How to Keep Your Student Engaged During a High School Summer

There’s no getting around it: high school students are more burnt out than ever this year.

Teenagers who trudged diligently through a year of pandemic learning are ready to kick back, relax, and enjoy what’s shaping up to be a more “normal” high school summer.

And by all means, they should take this time to relax and recharge!

Despite what current cultural norms may indicate, rest is not a sign of weakness. Taking breaks is a natural part of the process of living. Breaks allow our bodies and minds the rest they need to continue operating at their highest levels.

But in the process of slowing down and recharging, it’s important for students not to lose sight of the next school year. As a parent, you’re acutely aware of this reality—and may be struggling to get your teenager on the same page.

So how can you help your student navigate the line between kicking back for a much-needed rest and turning into a couch potato? Here’s how to close the gap between you being, “Let’s Go!” and your student saying, “Heck No!”

High School Summer is a Time to Promote Internal Motivation

You may be tempted to inundate your student with your ideas of how they should spend this high school summer break.

Unfortunately (as you probably already know), teenagers don’t respond well to being told what to do. They’re inherently resistant to outside demands, and may respond to this approach by doing the exact opposite of whatever it is you’re suggesting.

The key to keeping your student engaged this summer is to encourage intrinsic motivation, or self-interest and ownership in their future. Being able to deliberately choose how they spend their time is an important skill. Students who learn to do it well will benefit in college and throughout their adult lives.

Rather than battling with your student over taking a summer class or nagging them to devote their time to an internship opportunity, start an open dialogue with them. Listen and be receptive to what they have to say.

Are they expressing an interest in core life skills that aren’t purely academic, but will still foster critical growth and development?

Would they rather volunteer for a cause they’re passionate about than commit to an internship or research opportunity?

Summer is a perfect time for students to explore activities that interest them, rather than participating in projects out of obligation.

Summer Options for Uncertain Students

If your student doesn’t come to the table with any of their own ideas, be prepared with options to help fuel the discussion, then let them make their own choice. Your list might include:

  • Seeking service opportunities
  • Working as a camp counselor
  • Conducting an independent project in a chosen subject area
  • Traveling and exploring the world around them

Through these honest conversations, you and your student can come up with a high school summer plan together—one that involves continuing to learn and grow and relaxing and having a good time.

Keep in mind that as teenagers, they don’t have many summers left to do a bit of nothing. So don’t be afraid to let them be kids just a little longer.

Picture of Sheila A.

Sheila A.

Sheila Akbar is President & COO of Signet Education. She holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree from Harvard University and two doctoral degrees from Indiana University. She joined the team in the summer of 2010, bringing with her a wealth of experience teaching SAT, ACT, GRE, literature, and composition in both one-on-one and classroom settings.

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