Being a teen during the summer might seem like the height of enjoyment⏤few responsibilities, loads of free time and friends with whom to spend time. In reality, however, teens are sometimes bored, restless, and unmotivated during the summer. The lack of structure and few or no school responsibilities means they may feel aimless and without purpose. Can we help our teenage children use their summer free time wisely while still having fun?

The Role of Purpose

Although we may think of the teen years as being dominated by school and friends, many teens feel purposeless despite these experiences anchoring their lives.Research finds that only about one in five high school-age teens reports having a sense of purpose.1 This experience of a lack of purpose may be exacerbated during the summer with the lack of school routine. Scholars define purpose as “a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at the same time meaningful to the self and consequential for the world beyond the self.”2

A sense of purpose is important for teens because not only does it give them a sense of meaning in life, but it has also been linked to their physical and psychological well-being.1Thus, helping teens find a sense of purpose for their summer and for the foreseeable future can help them on a path towards a healthy, meaningful life.

Finding a purpose, however, doesn’t just happen naturally. Teens often need guidance and support to dig deep to uncover their purpose. Summer can be a wonderful time to explore different experiences and activities that might help move a bit closer to finding their purpose.

Staying Busy and Finding Purpose

“Finding purpose” might seem like a tall order for a teen. For many teens, however, the idea of trying new activities to discover their passions and interests brings with it a much-needed escape from boredom and aimlessness. Although teens might not find their ultimate purpose in life over one summer, these ideas can be a helpful starting place on that path.

Volunteer: Although at first glance volunteering might not sit at the top of a teen’s summer bucket list, it is a wonderful opportunity in many ways. Volunteering can not only provide a great sense of purpose, but it also offers teens a chance to expand their skills and try out skills they could use in a career. By volunteering, teens can learn valuable interpersonal, organizational, and leadership skills. They might have the chance to work with children or animals, teach, coach, make phone calls, or organize materials. Many organizations accept teen volunteers, including food banks, animal shelters, libraries, and religious or spiritual organizations. 

Start a Business: One developmental yearning that most teens have in common is the desire for independence. It’s part of the natural maturation process that teens strive to gain greater and greater self-sufficiency from their parents. With this motivation often comes the desire to earn money for themselves. For some teens, this motivation can provide the push to start their own small business. Although they are young, teens have the energy and skills to provide many useful services to society. Some common small businesses that teens might start include dog walking services, babysitting, lawn care services, or pet sitting. In the online world, teens might explore areas like graphic design, selling their creative arts, or t-shirt design. Experience with any of these businesses can offer teens a way to explore money and time management as well as useful organizational and planning skills. Furthermore, these types of businesses may help provide a sense of purpose3 to their days as they help others by using their skills.

Learn a New Skill: Teens spend their school days filling their minds with knowledge they will need for college and, hopefully, for life. However, school cannot provide them with all the life skills they will need. Summer is the perfect time to learn new skills that perhaps “slip through the cracks” of the typical school curriculum. Encourage your teens to try a new skill this summer. The choices are almost endless, but here are a few examples of fun activities they can pick up over the summer months: cooking or baking, coding, gardening, a new sport, hobbies (such as collecting or fishing), sewing, mechanics, or a new type of artwork (such as painting, sculpting, or drawing). Of course, older teens often use the summer as a time to learn valuable life skills like driving a car or learning first-aid and CPR. 

Capitalizing on Summer Free Time

While your teen might be tempted to indulge in video games all summer long, ultimately, this will not provide them with the sense of purpose that we all (even teens) need and desire. Instead, encourage them to use their valuable summer time to explore new interests, discover new skills, and perhaps even ignite a passion for something that will last their whole life.

The information provided on this site is NOT medical advice and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, provide medical or behavioral advice, treat, prevent, or cure any disease, condition, or behavior. You should consult with a qualified healthcare professional regarding your child’s development to make a medical diagnosis, determine a treatment for a medical condition, or obtain other related advice.


  1. Bronk, K. (2017) Five Ways to Foster Purpose in Adolescents. Greater Good Magazine, University of California, Berkeley, 
  2. Cook-Deegan, P. (2016) Seven Ways to Help High Schoolers Find Purpose. Greater Good Magazine, University of California, Berkeley, 
  3. Vazrzewski, V. (2018) How These Teens Found Their Sense of Purpose. Greater Good Magazine, University of California, Berkeley,