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What Should Teens Be Doing in the Summer?

Thought Leadership, General – 3/13/2017

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It’s only March, but summer is just around the corner. Should teens be considering a summer job? According to Richard Weissbourd, a lecturer and research at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education quoted in this Quartz article, the answer is a resounding “yes!” Weissbourd doesn’t necessarily recommend a high-profile internship, either. He believes teens benefit much more from jobs in the service industry, where they get to see life through “a radically different lens.”

“The lessons are huge,” said Richard Weissbourd, a lecturer and researcher at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. “You see how hard people work, how rude and unthinking people can be to them.”

“It’s a real lesson in how to treat people,” he added.

But wouldn’t activities like coding camps, international volunteer opportunities, SAT prep, or other enrichment activities boost kids’ college applications more than a job flipping burgers? Not necessarily.

Irena Smith, a former Stanford admissions officer who now runs a private college-consulting practice in Palo Alto, recalled a student whose stand-out essay was about her summers working in fast-food. “Given the population of students I see, she probably shone like a diamond in the applicant pool at Harvard,” she told the Atlantic.

The student was accepted at many Ivy League schools—not because of the job, but because of the way she viewed the world and captured it in her writing. But the job helped her develop the perspective. “Kids think summers are part of the community service Olympics, that it’s about finding a high-profile, impressive activity,” said Weissbourd. “That’s not what colleges care about.”

Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Stanford Dean and author of How To Raise An Adult, thinks that parents should resist the trend of encouraging (or expecting) their kids to use the summers for résumé-building. In a blog piece for The New York Times online, she made the case for unstructured summers:

… I want summer to feel like summer again. Childhood to feel like childhood again. Children to be just plain children again. Unfettered by adults’ fears. Unshackled from adults’ expectations. Free to play — yes, even as teenagers — free to live their own lives and learn something about who they are, and who they hope to be. I hope my own children might spend summer running around with friends, then come home breathless and wide-eyed from adventure, in an afternoon that would turn into evening, with little regard for bedtime or what was on the schedule for tomorrow. I want 10 weeks of deep breaths and exhales.

“Summertime” once meant something really quite special. With its sunshine and downtime, ice cream and made-up games, summertime was once the confluence of a child’s every desire and the catalyst for tremendous growth. What bloomed there was resourcefulness, imagination and something that is so scarce even amid plenty today: a sense of self.

There are many different perspectives about what’s best for teens to do in the summer. However, only you and your teen can figure out what’s right for your family. For teens, making a choice about what to do in the summer should be about what’s best aligned with their personal goals and passions. For some, it may indeed be a job in the service industry or elsewhere. For some, a summer school course or volunteer activity may still be the best fit. It’s important to consider all the options – there are many different ways to get the most out of a summer off. In the end, the answer will look different for every teen and every family.

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