Summer Jobs: A Silver Bullet for Teen Stress

Feb 28, 2023, 16:53 PM by Chris Coker

I know that many of our young people struggle with school, social media, friends, life balance and so much more. For some reason, life seems to be much “higher stakes” for them. I just don’t recall feeling that same way at that point in life. I had teenage angst, but it was not a pervasive theme.

I have a way to help — a silver bullet, so to speak.      

As parents, we only want our teens to be happy. In fact, my wife always says that you are “only as happy as your saddest kid.” With that in mind, sometimes our coping mechanism is to give our teens the summer off. We want them to relax and unwind. We want them happy. However, I think that this is a mistake: At home, teens don’t learn how to cope, they don’t get a different perspective, they don’t learn many new practical skills and their resilience stays static. These skills are developmentally critical.

One of the well-known silver bullets for mental health challenges is being outside and being active. This is a proven statement. So, when your kid has a summer job outdoors — being a lifeguard, a camp counselor, a house painter or an amusement park employee — they will be healthier physically and mentally come fall. Activity equals better health. It’s that simple.


Another benefit of summer jobs is perspective. Our summer camp counselors work with kids who come from all different walks of life: from a CEO’s kids to foster kids. There is a big dose of perspective when they make a connection with a child whose family was a tragic newspaper headline. Many of us in this area live in a bubble economically, and our children have grown up with a skewed perspective of reality and resources. There is nothing wrong with that; my kids experienced that too. We shelter our kids until we feel that they are ready to learn more about the world.

However, perspective is what allows us to contextualize our personal problems. We have a scale with which to measure them.

Teens are kids (with less time on the planet), and they do not have context. They usually only know their neighborhood and school, and in school they hang with their friends who are like them. Teens are ready to learn about the world in a controlled manner, and camps or other summer jobs working with children or even adults are a great way to do that.


The Y is the great equalizer. It is a place where all demographics meet. Perspective is gained.      

To illustrate this point: I was in the Y fitness area once, and a staff member pointed out two gentlemen on treadmills. He stated that one was the CEO of a top 10 oil company and the other was his doorman. You couldn’t tell which was which — because in reality we all pretty much look equal in workout clothes. The Y was their place where there was no hierarchy; they could just be together as friends and fellow humans.

Lastly, resilience. As a generation, this age group does not have thick skin or resilience. The jury is still out on the whys and hows of this, but we have to deal with this reality as parents. Summer jobs are tough, especially camp counselors and lifeguards. These are not easy jobs, especially when it is 100 degrees outside and it’s the third week in July. These are not easy jobs, especially when they are faced with emergencies (take it from Natalie, our Longmont lifeguard who helped deliver a baby on the pool desk last summer). These are not easy jobs, especially when their friends are home playing video games and they are being chased by a pack of 8-year-olds with water balloons.

That is where teens learn to dig deep and put on their biggest, brightest smiles, so the kids have a good time and the members know they are safe in the pool. That is when they may ask you for permission to leave the job early and “relax.” This is the crucial moment. You have to make them stay in their job and finish the commitment. It’s another lesson learned, and they will better off. At the end of the summer, they will feel the satisfaction of doing something important, making a difference and sticking with something despite its challenges.

As of writing this, we have hired about 60% of our staff for the summer, so it is going fast. I recommend the Y as a summer job employer because we are very used to giving teens their first job, and our supervisors are trained for this. We are a little forgiving and a lot loving. However, the kids always come first, and that is another important lesson: Someone else is first.     

If you want to learn more about our summer jobs, visit We also have job fairs at our Ys throughout March, and you can learn more about those on our careers webpage.


Chris Coker        
YMCA of Northern Colorado