I am all for keeping teens busy in the summer. Too much time, and no structure is definitely a dangerous combination. But how much, and what and where this summer structure takes place has taken on epic proportions as parents and teens feint and parry in the game of college competition.
The article below is a must read if you have been spending both time and money researching, investigating, and deciding what the impact of one program or another, one internship or another, or one super-sized academic summer program or another, will have on your teen's college acceptances. According to the colleges......not much.
This is not to say that a summer spent building latrines in a small village of Indonesia isn't worthwhile, but if you and your teen's goal in toilet building is that it will provide fodder for the requisite college essay, than read on.
As you will read in this article below, colleges are not stupid. If they see an application padded with "meaningful" experiences it might raise more questions than it answers. If your teen is interested in latrine building because for example they are passionate about sewage and engineering, and every summer is packed with experiences related to this passion, then OK than latrine building seems like a valuable experience for "that kid." Sending your teen off on any experience because it causes them to see the world in a new way, see themselves in a new way, and gain some much needed independence, are all worthy goals. But that should be the conversation and the motivation; personal growth, not how it will translate to a college admission's imagining of your teen.
Intrinsic motivation is what gives those feelings of self satisfaction, and what in life motivates you to take on new challenges. Extrinsic motivation, doing something because it gets you somewhere or something makes these experiences become shallow exercises in creating persona, and rarely have lasting impact. In order to grow, experiences have to be real and meaningful in an internal way. Make sure that whatever your teen chooses for a summertime experience, it is because it has meaning for them....not for you. A summer job at McDonald's can be as meaningful as a summer building latrines in Indonesia. They both teach responsibility, self-reliance, independence and taking care of people other than themselves. Isn't that really what is most important?