The No Slacking Portland Summer: How to Keep Your Teen Busy

Here’s how to help your tweens and teens put down their phones and have an activity-filled summer break — and maybe even earn some cash.

Courtesy Portland Parks & Recreation

Keeping little kids occupied in the summer is a piece of cake. While school is on hiatus, there’s always an abundance of camps, sports activities, learning opportunities, playdates and outside fun geared to younger kids. But for older children, there are fewer ready-made options, as teens have aged out from most of the typical structured summer activities. Plus, many tweens and teens are more than content to spend the summer glued to their cell phones or gaming devices.

But all hope is not lost! With a little digging, you’ll find that there are actually a ton of great things for teens to do over the summer. Some of the best options let kids learn and try out new skills, develop responsibility, earn money, give back to their communities, or explore their passions. Whether it’s a first job, volunteering, or getting an internship, there are lots of great ways for older kids to spend their time off. Read on for some inspiration for what to do with your teens in summertime.

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Find an Internship

Courtesy SummerWorks

School counselors are a great resource for so many things including leads for summer internships. These opportunities are often paid or can earn school credit. But with internships rather than jobs, teens can dream a bit about future careers or simply mine their passions. There’s everything from law, science, broadcasting, or medicine to interior design, marketing, nonprofit work or architecture. Pro tip: The SummerWorks program connects 16- to 24-year-olds in the Portland area with paid summer internships.

Teens can also reach out to local businesses. Many will have formal internship programs. Or ask if they might be willing to consider taking on an intern. Showing that they have done a bit of research on the industry and specific business — and expressing that they are especially eager to help out and learn — will help give them a leg up.

Get a Job

Courtesy Portland Parks & Recreation

In today’s post-pandemic labor market, teens likely have more options than ever. Many employers are looking to fill service, seasonal, and entry-level positions, particularly during the busy summer months. So, teens can cast a wide net — and pursue jobs in a variety of fields that interest them to see what kind of opportunities are out there.

Plus, they can make serious money as the minimum wage in the Portland Metro area is now $14.75. For the most part, kids need to be 14 or older for a job or paid internship. However, jobs like babysitting or yard work can often be had by younger teens.

“I learned a lot about golf and how to fix things,” says Ruben Brickman, 17, a student at Franklin High School, of his job last summer at a local golf course. “I think all teens should get jobs. It teaches them  how to handle money and time management, and how to be good around other people besides your family and friends.”

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Louisa Mansberger, a 16-year-old student at Lincoln High School, has already had multiple jobs, including leading her own art camps, babysitting, house-sitting, pet-sitting and lifeguarding. She highly recommends working at a pool: “I’d suggest other teens that want to be a lifeguard to not be super worried. In the certification (training) you are taught everything you will need and you can be confident in the workplace. It is definitely a great first job and tests your responsibility and people skills.” 

Many summer camps have counselor-in-training programs. A good strategy is to start with camps your teen may have attended in the past as well as any that align with their interests or skills, such as speaking a foreign language; being a whiz at science, acting, chess or ceramics; or excelling at a certain sport.

There are also a plethora of job openings posted online. Plus, many high school counselors can help connect their students with local work opportunities. Another way to find a job is for teens to walk their neighborhood and ask nearby shops  if they are hiring. They can also stop by their favorite businesses, such as cafes, ice cream shops, clothing stores, crafting shops or comic book stores.

Additionally, it doesn’t hurt to tap their family and friend networks. If they (or their parents) start telling everyone they know that they’re looking for a job, they might just find out about a great opportunity.

Another idea is to consider being an entrepreneur, such as starting a babysitting or yard-service business or making things to sell. Or follow in Louisa Mansberger’s footsteps and start a camp for kids you know: “I would suggest other teens to run a summer camp, whether it’s art, science, sport or many other ideas. It is pretty rewarding in terms of experience and making money. It was great because I was able to do what I wanted with the kids and work on my own schedule.”

Teen-friendly First Jobs

Traditional summer work for teens runs the gamut from flipping burgers to keeping swimmers safe. Here are a selection of ideal first jobs for your teen to explore this summer.

Courtesy Deposit Photos

Babysitting. Hit up families with younger kids, community centers, or preschools to find babysitting gigs. These positions might be ongoing or on a day-by-day basis.

Camp counselor. Many camps such as Baxter Sports, Camp Yakety Yak and Portland Parks & Recreation hire teens as junior counselors or camp support staff. Or intrepid teens can host their own camps for little kids they know or recruit via word of mouth.

House painting. Join a local painting crew.

Ice cream scooper. Shops selling everybody’s favorite summer treat often need extra hands. 

Lifeguard. This classic teen job requires good swimming skills and lifeguard certification. However, many pools will provide training.

Retail clerk. Teens can reach out to businesses that relate to their interests, such as book stores, clothing shops, resale stores, sporting goods stores, or gardening centers. Grocery stores such as QFC and Fred Meyer have also been known to hire teens.

Wait staff. Burger shops such as Little Big Burger and Burgerville, fast food spots, or sitdown restaurants all may hire teens to wait or bus tables, help with food prep (a food handler’s license is required), or work as a host.

Yard maintenance. From mowing lawns to trimming hedges, there’s lots of yard work that neighbors, family friends, or local businesses might want to off-load.

Sign Up to Volunteer

Courtesy Deposit Photos

Regular volunteering is another great way for a teen to spend the summer. There are virtually endless types of volunteering available for kids to choose from. Possible choices include working as a big brother or sister for a community organization, helping at food banks or soup kitchens, doing trail upkeep in a local park or recreation area, playing bingo with seniors, or giving time to read to kids at a shelter. Again, in addition to searching online, school counselors are often a great resource for volunteer opportunities.

“Try doing something where you work with the people you’re helping,” suggests Theo Lydgate, 15, a student at Central Catholic High School. He regularly volunteers for such organizations as the Northeast Emergency Food Program, Mother and Child, and the Children’s Book Bank. “It’s more enlightening than just being in a room sorting things. You can see the impact of your actions on other people,” says Lydgate. “It’s easy to forget what it’s like for people who are struggling. Volunteering helps me realize how fortunate I am and how many resources I have. And it feels good to help other people who need a hand.”

Tween and Teen Summer Camps

OK, say your teen is not ready for the responsibility of a paid gig, but you don’t want them sleeping till noon all summer long. Here are a few summer camp options for tweens and teens.

Courtesy One River Art School

One River Art School has exceedingly cool summer camps for artistic middle schoolers and high schoolers. Week-long, half-day camps include foam crafting for cosplay costumes, realistic graphite portraits, street art tutorials, advanced Adobe Photoshop illustration and much more. Morning and afternoon camps throughout the summer.

Seventh- and eighth-grade girls who love STEM will be in heaven at the St. Mary’s Academy Beta Blues Robotics Summer Camp. In this first-of its kind program, girls will make a fully functioning robot using CAD programming, 3D printers, power tools and more. July 17-21, 9 am-4 pm Monday to Thursday and Friday 9 am-12:30 pm.

The Balance Overnight Soccer Camp for ages 9-17 gets kids and teens off their cell phones to enjoy nature, splash on a slip ‘n’ slide and pool, play soccer, float on a river and more. The weeklong camps in Vernonia are for all skill levels. Boys’ camp: June 22-26; girls’ camp: July 16-20.

At CampOUT, a new camp from a former middle-school educator, LGBTQ+ youth entering seventh through ninth grade partake in activities that bring joy and resilience to their daily lives such as yoga and mindfulness, arts and crafts, creative writing and more. Two weekly 9 am-3pm sessions: June 19-23 and June 26-30. Enrollment lottery: March 15-31; open enrollment thereafter, if spots remain. Scholarships available.

While not strictly a camp, the High School Journalism Institute gives high school students the chance to learn hands-on journalism skills from professional reporters and editors. The free program is a collaboration between the Oregonian Media Group and Oregon State University, and students will stay in OSU residence halls. July 15-22. The deadline to apply is May 19.

Airway Science for Kids aims to even the playing field for kids and teens from historically unserved groups by offering free, STEAM-focused summer camps for 7- to -16-year-olds. Camps are divided by age group, and each child can apply for one four-day camp.

Sarah Vanbuskirk
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