6 Ways to Keep Teens Busy This Summer



Finalists at a recent Bay Area Teen Idol contest get ready to compete in the Venetian Room at the Fairmont San Francisco.

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Sleeping in until noon. Watching YouTube. Playing Fortnite until they’re doing The Floss in their sleep. Does this sound like your teenager every summer?

Teens don’t have to be idle every June through August, or even for spring break. With a little creativity and encouragement, they can be building skills, working toward goals and discovering their purpose. 

Of course, you can always sign them up for SAT prep classes or math tutoring to keep them occupied, but if you want them to run the project themselves – sans parental nagging – we suggest you share with them our summer teen to-do list. All of these are free, or nearly so:

#1 Teens, Teach Yourself to Code. You may feel like the only teen on the block who doesn’t code, but it’s not too late to learn. There’s no better time than now, thanks to “Hour of Code,” a nationwide initiative by Computer Science Education Week and code.org to walk students through the first steps of computer science. Hourofcode.com/us/learn offers links to numerous websites and apps featuring free, 60-minute lessons, more or less, of coding. On an Hour of Code site offered by khanacademy.com, you’ll learn to make and edit simple graphics. On Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Hour of Code site at scratch.mit.edu, you can create stories and games.  On vidcode.com, you can learn java script as you design your own typeface and make a greeting card for your BFF. If you find you are crazy about coding, you can keep taking free classes on many of the websites that also offer Hour of Code.

#2 Get Ready to be Next Year’s Teen Idol: Spend the summer tuning up your vocal cords for one of the area’s teen idol competitions early next year. Two are sponsored locally, one by the Bay Area Cabaret in San Francisco and the other by Addison-Penzac Jewish Community Center in Los Gatos. You’ve got time to get ready for the tryouts, which take place at both venues in January, followed by semi-finals and finals in early spring. 

If you croon your way to the top spot, you’ll enjoy more than fame; for this year’s shows, there was a $2,500 first prize in Los Gatos and $1,000 in San Francisco, with a chance to perform in a Bay Area Cabaret show. For information on the San Francisco contest, see bayareacabaret.org/BATI_19.html. For Los Gatos, visit apjcc.org/preschool-youth/youth/south-bay-teen-idol.

#3 Become a Tea Connoisseur. If your cup of tea is iced Lipton, double the sugar, you are missing so much about the great ancient art of tea. San Francisco is one of the tea tasting capitals of the country; try a tasting at a store like Vital Tea Leaf, which has three shops in Chinatown, all on Grant Avenue (at 509, 905 and 1044 Grant Ave). Take a seat at the comfy bar, and a tea expert will serve samples to develop your tea taste buds while teaching you the differences between white, green, black and oolong – and much more. Vital Tea Leaf’s tasting is free, but it’s hard not to go home with a bag of loose tea; bags start at $12 and are sharable among friends. Learn more at vitaltealeaf.net.

If you like your tea with an extra dose of atmosphere, visit the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. Feel the Zen as you walk along stepping stone paths, through pagodas and among cherry trees. The tea, at $3.95 a cup, may seem pricey to teens, but consider that it is served in traditional cups in a charming tea house overlooking the oldest Japanese tea garden in America.  Entrance is free before 10 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and $6 other times for youth (or $4 for residents.) 

#4 Stage a Cook-off. In the spirit of TV culinary competitions like Chopped or Cutthroat Kitchen, invite a friend or sibling to see if they can outcook you. Find who can come up with the best recipe using the same ingredients or who can cook a better version of the same dish. Pick an old classic like pasta puttanesca or go trendy like poke bowls or cauliflower pizza dough. If mom or dad get to be the judge, you might talk them into also being the dishwasher.

If you crave more cooking contests, sign up for 18 Reasons’ Teen Culinary Immersion camp in San Francisco. For four hours daily from July 22 to 27, students learn basic kitchen techniques, progress to cooking meats and vegetables, create recipes and menus and culminate the week with a Chopped-style finale.  See18reasons.org.

#5 Go Marie Kondo. Cleaning your room has never been cooler. Well, for teens, maybe it’s never been cool at all, but thanks to clutter master Marie Kondo, tidying is now taking the world by storm. To clean your room the KonMari way, start by binge watching Tidying with Marie Kondo on Netflix and check out her website konmari.com. Kondo, who until recently lived in San Francisco, teaches her clients, including teens, to keep only the belongings that spark joy for them. Items that don’t should be thanked for their service and sent off to the Goodwill (or sold. See item #6). Clean your room once in this method, and Kondo says it will remain a chill and clutter-free haven forever.

#6 Sell Stuff on ebay. Now that your giveaways are heaped in the hallway, why not make some greenbacks by selling them on ebay. I’ve been urging my 18-year-old son to do this for years. Two things made him nervous – pricing and shipping – but recently we checked out ebay’s new seller tips and found these tasks far easier than expected.

He wants to sell his old Star Wars figures. By clicking “sell,” and describing his rebel trooper collection in the slot, ebay suggested a price based on similar merchandise it sells. When it came to shipping, ebay automatically provided the shipping price and label based on the buyer’s and seller’s Zip codes and the item’s weight (which somehow it knew). Many tips like these, as well as how-to videos, are found by clicking “sell” or “seller center” under “help” at www.ebay.com. My son printed the label at home for his first sale, dropped the box off at the post office and now has a cool $12.77 to spend on summer fun. 

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