Q: I don't want my kids, who are 11 and 13, sitting around in front of the TV all summer. But I haven't planned anything for them to do. Can you help?
A: Have you considered buying them a computer so they can divide their time between that and the TV? Okay, so maybe that's not a good answer.
But the Family Project 's parenting experts do understand your question. You've got a case of the "tweens" -- kids too young to get summer jobs and old enough to get into all kinds of mischief if left alone too long. And all day during the summer is too long. "They have to be supervised," says panelist Joanne Nigito. "They're too young to stay home all day every day. If a child has nothing scheduled, that's a good equation for trouble."
Nigito isn't necessarily talking about really bad trouble here, like smoking or drinking or drugs, gangs or sex, although, heaven knows, those troubles are lurking. It's things like trying to bake a cake without knowing what they're doing, or "exploring" the abandoned garage down the street with their friends that she's thinking of.
So, before school lets out you need to learn the three S's: supervised summertime smorgasbord. In other words, it's a rare kid at your children's ages who has any idea about what he or she likes to do or is good at, says panelist Bill Vogler. But it's also the perfect age for kids to find out by trying a whole bunch of things for a short while and seeing what sticks.
So, while you needn't choreograph every minute of your kids' "vacation," you can start planning some activities to pry those kids off the couch. Specifically -- get your children involved in a supervised sport situation like a summer swim team. Try also to develop an academic, artistic or hobby outlet through lessons or "camp."
To find supervised summer activities, look to your local municipal parks or recreation department, the YMCA or YWCA, the Boys & Girls club, volunteer-recruiting agency, school district or community college. Don't overlook churches, scouting and sporting groups and nonprofit organizations, such as museums, libraries and charities.
If you think those activities are too expensive, ask about financial assistance or donating time in exchange for enrollment. And even though your youngsters are too young to "work," that doesn't mean they couldn't start a "Kids for Hire" business walking dogs or weeding yards to help pay the way. Think also about allowing your child to volunteer. The Lehigh Valley offers a uprising number of programs that accept kids as young as 11 or 12. And they don't need to find a formal program to help others. Could they wash an elderly neighbor's car once a week or help with yard work or gardening? Could they clean up neighborhood litter?
Another great summer activity for "tweens" is serving as role models for younger kids. If your child is too old for T-ball, could he help the younger children in the neighborhood learn? Could she set up neighborhood story hours? Or return to a church Bible camp she attended when she was younger to organize games as a counselor?
The key to planning a tween summer is finding things that are time-intensive. Encourage anything that takes hours of practice to master or loads of hours to complete, whether it's interviewing grandma for a family history "project" or a handwritten and illustrated recipe book or running a neighborhood foul-shooting contest. But don't let the kids veg out, drown surfing the Net or wear out their thumbs playing video games.
Summers, panelists say, are too important to waste if "tweens" are to become successful people. "They're finding their niche in life -- something they can do where they feel worth something. If they don't, they start to feel inferior," says Nigito. "They start losing self-esteem and they'll start choosing things for the wrong reasons."
Remember: behind almost every successful adult -- the astronomer who first photographed meteors the summer he was 14, the reporter who mimeographed a "newspaper" at 12 -- are "tweens" who found their souls.
email@example.com 610-820-6562 The Family Project is a collaboration between The Morning Call and parenting professionals brought together by the Valley Youth House program Project Child, the Lehigh Valley's child-abuse prevention coalition.
Tips on things for your "tweens' to do
Here are 12 things your "tween" could do this summer:
Serve soda, sell merchandise, set up or clean up at Musikfest. Must be 12 and have an adult he or she knows also willing to volunteer. In downtown Bethlehem, Aug. 1-10. 610-332-1340.
Learn comic strip art animation. Must be 11. At the Banana Factory, 25 W. Third St., Bethlehem, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. July 7-11; $270. Also classes in video and film the weeks of June 23 and July 21 ($222) and photography 4-6 p.m. one day a week June 24-Aug. 12 ($180 plus cost of film). 610-332-1300.
Transport the elderly and assist them with activities. Must be 12. At Westminster Village, 803 N. Wahneta St., Allentown. 610-432-6245. Phoebe Home Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, 1925 Turner St., has similar opportunities for those 13 or who have completed 7th grade. 610-794-5362. Try any assisted-living or nursing home.
Investigate plant and animal life. For ages 8-13. At Earth, Sky & Water program at Wildlands Conservancy, 3701 Orchid Place, Emmaus. Full and half-day programs daily for a week every other week beginning June 16. Fees begin at $110 and range up to $250 per session. 610-965-4397, Ext. 36. Other programs on reptiles, birds, bugs, Native-American lore, aquatic life.
Check and shelve books and help with summer reading program. Must be 11. At the Hellertown Area Library, 409 Constitution Ave. 610-838-8381. Other libraries may offer similar opportunities.
Learn to survive in the wilderness. Must be 11-14. At Discovery Center of Science and Technology, 511 E. Third St., Bethlehem July 21-25, July 28-Aug. 1 and Aug. 4-8; costs vary from $105. Also classes on forensics and amusement-park science and volunteer opportunities for kids 14 and up. 610-865-5010 and www.discovery-center.org.
Help with parties and camp for seriously ill or special-needs children. Must be 13 for parties and 14 for camp. At Camelot House, 2354 W. Emmaus Ave., Allentown. 610-791-5683.
Join the Youth Volunteers at Good Shepherd. Must be 13. Volunteers help with recreation therapies, office duties or assist severely disabled residents and nursing staff. At 543 St. John St., Allentown, 2855 Schoenersville Road, Bethlehem, and outpatient facilities in Kutztown, Laurys Station and Bethlehem. 610-776-3125.
Act in a play. Must be in grades 5-7 or 7-11. At Pennsylvania Youth Theatre, 25 W. Third Street, Bethlehem, Aug. 4-15; $375. 610-332-1400. Day camps also available.
Do yard work, facility maintenance and help serve meals at ministry to the homeless poor and mentally challenged. Must be 12. At New Bethany Ministries, 333 W. Fourth St., Bethlehem. 610-691-5602, Ext. 27.
Weed a butterfly garden and pick up litter. Must be 10 and with a group. At Jacobsburg State Park, 835 Jacobsburg Road, Wind Gap. 610-746-5612.
Learn how to babysit safely. Must be 11. At the American Red Cross, 2200 Avenue A, Bethlehem, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. June 21, July 19, and Aug. 16. Also 9 a.m.-4 p.m. June 28 at Palmerton Ambulance Corps, 501 Delaware Ave., Palmerton, and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. July 12 at Carbon branch of the Red Cross, 129 N. First St., Lehighton. $40. 610-865-4400, Ext. 247 or www.redcrosslv.org.
CONTACT THE FAMILY PROJECT Offer comments, suggest topics or ask questions. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Mail: "The Family Project ," c/o Morning Call Features Editor Linda O'Connell, P.O. Box 1260, Allentown, PA 18105-1260. Phone: 610-820-6562.
THE TOPIC TEAM Parenting experts who helped with this installment of The Family Project : Marcie Lightwood, program coordinator for Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House. Joanne Nigito, registered play therapist and parenting educator, Bethlehem. Bill Vogler, executive director of Family and Counseling Services of the Lehigh Valley, Allentown.
PARENTING CLASSES Project Child offers ongoing parenting classes Mondays at 7 p.m. at the Project Child office at 2200 W. Broad St., Bethlehem. Fee: $15. To sign up, call 610-419-4500, Ext. 373, or e-mail email@example.com.
RESOURCES Here are more resources for parents of "tweens': www.city-journal.org/html/8_4_a1.html www.kansas.com/mld/ kansas/living/people/family/ 5754786.htmCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun