How to Give Back

Photo by  Sandrachile  on  Unsplash

Photo by Sandrachile on Unsplash

Summer may be all about fun, but with a little extra time on your hands, it's also the perfect opportunity to give back to your community with your tween. The suggestion to volunteer may elicit groans and sighs, but encouraging participation can promote critical thinking skills, empathy, social awareness and self-confidence in your tween. Finding fun ways to get involved is possible by browsing or visiting local non-profits to learn about opportunities for youth. Many will require parental participation as well, so make it a family affair and show your tween that giving to those in need is a lifetime endeavor! To learn more about how volunteering positively impacts young people, visit Psychology Today.

Here are a few of our favorite spots to get you started. Enlisting your tween's help in selecting a location and activity will help ensure that the experience is rewarding for the whole family!

  • Volunteers 8 years and older are welcome at the Capital Area Food Bank

  • Austin Habitat for Humanity often needs youth to provide lunches to volunteer sites

  • Planning a beach trip this fall? September 22 is Texas Adopt-a-Beach Day and there are many ways you can help!

  • Caritas encourages families to host their own food drive to help stock their pantries

  • At the Ronald McDonald House, warm meals are always welcome

  • Befriend a neighbor in need and deliver meals, spruce up the front yard, walk the dog or offer to pitch in around the house

  • Host a lemonade stand or garage sale and donate the proceeds to your tween's favorite non-profit

  • Clean out the closets and take gently used clothes to the Austin Children's Shelter

TeenTip: Planning Your Way to a Stress-Free Summer


Ah, summer. It’s the time of year when the smells of backyard barbecues, sunscreen and citronella combine seamlessly in the hot Texas air. On your evening walk to the mailbox you're able to hear kids playing, cicadas chirping and lawn mowers in the distance.  If you’re an adult, you may pleasantly reminisce to those days of summer when you didn’t have a care in the world and you spent your days out on amazing adventures which brought you home, miraculously, just in time for dinner. Millennial adults remember the hours spent roaming movie theaters, three-way calling and imagining what kind of housemate you’d be if you made it on Road Rules or The Real World (or is that just me?).  It was a simpler time back then. Relaxing. Carefree.

What we often forget, however, is that summer is a time of transition. It is a time when both parents and their children experience a loss of structure, which can end up being challenging for everyone involved. It is important to keep in mind that for most young people, this structure is really about their social life. School provides ample opportunity for connection. Without it, some teens might become anxious about how they are going to continue those relationships throughout the summer. Add to that the pressure of making the team, staying on top of their college preparations, getting ready to move to a new school, feeling self-conscious about “swim suit season” and finally, having their parents remind them that summer is about having fun and relaxing! This is all but relaxing, especially for a teen experiencing anxiety or depression.  

These teens might need some extra help during the summer months. In order to keep your cool during connection attempts with your child, here are some ways this new lack of structure might affect them as a person with anxiety and depression:

1. Isolation

  • School provides opportunities for young people to build connections and relationships (ultimately building support), contribute to the well-being of others, practice social skills, and check in on how they view themselves against a more realistic barometer. Teens with anxiety or depression may isolate themselves to feel safer, but this approach can actually make negative feelings worse.

2. Free Time

  • With anxiety and depression, your teen might experience avoidance and lack of motivation. Depression feeds off of free time, and free time reinforces the distorted belief that they have no purpose or value because they are not able to self-motivate. Feeling like they have not accomplished something can stir up guilt, shame, frustration and anger.  Finding an activity for them can help structure their time, while also allowing them to explore something they feel passionate about – ultimately increasing their sense of self-worth.

3. Lack of Stimulation

  • During the year, school allows teens to focus on productive activities. It gives them natural opportunities to push away negative thoughts and feelings, because there is other work that requires their focus and attention. This stimulation has the potential to keep depression at bay. When summer comes along and there isn't a school schedule to follow it is easy for teens to lose focus and experience a lack of stimulation, which can lead to increased anxiety and depression.

Considering all the benefits that school provides for students with depression, teens and parents should look to carefully plan the summer so that the rug doesn't get pulled out from under them. Here are some natural and inexpensive ways to replicate the benefits of school:

  1. Have a Schedule – create a to-do list, even if it seems minor.

  2. Daily Physical Activity – It fills time, improves mood and is an opportunity to accomplish something and/or nurture social relationships.

  3. Employment / Volunteer Work – An effective tool against depression is helping others. Employment or volunteering opportunities can provide structure, stimulation and social interaction.

  4. Strengthen Existing Commitments – Whether through club sports, faith communities or additional learning, teens can find purpose when engaging with their community.

  5. Stay Focused on Academics – While a reprieve from the pressures of school are necessary, keeping up with academics is beneficial for some. It can also ease their transition into the next school year.

  6. Leisure  - Ideally, leisure time is given the same priority as the items listed above and is mainly social. This allows teens to take time for themselves and blow off steam by participating in activities they enjoy, with people they enjoy. * Remember that these are activities of their own choosing, and not something that you hope they will enjoy.

  7. Down Time is IMPORTANT! – There is such a thing as TOO MUCH activity. Filling every minute of the day with activities is exhausting and might even decrease their self-esteem. Regardless of age, it is important for everyone to have time to unwind and be alone, as long as it’s only one part of many.

A thoughtful and well planned summer can not only help those with depression and anxiety by avoiding certain stressors, but it could also help them make gains in managing their illness!



Let's Get Cooking!

Summer might just be the perfect time to explore new foods, new restaurants and new recipes! With all that extra time (and rain and humidity keeping us indoors), it allows us the opportunity to be adventurous and fearless chefs! But wait! We aren't suggesting parents be the ones in the kitchen (you're not? thank goodness!). This post is for our tween and teen friends out there.

First, check out Instacart! This easy-to-use app and website lets the groceries come to you. So, if mom or dad can't make a run to the grocery story, you can shop online for a quick delivery to your door. (Remember to ALWAYS get permission from mom and dad first!) Another great thing about Instacart is that you can look up recipes through the app or website and then put the ingredients needed in your cart right then and there. Easy as pie!....mmmmm...pie! :) Also check out this site for recipe inspiration. 

Second, there's a lot of great research linking health and nutrition as a way to boost and improve your mood. Look back at this post on "super foods" that nurture your body and mind! And, here are 6 ways that food affect your mental health. Moderation is key so let there be some fun and flavor in your life, too!

Third, take your new found love of the kitchen a step further and try out a local camp or class. Patricia's Table still has openings for summer camps. Foodie Kids and Kids Kitchen also offer camps and classes year round.

Lastly, enjoy the fruits of your labor! (Pun intended!)

Family Fitness fun!

With summer approaching, there are a lot of opportunities to get your family moving and encourage healthy habits for your tweens! Body image concerns can grow quickly in middle school, and it's helpful for the whole family to adopt an attitude of living a healthy lifestyle rather than stressing size, weight or other aspects of physical appearance that can be a source of shame for adolescents.

While it can be difficult to get some tweens moving, there are some great opportunities to offer fun for the whole family as a little encouragement.

  • This Sunday, May 20th, Viva Streets Austin is closing down two miles of Sixth Street to encourage families to walk, run, bike, skateboard and play on a car-free road filled with music, vendors, and all-ages activities. They'll have water activities, hula hoops, bike skills courses and more! Best of all, it's a free event, open to the public and great for kids of all ages as well as their (leashed) furry friends!
  • Body Business is offering free teen gym memberships for high schoolers this summer, as a way to encourage fitness and teach basic skills in the gym. Their are some restrictions due to location, and teens must complete an intro session to be eligible.

The most effective way to get tweens and teens moving is to make daily activity a part of the whole family's routine. Things like family walks with the dog, after dinner backyard play time and quick games of basketball, hula hooping or jump rope can all be quick and fun ways to get everyone moving. Just remember to keep the focus on wellness and healthy choices for all, and not on weight and appearance. The goal is a lifelong love of healthy living, not a preoccupation with looking a certain way or fitting into a certain pair of jeans. And remember to lead by example! Keep your self-criticisms about your body to a minimum, and practice what you preach by getting off the scale and hitting the ground running every day!

Summer is on its way!

With only a few weeks left in the school year, now is the perfect time to sit down with your tween and plan ahead for those long, hot summer days! Here's your chance to beat the boredom before it starts. Set aside a relaxing 30 minutes with your tween to brainstorm a summer fun plan. That way when you inevitably hear the words "I'm so bored!" you'll have a list at hand to choose from.

Try to include a wide range of activities on your list. Some that your tween can do on her own, some that are free, some for a rainy day, some that are within walking distance. You can put activities down that are for the whole family, for your tween and a friend and special mother/daughter or father/daughter days. Day trips for you all are a fun way to break the monotony of the long summer!

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Walk Lady Bird Lake and take pictures of all the wildlife
  • Visit the fountain at Auditorium Shores and cool down
  • Help your daughter plan and prepare a theme dinner for her friends (Mexican Fiesta, Hawaiian Luau, French cafe)
  • Fly a kite at Zilker Park
  • Have a water balloon fight
  • Visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
  • Have an in-home spa day with homemade masks, manicures, and pampering! Have tea and spa snacks to create your very own staycation

Also, if some of the activities on your tween's list cost money, now is good time to have her do some extra chores around the house to save money for special outings!