As winter finally starts to fade, and the dingy snow piles shrink down to reveal crocuses and other green wonders, I am always struck by how quickly the season passes. March snow storms have a way of making us feel like like summer may just not happen this year. Yet, at the same time, it feels like we were just trick-or-treating last month, and cleaning up Christmas gift wrap only yesterday.

This may have something to do with the fact that only yesterday, in fact, did I actually put the last of my Christmas and winter decorations back into their storage bins. As I tucked away the stockings, garlands, and pines cones, swapping them for birds’ nests, tulips, and sea shells, I stopped to consider all that will transpire in our hectic lives before my next decor adjustment. (This happens only 2-3 times a year in my house. I can’t handle decorating for specific holidays.)

April means spring should be well underway, and summer is merely two or three months out, depending when your kids get out of school.

I cannot wait for summer, yet I fear how quickly it will arrive.

There is so much to do before school ends. Over the years, I have tried several approaches to summer vacation. I love to create a good list and a detailed schedule, so some years we’ve had bucket lists and morning routines posted prominently by day one. But these tools never quite fit for my kids, so other years I have skipped them, deciding instead to “see what happens” and then fill in the gaps as needed. My kids love this approach at the start of the summer…but not so much by the end.

How do we best strike the delicate balance required to truly enjoy the summer? This year it looks like my kids will have an even ten weeks from the last day of school until the first. That’s 70 days to fill with enough downtime to reenergize and enjoy the slower pace, but also enough structure to keep those hearts, minds, and hands actively engaged.

My own children are fast approaching what I call the “black hole” of summer years…too old for day camp and too young for traditional summer jobs. What on earth will they do? How will I keep them off their phones? If I limit the phones, will I spend my whole summer just driving them around, or waiting for a text about where I need to drive them next? I can’t even.

 Since I spend a good amount of my summer teaching teenagers how to apply to college, I have a keen awareness of how many of them spend their ten weeks off. It breaks down something like this:
  • Weeks 1-4: Yay! Summer is eternal. Work or sleep in; text; work or see friends; hang around and stay up late; repeat.
  • Weeks 5-6: Family bonding through staycation, vacation, or simply mom or dad’s insistence they not be out 24/7 any longer.
  • Week 7: How did this happen? Beach or pool every day as sports/music/school start soon.
  • Weeks 8-9: Extended practice or prep for school activities, including sports camps or double sessions; freshman mentor activities; music and drama auditions.
  • Week 10: Panic about the summer reading and school assignments to start and finish; shopping.
Is there anything wrong with this?

Not really…it is pretty much what summer looks like for teenagers, regardless of how they fill the specific hours of their days.

So what can we, as parents, do to prepare for this, and possibly help our kids look back on summer with nostalgia and no regrets? It is not entirely possible, of course, but we can try.

There is only one mistake I consistently see families make when it comes to Summer: the Teen Years, and it is a simple one.

So, what is this mistake you want to avoid?

When your child meets a new teacher or an old friend on the first day of school, and they ask, “so, what did you do this summer?”

YOUR TEENAGER NEEDS TO HAVE AN ANSWER. A real answer.

This means she needs to DO something with her summer. Anything, really.

The further your child is through the teen years, the longer his “how I spent my summer” answer should be. Progressive summers may look something like this:

  • Age 13 – Little League baseball, family trip to Maine, watered the neighbors’ plants while they traveled
  • Age 14 – Little League baseball, family trip to Maine, mowed lawns and cared for pets for 3 families
  • Age 15 – Travel baseball, family trip to Maine, grounds crew at golf course for 10 hrs/week
  • Age 16 – Grounds crew at golf course for 25 hrs/week; started golf lessons; driver’s ed
  • Age 17 – Grounds crew at golf course for 35 hrs/week; coached Little League baseball; SAT prep course

The thing is, she really doesn’t have to be preparing for a career or a PhD. She just needs to do something. She also doesn’t have to do the same thing every year. If she hated scooping ice cream, let her be a camp counselor. (She just may appreciate that old ice cream job pretty quickly!)

Here’s what I suggest for surviving your teenager’s summer, and how I’ll be coaching my almost-eighth grader this year:
  1. Encourage your teen to find a consistent activity.
  2. Encourage your teen to read.
  3. Encourage your teen to write.
  4. Encourage your teen not to forget the math they learned last year.
  5. Remind yourself your teen will not possibly do all of the above, or even most of it.
  6. Limit your motherly reminders about summer reading/coursework and athletic workouts to twice per week, and tell your child in advance you are going to do so, to save you both from the torture of nagging.
  7. When there is too much on your schedule, give yourself permission to eliminate something in the name of summer freedom.
  8. Go outside, and encourage your teen to join you.
  9. Cut yourself some slack when the last week arrives and your teen has not done everything. That wasn’t even the goal. Surely they did something.
As eager as I always am for summer to begin, I tend to be downright giddy by the time it ends, and life returns to the stability of a school routine, and someone with more authority than me can finally make my children do some math again.