a peek inside the fishbowl

04 Jul, 2018

How do you keep your favourite teenager busy over the summer?

Posted by andrea tomkins in: parenting

Our two daughters have been employed since they were 14 and I can’t begin to describe how positive of an experience it has been for them. It’s also been great for us, the parents. Their wages contribute quite a bit to our household. It’s not as if they’re handing over their wages, that’s not what I mean at all, but it means that we’re not forking over an allowance or doing all of the heavy lifting as it pertains to saving for their university educations.

As an added bonus working teens are, obviously, gainfully occupied. Besides the financial incentive, they’re gaining responsibility and very important life skills, not to mention, getting a head start on their resumes and university applications.

But what if teens can’t find work or are under-employed (in other words, not working full-time hours over the summer)? I would love to start a conversation here and generate some ideas for parents who are looking for an answer.

Under-employed teens can’t realistically spend the summer lounging around the house and/or watching Netflix and surfing their Instagram accounts. Downtime is important and everyone deserves a break over summer, but binge-watching Buffy for the third time is neither a healthy nor productive way of spending that downtime.

I was at an event a couple weeks ago and Alyson Shafer, a therapist, published author, and parenting expert mentioned the idea of summer goals. I really liked this idea. I want my teens to choose their own activities and goals because as we all know, if the parents choose for them it’s doomed to fail.

So what can a teenager do over the summer? And how can we make this seem like it’s their idea? ;)

  • Double-check their mandated volunteer hours and get ’em done.
  • … or volunteer for a cause they are passionate about.
  • They can teach themselves something new based on existing interests. It could be a new sport, cooking, sewing, drawing, ukulele, coding, animation, skateboarding. Anything!
  • They can focus on getting active: download an app and undertake Couch-to-5K training, spend an hour walking with a new podcast every day, meet up with a friend to play tennis, do laps at the pool, sign up for yoga classes. How much can be accomplished in one hour every day? (Answer, more than you think.)
  • They can start a side gig: dog walking/pet care, child care, lawn and yard maintenance, making jewelry, reselling vintage clothes. There are so many cool things they can do to earn a few extra bucks.
  • Read! I don’t know if teens are reading enough, are they? I use Goodreads to track my reading and I have a yearly goal. It’s fun to challenge my friends and it gives me the added motivation to keep reading.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue. Are your teens busy this summer? What are they up to? Do you plan their busyness or do they? Or maybe your kids aren’t quite teens yet but you already have ideas. If so, I’d love to hear them.

5 Responses to "How do you keep your favourite teenager busy over the summer?"

1 | Laura

July 4th, 2018 at 3:44 pm


Our 14 yr old just had a $10 trial kickboxing lesson at Douvris and he wants to sign up for their 4 month promo and he’s all signed up again for the free teen GoodLife summer membership… Now to make sure he doesn’t sleep away the days and gets there regularly. ???

2 | andrea tomkins

July 4th, 2018 at 4:17 pm


I like this idea! Getting there regularly might be a challenge until he decides he loves it… right??? :)

3 | andrea tomkins

July 5th, 2018 at 4:53 pm


Update: any suggestion of goals MAY be met with eye rolls so proceed with caution. Sigh. If goals aren’t their idea, it’s not going to happen. :/

4 | Lynn

July 10th, 2018 at 1:53 pm


Love these ideas! Our oldest is doing the Leadership Camp with the city for July – it is 20 days of instruction and they get first aid certification and all the training they need to be a camp counselor for the city, plus a full week of volunteer work which fulfills their full volunteer commitment. I’m hoping it will lead to a job for next summer.

Where did your girls work when they were only 14?

5 | andrea tomkins

July 11th, 2018 at 10:24 am


That sounds awesome Lynn! It’s really cool when it comes together like this for them, especially regarding future work.

At 14, our youngest worked as a hostess in a restaurant and the other kid worked at a city day camp. :)

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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