Don't rush in with plans when teens send up a late-summer chorus of "I'm bored." Finding their own fun fosters independence and creativity.
Summers frustrate Andria Nicholson. The Deephaven resident, the mother of two teenage boys, knows they are bored. "They are spending a lot of time online and playing stupid games on the computer and the PS3," Nicholson wrote in an e-mail. "My husband and I would come home from a full workday to messes all over the house."
Filling her 14- and 16-year-old's days with chores and physical activity didn't work.
"It gets boring to go to the beach every day,'' said Jack Adams, 16, Nicholson's son. "And riding bikes around without a place to go is dumb."
They need something to do -- and soon.
Parents throughout the metro area know exactly what she means. Getting into the dog days of August means many camps and other activities are winding down and kids need something to fill the time. But summers have changed. Jenny Hanlon, a parenting consultant and author, said kids' ability to be independent has been limited because parents -- yes, it's your fault -- have maintained tightly packed schedules for most of the year.
"Then summer hits, [kids] obviously have a lot more free time, and they don't know what to do with it," Hanlon said.
Parents should sit down with their teens and brainstorm a list of potential activities for lazy summer days. The decision, however, should be the kid's.
And besides, boredom is normal.
"I would really caution parents about overreacting to a teen's statement that the child is bored, unless they really feel like the time is being used in destructive ways," Hanlon said. "Boredom is not a bad thing. When children, teens, and adults for that matter, find themselves in a state of boredom, we are more creative."
The Twin Cities area has a variety of programs providing reading and writing and outdoor activities, many of them free or low-cost.
Ramsey County libraries take a laid-back approach to their teen programs.
"Teens tend to like really unstructured things," said Susan Nemitz, Ramsey County Library Director.
Part of the unstructured attitude is providing places in the library for teens to be teens. All locations have dedicated teen spaces, but the Roseville library is the flagship, containing digital signage, two Xbox 360s complete with games, 12 computer stations and thousands of comic books and teen fiction works.
Marcus Lowry, teen section librarian, has kids make the space their own, letting them decide which amenities they want in the room. "I visit four school districts, and I basically beg teens to tell me what they want," Lowry said.
This summer's reading program, for example, was designed to make participation as easy as possible. Teens can read any book they want and then post a review to the Ramsey County Libraries website and be eligible to win prizes. Teens can post as many reviews as they wish.
"I really worked hard to have no barriers," Lowry said. "You don't need a library card to do it. You just have to be going into sixth grade up to 12th grade."
The response has been overwhelming. Last summer the program had 750 book reviews total, Lowry said. This summer it's averaging 600 a week.
Many of summer's best hangout spots are simple, open and safe places for teens to congregate when they are bored, which is the focus of Minneapolis Parks and Rec Board's Night Owlz program. Every Friday and Saturday night, teen-only nights are held from 8 to 11 p.m. at the Farview, Folwell, Logan, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., North Commons, Phillips, Powderhorn and Whittier recreation centers. There is some programming, maybe an open gym, cooking or computer class, but teens are welcome to drop in and just hang out.
"Specifically in the summertime in Minneapolis, kids are running wild; they are looking for something to do; they are looking to be engaged, and they are looking to have an outlet," said Larry Umphrey, Community Service Area Team Lead for North Minneapolis. "This gives these kids an outlet Friday and Saturday night. They have a building reserved for them. ... They have a dedicated time and they know they are going to be welcomed with open arms in this place.
Finally, there are the classics -- fishing and swimming.
"We want teens to know they don't have to go way Up North to a cabin to enjoy fishing," wrote Tom Knisely, a spokesman for the Three Rivers Park District, in an e-mail. "There are plenty of places to enjoy fishing right here in the metro. They can hop on their bikes and visit one of our lakes and fish from shore or a fishing pier."
The Three Rivers Park District has fishing piers at lakes in Hyland Lake Park Reserve, French Regional Park, Lake Rebecca Park Reserve and Coon Rapids Regional Park. (If you're over 16, you will need a fishing license.)
The park district offers a number of beaches, plus two chlorinated swimming ponds.
"What says summer more than time at the beach?" Knisely wrote."It's the perfect place to hang with friends during the summer."
Peter Funk is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.