Summer is an opportunity for young people to take control of their time and focus in on either shoring up an area or being proactive. However, most people are overly optimistic about what they can achieve in the summer, or they aren’t really trying to achieve anything except hanging out with friends or playing video games and sleeping in.
In this post, I outline three keys for making the most of summer. These come from my experience working with hundreds of families, over the past dozens of years, as an Academic Life Coach.
The first step, before you get to any of these keys, is to spend a little time getting really clear on what you or your child really wants to get out of the summer. It is a simple but powerful first step. Parents, have a conversation with your student and boil it down to one main thing.
Most teenagers in middle or high school experience one of these three challenges:
- Stress over grades
- Anxiety about the future, especially the college application
- Frustration in relationships
Once you all have that one thing to focus on, the other goals often come along for the ride. Steps toward the main goal help steps in other areas of life.
Addressing the Big Three Challenges
Summer is a time to address these challenges head on and create meaningful steps toward relieving the stress, before school begins in the fall.
If your student is stressed about grades during the academic year, summer is the time to really focus in on grades. Young people might revolt and dislike doing academic work, especially during their break time. However, as a parent, summer is the perfect time to roll up your sleeves and help them through this challenge. I have worked with hundreds of students, and those who are most successful are the students whose parents are willing to demonstrate the value of learning. Show your child that learning the material isn’t necessarily a pain, but that it is actually fun to gain more knowledge.
If your student is stressed about the future and the college application process, use summer as a time to process the parts they are most worried about. Have your student start thinking about why she or he is stressed and tackle those areas head on.
If your student is frustrated in relationships, especially their relationship with you, it’s likely coming from some other stressor. The summer is the time for you to address that relationship with your child, spend more time, and make a real effort to connect.
The Three Keys
Each of these points goes back to a few common concepts in positive psychology and life coaching. Carol Dweck’s focus on Growth Mindset plays a big role in helping young people to not focus on immediate outcomes. Her work reiterates the importance of effort and developing a sense of working toward something worthwhile. The end goal should not be the grade. Rather, it should be the desire to maintain flow and work for the sake of working.
1) Focus on developing a work ethic
Summer jobs, especially those that require hard, manual work, are the absolute best. I have watched dozens of students change their mindset over the summer by working hours in a field, vacuuming out cars, or cutting grass.
Doing something active and repetitive builds a work ethic that is often missing in our modern age of machines and technology. Young people are so used to having their computers and phones do all the work for them, and summer work is a great way for young people to reevaluate what they are able to contribute to the world.
2) Actively pursue an interest
Colleges are looking for students who push the boundaries of what is offered in school. They want to see young people demonstrate an interest or unusual effort in a certain direction. If your child is interested in robotics, have them create little robots. If they love writing, have them put together a novel. If they are passionate about sports announcing, have them create little videos of sports events.
One year, I had a student start an interscholastic quiddich league, with three other schools. Those four schools represented the four houses of Hogwarts. She got into MIT. The extra step of organizing a club that spanned multiple schools was impressive, and the whole project came from her.
Ultimately, it is not the topic of the project that matters. It is the effort the student puts in and her or his ability to do something that is not mandated by an adult that matters.
Positive psychology is clear on this topic: people who volunteer regularly, or who even volunteer sporadically are happier than those who don’t. The message students get in schools is typically focused on them. People ask questions like, “What are you interested in?”, “What college are you looking at?”, “What major?”
A relentless focus on your own interests and what you want to get out of life is a recipe for dissatisfaction. Marketers play into this sense of dissatisfaction by giving young people the message that having more will make the happier. However, as long as people are focused on what they are getting out of everything, they will never truly be satisfied and they will continue to expect something around every turn.
Volunteering is a way out of those expectations. Young people learn that everything is not always about them. They also develop a greater sense of purpose and boost their life satisfaction when they are of service to others.
To see my full interview on this topic with NBC Channel 10 in Providence, Rhode Island, check out their website, here.