Courtesy of Operation Parent
–By Lora White

It’s a fact of life today that most teens will be on their own during the long days of summer. With parents working and extended families rarely living in the same town, it’s inconvenient if not impossible to have young people supervised when school is out. Fortunately, there are ways to make summer relaxed and productive for parents and teens alike. The keys are communication and planning.

Depending on your kid’s age and transportation needs, consider the following:

  • Money-making opportunities. Kids of all ages can find odd jobs doing yard work, pet and/or vacation house sitting, house cleaning, washing cars or babysitting younger children. Check with neighbors, the school guidance office, community center, church bulletins boards and local want ads for people seeking help. Get creative and put flyers in neighborhood mailboxes offering services. What about pet walking? Window washing? Setting up a car wash in the parking lot of mom or dad’s office building?
  • Camp. With more and more parents in the work force, the number of both day and residential summer camps is growing. Camps are a great way to combine social life with personal and intellectual growth and are becoming increasingly specialized. Be on the lookout for camps geared to specific sports, technology and college preparation.
  • Classes. Whether your teen is interested in art, karate, cooking or rock climbing, you can find a class to keep him or her inspired. Your local community center is a great place to find classes. Junior colleges, art schools and the YMCA are other good resources.Volunteer Work. There is no shortage of organizations looking for good people to help out, even if just for a few afternoons. Your local library, rest homes, shelters and parks and recreation services no doubt need extra hands. In many communities, you can also find volunteer opportunities online.

If your teen must spend some summer hours alone, it’s crucial to establish guidelines that will ease your mind without making your kid feel like a prisoner. A primary concern when leaving children of any age alone is safety. Law enforcement recommends that parents instruct teens to:

  • Keep the doors locked at all times and not let anyone in unless it has been cleared by you.
  • Never let anyone, even phone callers, know they are home alone.
  • Not enter the house if anything looks suspicious or if someone is following them.

If possible, parents should find a neighbor who is home during the day and is willing to be available to the teen should he or she need help. Also, keep a list of emergency phone numbers by the telephone. In an emergency, even “grown up” kids can panic and not remember phone numbers.

Another concern for parents who leave teens home alone is the chance that kids might engage in questionable activities with their peers. While it’s impossible to monitor teens continually if you’re away trying to work, setting clear guidelines and establishing your expectations is the best way to avoid problems. Discuss with your teen which, if any, friends will be allowed to come over when you are away. To prevent marathon sessions of video games or Internet surfing, draw up a list of chores and responsibilities you’d like your teen to take care of each day. If you’re comfortable doing so, reward his or her attention to these tasks with a treat such as a pass to an amusement park or water slide.

It’s always a good idea to keep in touch regularly by telephone. Have your teen call you if he or she decides to leave the house, and then again upon return. Check in several times a day to maintain a “presence,” and kids are less likely to test your boundaries. If you suspect that the rules are being broken, especially if it seems that your house is being used for daytime partying, drop in unexpectedly one day or ask a neighbor to do so. This doesn’t necessarily indicate a lack of trust for your teen, just the need to have some extra peace of mind.

Even parents whose kids are productive and highly responsible on their own often feel guilty that they can’t spend more time at home during the summer months. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to let teens know you’re thinking of them, even when you can’t be there in person. To maintain a positive connection, try not to make your regular phone calls feel like “checking up.” Instead, ask how your teen’s day is going, what’s been happening, and just call to say hello. It’s also nice to leave notes around the house that say more than, “Don’t forget to clean your room.” If your teen is online, send email messages during the day. Make his or her favorite foods and keep them in the fridge for lunches and snacks. Finding ways to “be there” (even when you can’t be) will ease your conscience, make your teen feel special, and help the summer sail smoothly for both of you.

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