novel experiences that will help you grow as a person and increase your skills. Summer is a wonderful time-out from the hectic pace and pressures of school, a golden moment and a golden opportunity to try something new.

Challenge Yourself!

Summertime can be the time to break your own mold and take on a personal challenge, to find out what you’re made of physically, intellectually, artistically, or spiritually. Even if you have to ring up a cash register eight hours a day to afford your next year of college, you still have another eight hours each day (or more if you’re lucky enough not to need a lot of sleep) to pursue a personal goal.

Perhaps you’ve always wanted to: try out an outdoor survival program; go down a river on a raft; climb a really high mountain; learn some yoga; or go on a spiritual journey. Wouldn’t it be great to take up an instrument, try some voice lessons, join a community theatre group, or learn how to tap dance?

That all sounds terrific, you may say, but how do I begin this pursuit? Your hometown newspaper is a good place to start; articles and advertisements can help you find opportunities locally. The Internet can broaden your search and help you to find Outward Bound courses; adventure tours; opportunities in music, dance, and theatre; or spiritual retreat centers.

Last year at this time, Marilyn was looking at her fifth consecutive summer selling clothing at the mall. Although she enjoyed meeting with her friends after work and certainly liked the paycheck, she felt she was going nowhere. As a little kid, Marilyn had been in some musicals but she’d been “too chicken” to audition for the local outdoor theatre group. In the late spring, however, she got up the nerve and gave it a try.

That summer, Marilyn spent her days helping customers in the mall, but her evenings were happily occupied with rehearsals for the chorus of Anything Goes. This summer, she’s looking forward to another show and a larger part. Asked what it’s like, Marilyn replies, “I’m meeting new people and having a great time. Best of all, I found that working on stage is helping me conquer my fear of talking in class.”

Perform a Service

Non-profit organizations never, ever have enough money to do the good works they are set up to do. Organizations such as these provide you with an ideal opportunity to help yourself by helping others. Take a fresh look at some of your own interests and think about what you can offer to a local charity, a camp for special kids, a hospital, nursing home, religious organization, or park. Put your heart into your work and find new heart within yourself.

John has never liked school. Never. He has rarely done well and finds sitting in class pure torture. It’s hard to know what came first — the dislike or the not doing well. Either way, the school year isn’t much fun for him. The year before last, however, the one bright spot in his day was sculpture class. He loved the mess and spontaneity of clay, metals, pieces of wood, and paper-mache.

Thanks to a teacher who noticed that John somehow made it to his class even when he didn’t show up at others, John spent last summer teaching kids with cancer to use art as a way to manage their pain. The experience didn’t make him like school any better, but it did put his problems in a whole new light. And, for the first time in a long time, John felt that maybe there was work he could enjoy doing. In fact, he’s going back this summer. The camp has made him assistant director of the arts cabin.

Develop Your Skills

Here’s something you may not have noticed — the people who are the most successful in the world of work are the people who know how to do three things:

  1. Manage people: They can organize people to do things, bring out the best in others, and/or help people resolve conflicts;
  2. Manage “stuff”: They’re whizzes at figuring out what supplies are needed to do a job, ordering them, arranging them, keeping records, and keeping things neat; and
  3. Manage money: They excel at creating a budget, fundraising, spending money, and being able to account for it.

Most schools teach “subjects.” They don’t systematically teach these crucial management skills. Some teens are lucky enough to fall into a school organization or sports team where leadership is important. Others get their first taste of management through organizing a school dance or trip. Still others work their way up through the ranks of scouts or a church youth group. But most of us have to go out of our way to find opportunities to learn and practice making things happen.

Summer can be your personal “third semester,” a time when you design a curriculum for yourself to learn how to be an effective manager. Find a project. Find a mentor. And take on as much responsibility as you can handle.

Ian talked the campaign manager for one of the candidates for governor of his state into letting him intern for the summer. He’s learning how politics work by being close to the action. Jan has been a swimming teacher at the local pool for three years now. This year, she is taking on the job of assistant director to broaden her skills. Tony is taking on a management position at the retail shop he staffed last year. Angel is working as assistant director for a playground program in his community.

Ian, Jan, Tony, and Angel are each going to earn far more than a paycheck this summer — they are going to get a head start developing the habits and know-how that will help them achieve success in whatever fields they ultimately choose.

It’s your summer — three or four lo-o-o-o-ng months to call your own. How will you stake your claim to this golden opportunity?

Summer Opportunities for Teens

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2020). Summer Opportunities for Teens. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.