Rethinking Teen Boys in the Summer

As summer approaches I usually get nervous as I envision my two teenage boys and one loooooong summer. I mean, seriously, why do we have three months of summer? We don’t need the kids to help us pick cotton or other crops all summer long anymore, so aren’t we doing everyone a disservice – especially working parents – by giving kids so much downtime? Isn’t this system outdated? Wouldn’t six weeks be plenty?

The joys of boys!

I am so thankful that I have the resources to find and pay for educational, volunteer and recreational opportunities for my boys in the summer. But many people don’t. And if you have boys ages 13 to 15, it is increasingly difficult to find affordable activities and even volunteer opportunities they can or want to do by themselves. They’re too young to work and they’re too old for most local day camps. Not to mention, they’re hormonal and rambunctious and mischievous and oppositional and BORED! Bored unsupervised teenage boys get into trouble or spend the day playing violent video games and surfing disgusting videos on YouTube.

The plight of boys has been in the news lately. Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax is a disturbing account of why we have so many underachieving and unmotivated boys in our society. Girls are making great advances in college and graduate school and careers while many boys seem to be floundering. A recent New York Times blog post reported more of the same. It’s time we addressed what’s happening with our boys, starting with what they do in the summer.

An idea has been waking me up in the middle of the night for weeks: We have this untapped resource of energy and brawn sitting around for three months all summer. What if there was a summer program that channeled these boys into activities that helped people in their communities. And while we were at it, what if we taught them useful life skills, such as CPR, how to change a tire, how to fix a clogged drain, how to repair a fence, how to paint a house, how to plant shrubs and flowers, how to grill a great healthy meal, how to trim trees, how to interact respectfully with adults and how to treat and respect women. With the growing population of elderly people living in homes they can’t take care of anymore, it seems like a natural partnership for teenage boys to help these needy seniors with chores and household maintenance. They deserve the chance to show society that they can be helpful and productive and positive. And with the amount of domestic violence and disrespect reported regularly, aren’t young teenage boys ripe for community guidance on how to treat women? They deserve that opportunity, too.

The sticking point is that young teenage boys need lots of supervision and guidance. Moreover, they really need it from men. Too many boys don’t have enough male mentors in their lives. The good news is that with the economy still in the tank, we have a lot of skilled older men out of work. Wouldn’t it be great if some of them (the non-molesting ones) stepped up to mentor young teenage boys?

Wouldn’t it be great if the boys who take part in this summer program for three years enter the summer when they’re 16 with a resume, references and interviewing skills and are able to get a job?

I’m not sure how I’m going to make this happen or if it’s even doable. Ideally, this could turn into a nonprofit organization that not only provides summer opportunities for teen boys, but also paying jobs for older men. Right now I’m in the research phase of finding out what  resources already exist in Dallas that might serve as good partners for this type of summer program. I’m tentatively calling it Project1315.

Any ideas would be appreciated!

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