What are your teen’s plans for this summer?
Immediately after the end of the school year, many high school & college students feel burned out from all of their final papers & exams, AP tests, and SAT/ACTs, and all they want to do is have free time to rest and relax. But, once they’ve had a couple of weeks off from school and have had a chance to catch up on sleep & hang out with their friends, it can be worthwhile to set aside some time with them to discuss their goals for the summer.
In addition to relaxing & having fun — which are also important goals! — having at least one additional area to focus their time & energy on over the summer can help minimize boredom, increase energy, and give teens a sense of purpose & accomplishment.
Here are 9 potential ‘focus areas’ your teen could consider for the summer…
1. Pursue existing interests or strengths
Taking a “strengths” focused approach with students can be great for building their confidence, and increasing feelings of competence & accomplishment. It’s also relatively easy to get teens motivated to build on their strengths, because it’s already an existing area of interest. As an added bonus, activities that give students a chance to further develop their strengths can look great on college resumes, and give students a better idea of what they might want to focus on in their careers. Developing interests can be done through a formal internship or summer program (e.g. http://www.idtech.com/). Or, students can create their own learning program at home, through books & online learning sites (e.g., Coursera, Khan Academy, Udacity, Alison, Open University), or experiential projects (e.g. building a home computer or meeting with a family friend to learn how to repair cars). Or, they could get together with a couple of friends to create their own informal summer program.
2. Try something new
Another approach would be for your teen to focus on getting out of his or her comfort zone, and trying something new. For example, a shy student might sign up for drama classes, or a student who’s never been very active could create a personal fitness program or join a running club. Students who take this approach will probably feel a bit uncomfortable at times, but they will also experience a great deal of personal growth, and will strengthen their belief in their ability to handle challenges. With this focus, the idea is to do something that’s just a couple of “steps” outside of their comfort zone… so it’s a little scary and unfamiliar, but not completely terrifying. As they gain confidence in this new ability, students can become more comfortable with the idea of making mistakes & learning new things, and recognize that their skills are not set in stone—they can be improved through practice & effort (for more info on this, see my post on the growth mindset).
Working over the summer can be a great way to develop personal responsibility & life skills, and possibly also earn some extra money. At this point in the summer, some competitive internship & volunteer programs will already be filled. But there are still opportunities available to find part-time jobs at businesses like fast food restaurants, retail stores, and gyms. The best ways to find positions are generally to visit stores in person and ask if they are hiring, or connect with friends and family to ask if they know of any available positions. Searching online, through sites like http://www.snagajob.com/, can be another option.
Alternatively, teens can get creative and come up with their own jobs. Babysitting and mowing lawns are obvious options, but if you think outside the box, the options are endless: tutoring, baking cakes & cupcakes, running errands, pet sitting… if your teen puts his or her mind to it, he or she can probably come up with a number of possible ways to make some extra money over the summer!
If your teen is more interested in volunteer opportunities than part-time jobs, they could try checking out organizations like http://www.volunteennation.org/, http://www.volunteermatch.org/, or http://www.handsonatlanta.org/
4. Identify & explore potential careers
The summer can also be a great opportunity to explore potential career interests. If your teen already has a potential career in mind, and is able to set up an internship or summer job in that field, that would be ideal. But there are other options even if they can’t arrange a formal internship or job. They could shadow someone in the field for a day, or meet with a few professionals for informational interviews. Or they could take the “develop existing strengths” approach described above, and work improving their knowledge & expertise in their field of interest through reading books, working on projects or taking online classes.
If your teen has no idea what career would be a good fit for him or her, then the summer can be a wonderful opportunity to brainstorm potential ideas. The first step to identifying careers that will be a good fit for you is to learn more about your personality, interests, and strengths…and the summer is a great time for this type of self-discovery work. Starting a ‘career clues’ journal where students record observations about their likes & dislikes, interests, people they admire, etc. can be a great first step in this process. There are also a number of free online assessments students can use to identify careers that might be a good fit for their personality type & interests. Or, they could work with a career coach or counselor to start identifying potential majors and careers.
5. Develop useful skills & habits
The summer can be a great time for teens (or adults!) to embark on a self-improvement program, by making a list of habits or skills they’d like to develop or improve—for instance, being on time for appointments, getting more sleep, exercising regularly, being more organized, getting better at math, improving their vocabulary—or anything else they can think of!
Once they’ve got a list of things they’d like to improve, they can choose a few of them to develop over the summer. For this habit development plan to work, it needs to be something your teen creates for him or her self rather than something you put together for them. So, be cautious about making suggestions regarding habits or skills to add to the list; it can be easy for teens to interpret this type of input as criticism or disapproval, and lose interest in the whole idea.
Depending on the goals they have in mind, it may be helpful to get some additional support from a tutor or coach who can help your teen to help them identify areas to improve, brainstorm possible solutions, create action plans, and stay accountable for following through with their commitments.
If your teen is 15 or 16, summer is a great time to get driving practice and prepare for their driving test. If you find yourself constantly reminding your teen about making time to practice driving, it may be helpful to schedule a regular time in your family schedule for this practice time, or set up appointments with a driving instructor who can help your teen achieve this goal.
7. Prepare for the SAT or ACT (Rising juniors &/or seniors)
If your student is a rising junior, the summer can be a great time to start preparing for the SAT and/or ACT. For seniors who want to improve their test scores, it’s also a great focus area for the summer, since the fall tests will be their last chance to earn the scores they want before submitting their college applications. There aren’t any test dates offered in July or August — the first fall tests are in September (ACT) and October (SAT) — but getting started with test preparation over the summer can dramatically reduce students’ stress levels in the fall, when are already busy with their fall semester classes and extracurricular activities.
Ideally, before you start preparing for the SAT or ACT, it’s a good idea to identify which of these tests will be the best fit for your teen. If you’re not sure, many tutoring centers offer free SAT and ACT practice tests (also called “mock tests”) for students, so if you sign them up for one test of each type at the start of the summer, you can see which test is a better fit for them and then focus on preparing for that one. If your teen receives extended time or other accommodations at school, make sure to apply early for testing accommodations with the ACT and/or College Board (SAT) since it sometimes can take a while to get these requests approved. If your teen has a chance of qualifying for National Merit, preparing for the PSAT/SAT tests in the summer before Junior year will be especially valuable, since it will prepare them to do as well as possible on their PSAT’s in October. Here’s an estimate of what the National Merit Qualifying Scores will be for the new PSAT. If your teen is a rising Junior and their PSAT scores this year were within 100-200 points of that cutoff, preparing for the PSAT over the summer with the intention of aiming for National Merit would be a great goal.
If your teen is a rising senior and hasn’t finalized his or her college list, then visiting colleges and finalizing the list of colleges where they’ll be submitting applications would be a great project to focus on over the summer. This can also be a good time to start working on college essays, especially for students who are applying early action or early decision. College essays require much more self-awareness and introspection than many students are used to, and the writing style is very different from what they see in their classes. A single, well-written college essay can take 10-14 hours to complete, so students who wait until the school year to start, often find it challenging to fit this into their already busy fall schedule. Students who get started over the summer have a big advantage! Many schools don’t release their essay topics until August, but the 2016-17 Common App essay prompts will be the same as last year’s topics, so students can start working on them anytime!
9. Prepare to leave for college (Rising college freshmen)
If your teen graduated high school this year, then preparing for their first semester of college will be a valuable and important focus area for them this summer. This can include: establishing realistic expectations for what college will be like, setting goals for their first semester, creating & following a summer to-do list (packing, connecting with roommates, registering for classes, etc.) and developing skills that will be helpful during his or her first semester (laundry, managing finances, study skills, etc.).
Success in college requires a great deal of independence and personal responsibility, so encouraging teens to take ownership of their college college preparation process is a great way to start making this transition. However, leaving them completely to their own devices can sometimes mean that they don’t start thinking about packing or preparing for college until late in the summer.
For teens who are heading off to college it is a great idea to encourage them to start preparing for their freshman year in the summer, so they have more time to plan ahead, get ready to leave, and develop the skills & strategies they will need to be successful in their freshman year, so they are ready to hit the ground running when they get to campus in the fall. For some students, working with an Academic Life Coach over the summer to prepare for college in the Fall can be a great solution. If that is something you’re interested in learning more about for your teen, click here to set up a time to talk with me.