DanvilleSanRamon.com

Living - June 8, 2007

The 411: Whatever happened to a relaxing summer?

by Katharine O'Hara

As summer approaches, most teenagers have made plans for how they will spend their two-month retreat from rigorous schoolwork. For most, summer vacation connotes a time for students burnt out from the past school year to relax, have fun, and enjoy unscheduled time with friends and family.

"This summer I plan to go to Mexico with my friends so that we all get a chance to hang out before we leave for college in the fall. I am also visiting family in New York and working so I can hopefully save up some money," said Kate Charbonneau, a senior at San Ramon Valley High School.

While some still treat summer as the carefree fun vacation it is supposed to be, I have noticed that in the relentless quest to get into selective colleges and universities, summer has assumed a whole new purpose for today's teenagers and their parents. Summer has become an opportunity to again over-schedule their lives by taking an abundance of excess classes, participating in various activities (some which may not even be of interest), preparing for SATs, and working - perhaps all in the name of enhancing a college application.

"It seems it is becoming increasingly necessary for teens to take extra classes in the summer in order to get ahead or boost their college resume because students and schools are so competitive these days," said Charbonneau.

"In addition to taking three classes at DVC this summer, I am volunteering at the Mt. Diablo Peace Center and spending quality time with friends," said junior Anna Lekas-Miller.

"This summer I am going to basketball camp and playing summer league because I am hoping to make either JV or varsity basketball next year," said Chris Boscacci, a freshman at SRVHS.

Though most still maintain that summer should be a time to relax and have fun, it seems many students cannot help but be sucked in by the confining system in which they intend to succeed.

"I want to say it's not necessary to do excess activities and take summer classes, but the reality is that if you want to get into the college of your choice, you have to do these extra activities in order to stand out and get accepted," said sophomore Monica Riley, who plans to attend biology camp this summer.

Students are more and more feeling pressure from their parents and selective college admissions requirements, not only during the school year, but over the summer as well.

"Summer is definitely less stressful than the school year, but there is still increasing pressure to stay active and involved in various activities. It is important to be active, but kids need a break from the stress of school and planning for college," said Alex Davidson, a junior.

"Looking back, I had loads of fun during my summer when I was a child, but as I've grown up, my summers have become more restricted and built around doing activities that will help me get into a good college," said Navid Aflatooni, also a junior, who plans to work the majority of this summer.

I, too, certainly don't remember feeling this pressure as an elementary, or even middle school student. It is becoming increasingly clear that this obligation - to do more and more activities, and for some, activities that are not fun, interesting or relevant - is an extremely recent development.

"I think teens are much more pressured now than were their parents. Everything is so competitive, and almost every thinking moment is devoted to college. College is for cultivating humans, not destroying them!" remarked Anna Lekas-Miller.

Even getting a summer job has become something teenagers do, not simply for themselves (the way it should be), but for their parents or to win the approval of college admissions officers.

"I will most likely get a part-time job this summer. I don't think it's necessary for teens to work during high school, but having a job looks good on college resumes, and provides teens with something to do and some extra spending money," said Alex Davidson.

Having extra spending money does allow teens to feel self-sufficient, and less financially dependent on their parents. However, for those who can afford not to work, it is important to consider whether this time could be better spent on activities they actually enjoy. For those still interested in working over the summer (as there are valuable skills and experience learned through work), it is worth considering finding a job that is suitable, skill-specific and enjoyable, rather than a boring, unfulfilling job that merely pays money.

Amid all this summer activity, it is important in this time before college that students spend a portion of their summer reflecting, building themselves, or pursuing a passion, all things I feel I (and most other teens) neglect during the hectic school year. If kids do decide to take a class or two over the summer, it, too, should be something of enjoyment that might help them gain a better understanding of themselves, their interests and prospects for the future.

Though possibly shocking to some (including my parents), I have chosen to leave my summer fairly open this year, aside from a few summer vacations - notably, a trip to Italy with my mother. I've chosen instead to use these next two months to really learn more about myself, to spend time on the artwork I have so neglected my junior year, to build on my relationships with friends and family members, and to simply sit back and rest. I've had my fair share of overflowing schedules this past school year, and feel it's time to take a breath and reflect on where I have been (both mentally and physically) and where I am going in the coming year.

When choosing how to fill the summer months - as with most other aspects of their life - teens should determine for themselves what is best for them. If the carefree days of summer spent lying by the pool are gone for this generation, teens can at least pursue activities they find enjoyable and rejuvenating. After all, colleges want fervent, well rounded, experienced students, not those that are passionless, vacuous and burnt out.

The 411 offers information and insight on the teen scene by Katharine O'Hara, a junior at San Ramon Valley High School who spends her free time going to concerts, enjoying her friends, and playing the piano. E-mail her at ohara5@comcast.net.

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