I wish I had a magic wand! The pandemic would disappear. I’d be back on the SAS campus meeting with folks face-to-face [with a fresh haircut & color] and enjoying the great café food. And I would have plenty of ideas and suggestions to point your teens to for their summer planning process.
Given the realities of COVID-19, we (parents & teens alike) have to be open-minded, realistic, and flexible. For most of our teens, Plan A is out the door. Now they have to come up with Plans B & C. As a starting point, I would suggest that teens consider what they intended to accomplish this summer. Was the goal to earn money? To learn something new (or improve a skill)? To gain experience? To practice self-care and develop some good routines?
If the goal is to earn money and gain experience, our teens are going to have to get creative and show some initiative.
Between COVID-19 and the concomitant economic downturn, I think it is wise to draw lessons from what happened in 2008-9. With the loss of employment, many of the jobs that teens would typically find in the summer months—fast food, retail, etc.—won’t be available to them…either because adult workers will have scooped up those jobs or because the industry itself has faltered. Even camp counselor jobs are being put on hold based on the recommendations from public health officials.
So, what’s a teen to do? I believe in design thinking. According to authors Burnett and Evans in their best-selling Designing Your Life, design thinking requires 5 mind-sets:
- Be curious. Lean into it. Curiosity is going to help you get good at being lucky. You see opportunities everywhere.
- Try stuff. A bias to action. Build your way forward.
- Reframe problems. How you get unstuck. Makes sure you are working on the right problem.
- Know it’s a process. Let go of your first idea. It’s messy. Mistakes happen. Let go of the end goal and focus on the process and see what happens next.
- Ask for help. Radical collaboration. You are not alone.
Taking mind-set #3, you could see this pandemic as a huge problem and get stuck. There are no jobs for teens. Period. But, why do you want a job? Is it to earn money? My guess is yes. Is it to get some real-world experience? Possibly. All this can be had without having a job at the Gap. But it requires design thinking mindset #1: Be curious.
Here’s where my curious mind takes me. By the summer (if not before), parents will have already felt like they had their “summer vacation” with their kids (since mid-March), and they will be sooooooo ready for a break/some help/anything to relieve the pressure of having to come up with ideas to engage their kids for yet another summer vacation…especially if the camps they had registered for have had to re-align to public health mandates.
If your teen loves kids and is willing to maintain strict social distancing and hygiene protocol, there will probably be opportunities to nanny/babysit for a particular family with resources. But not all teens are wired this way. They might want the money, but the idea of spending all day with kids wouldn’t be good for them…or the kids.
So, what else? Get curious about yourself. I’m speaking to you directly, teenagers. What ability/skill/interest do you have that can translate to figuring out a way to engage kids/tweens for an hour or two on a daily basis? Could you create an online class/camp program that could become a small business this summer? Maybe you are already wired like an entrepreneur. Great. Can you have an online class to help a small group of kids utilize design-thinking to come up with their own summer business plan and then coach them through the steps?
Whatever you are good at, there is a kid out there who has a similar interest, I promise you. But the best design thinkers don’t go all-in at first. They try stuff (mind-set #2). This is called prototyping. You are building your way forward. There is a bias toward action. In the example above, you may want to find one kid to test your idea with. For free. See if it sticks. See what works and doesn’t work. Learn on this kid. Know that it’s not going to be perfect (even though it was perfect in your mind), and it’s going to be messy because it’s a process. You have just lived the truth of mind-set #4.
Back to mind-set #1. I was putting myself in the parents’ shoes again. Some parents’ pain point may be around meals. Maybe your family’s routine (pre-COVID-19) involved eating out 2-3 times a week. Breakfast was on the run. Lunch was at school. Now everyone is home all the time, and, for some reason, they want to eat 3 times a day! How could you see that pain-point as an opportunity? “Hey, Mom & Dad, I’ve calculated what you typically spend on taking the family to eat out each week. I also know that sometimes you are busy with early morning meetings and even lunch meetings. Let’s say that you pay me, $__ per member of the household per week to prepare breakfast and lunch. I will give you a list of items I need at the grocery store on a weekly basis. Also, if you want me to cook a dinner meal, that will be an added $__ per dinner. This cost will also include clean-up.” Teens, this is a value proposition I would pay attention to.
If you have the ability/skill/talent for the thing, but you don’t know how to market it, you need to consider design thinking mind-set #5 and ask for help. Ask parents/neighbors/relatives/friends. You are not alone in this, teens. With radical collaboration, we’ll all get through this summer.