Crazy Summer Days: Keeping Teens Busy through July and August

Grace Fox

Our kitchen looked and smelled like a bakery. Fourteen apple pies cooled on the counter. Cardboard boxes were packed with dinner rolls, caramel corn, chocolate chip cookies, mini banana loaves, biscotti, and pretzels—homemade goodies destined for the local farmer's market.

My teenage daughter, Stephanie, and I surveyed the results of our 12-hour baking marathon.

"Mission accomplished!" Stephanie said.

Mission accomplished in more ways than one, I thought. You're ready for tomorrow's market, but you've also found something to keep you busy this summer.

As summer vacation approached, Stephanie sought retail and fast-food work, but when her searching yielded no jobs, I began to feel anxious. She's too old to sit around the house all day, I said to myself. She needs to do something productive.

Fortunately, Stephanie felt the same way. One afternoon, after another unfruitful job search, she decided to sell baked goods at the Saturday morning farmer's market. Her plan worked. A potentially boring and frustrating summer (for teen and parent alike) became an opportunity for her to learn new skills and earn money in the process.

Keeping teens busy in the summer is a challenge. They've abandoned the sandbox and outgrown the plastic pool in the backyard.

They've entered adolescence and with it, an awkward stage—they're too old to play all day but too young, perhaps, for an employer to hire. What are the options?

Having raised three teenagers, I know it's possible to overcome that challenge and turn a teen's summer from flat to fantastic. Here are several suggestions:

* Attend summer camp either as campers or in the leadership training programs. The latter often run for several weeks. Most programs include discipleship courses and teach participants to lead group games, share their testimonies and perhaps co-counsel in a tent or cabin during children's camps. They also provide teens with positive college-age role models.

* Get involved in vacation Bible school. These church programs need volunteers to baby-sit, teach classes and crafts, serve snacks, lead games and perform skits.

* Participate in cross-cultural summer missions. When our youngest child was 17, she spent nearly three weeks in Mexico teaching Bible clubs under her youth pastor's supervision. Involvement in missions helps teens develop an understanding of God's heart for the world. It also helps them discern their spiritual gifts and sometimes moves them toward career choices.

* Volunteer in the community. Explore possibilities at the local community center, the parks and recreation department, public library, animal shelter, or the hospital.

* Develop entrepreneurial skills. Creative teens can make and sell crafts such as jewelry, candles, and greeting cards. Farmers' markets provide a great venue, as do craft fairs and local shops willing to sell on consignment.

* Teach music lessons. A friend's 15-year-old son plays the drums and earns money by teaching weekly half-hour drum lessons to beginner students.  

* Adopt a grandma or grandpa. On Stephanie's non-baking days, she visited the local nursing home and played checkers or card games with the residents. Their appreciation made the effort worthwhile.

* Do odd jobs. Does an elderly neighbor need a fence painted or weeds pulled? Could a single mom use help mowing her lawn, or does she need a break on a Saturday afternoon? Knock on neighbors' doors or ask church folks if they have work they need done. Churches can help network by printing a list of teenagers' names and phone numbers in their bulletins.

* Host a garage sale. Clean out the attic and empty the storage room. Sort, clean, and price items. Then make posters and have a sale. 

* Learn life skills. Hectic schedules during the school year often make it hard for students to help prepare dinners. Summer is different. Let them plan the dinner menus, buy the necessary ingredients and cook the meals.

* Encourage interests and natural abilities through sports camps, music festivals, swimming lessons, writing or drama classes. Check the local community center or newspaper for listings.

Keeping a teenager busy in the summer is no small feat. It often requires a parent's supervision or involvement, and it can sometimes be inconvenient. Stephanie's baking project proved time-consuming for me but it also carried a bonus: several hours each week to discuss friendships, goals, music, and other topics while we worked in the kitchen. 

As parents, we can encourage our teens to develop their strengths and venture beyond their comfort zones. Perhaps they'd love to participate in a new opportunity but they're afraid of failure or of the unknown. We can help them overcome their uncertainty by praying with them and reassuring them that God is able to accomplish great things through those who trust Him.

Summer doesn't have to be boring or frustrating. With prayer and planning, this season can provide a wide-open window of learning for teens.

June 25, 2010

Grace Fox is the author of four books including 10-Minute Time Outs for Moms (Harvest House Publishers). She's also a popular international speaker at women's events and the national co-director of International Messengers Canada ( , a ministry that offers creative short-term and career opportunities in Eastern Europe. Visit her website at Read her devotional blog at