Irish teenagers spend nearly a year-and-a-half of their time at secondary school on summer holidays. That’s a considerable slice of their young lives.
No wonder the sight of them lounging around the house doing nothing over the next three months will raise the blood pressure in parents everywhere.
They’re at that awkward stage, no longer children but not yet adults, and on the wrong side of 12 when it comes to cuteness and controllability.
There may be a great line-up of "family- friendly" summer events and festivals around the country but they don't always cater for the 13-17 age group. These teenagers are not allowed at high-profile "family" camping festivals such as Electric Picnic and Body & Soul but they can attend the Westport Festival of Music and Food (June 29th-30th), accompanied by somebody over 18.
While there’s an abundance of summer camps, activities and play centres for younger children, teenagers are not so easily organised, or motivated, for structured activities – unless they are passionate about a particular hobby, be it sport, drama, music or art, in which case their summer is probably sorted.
Likewise, if they are already enrolled in one or more of the youth organisations, such as Guides, Scouts or Foróige, the chances are not all the pages in their summer diary are blank.
With part-time jobs very thin on the ground, this age group has no commercial clout, save for the goodwill and means of their parents. And too often they are viewed by the rest of society as a "nuisance", at best, when hanging around in groups.
Too long a break
Like many a parent of teenagers, Joanne, who has four children, including two sons aged 14 and 17, thinks the summer break is too long. The first couple of weeks, she and her husband are happy to let them chill.
“They relish this time and enjoy having lie-ins and generally doing nothing or just playing on their game consoles” – along with their daily chores, which they are only excused on birthdays and at Christmas.
After a couple of weeks, boredom sets it and she believes the teenagers prefer to have a bit of structure to their day.
“Being a stay-at-home mum and my husband having adjusted his working hours so he can spend more time with them while they are growing up, we have what we would call a good relationship with all our children.
“There are still times we clash of course – what parent doesn’t who has teenagers – but we will laugh and joke with them, and they like to go out with us or spend time doing activities with us.”
The boys actually like to “help dad” around the house, Joanne remarks, whether that is cutting up wood, mowing the lawn, doing a bit of decorating or learning how to use a drill, all of which are life skills.
A visit to grandparents and extended family in the UK breaks up the holiday and a couple of day trips out, trips to the beach, a couple of cinema visits, will be planned for the rest of the time.
It is hard to find days out or activities to do that they can all enjoy as a family, Joanne explains. “The cinema covers this but it is hard to find other places, especially ones that are affordable.”
Living in a small village in east Cork, she wishes there was a public swimming pool nearby or a local facility with pool tables, air hockey and so on where teenagers could meet.
“Play parks are popping up everywhere for younger children but you never find facilities suited to teenagers, such as roller parks, BMX ramps,” she points out. “Even activities used by adults, such as quad bikes and laser shooting, are priced out of teenagers’ level of income.”
Undoubtedly it can be difficult for teenagers to find places to go and activities to enjoy – and of course the last thing many of them want is a “helpful” suggestion from their parents. But it’s not all doom and gloom; there are bright spots in what sometimes appears to be a barren wasteland as far as facilities and programmes for teenagers in the community are concerned. Here are some examples:
Much-needed drop-in centres for teenagers are appearing around the country in the wake of several rounds of State funding designated for youth cafes, although lack of staff and volunteers limits their opening hours.
Applications have just closed for the latest €1 million made available this year by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. The 95 applications received, totalling almost €8 million in funds being sought, indicate the high demand for this kind of facility.
Eight new youth cafes were approved under last year’s Youth Capital Programme and, before that, money from dormant accounts was channelled into refurbishment of existing youth cafes and the development of new ones by various youth organisations and local authorities.
The youth cafe on the ground floor of a funky, three-storey building, The Big Picture, in Tallaght, beside the Square Luas stop, is one of the latest examples, while Seomra in Bray, Co Wicklow (see sidebar) has been going since 2006.
The Big Picture drop-in cafe, operated by Foróige in conjunction with Co Dublin VEC, is open to young people aged 12-plus on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights, and during the day on Saturdays.
There is also a summer programme of activities for teenagers in other parts of the building, such as the well-equipped tech space.
Summer highlights include a junior leadership programme, beauty bootcamp and outdoor adventure week, as well as multi-activity “breakaway” five-day programmes in various areas of Tallaght.
Drop in to The Big Picture for more details of summer activities.
Participation in Gaisce – The President's Award is increasing by 18 per cent a year, which is surely a vote of confidence in the scheme's many benefits.
"We find these figures "astounding", considering there are so many other attractions and distractions going on for young people," says John Murphy, director of development at An Gaisce.
The award gives young people something positive to do, he points out, boosts their self-confidence, encourages them to be healthier and more caring and makes them more attractive to potential employers.
The summer is a good time for a teenager to plan and embark on working towards Gaisce; the bronze award can be done from age 15, silver from age 16 and gold from age 17, up to the age of 25.
For bronze, a minimum of an hour a week for 13 weeks has to be completed in three challenge areas: community involvement, personal skills and physical recreation. The young person chooses one of the three for an additional 13 weeks.
The fourth challenge is to plan, prepare and undertake a two-day, one-night adventure journey in a group, covering a minimum total distance of: walking 25-35km or cycling 100-130km.
It is essential to liaise with a President’s Award Leader (PAL) to plan what you’re going to do for each challenge, to fill in the application form and for the monitoring and signing-off of each challenge.
While most secondary schools and voluntary youth organisations have trained PALs, if you don’t have access to them during the summer, you can be put in touch with an independent PAL through Gaisce (01 6171 999 or email@example.com).
The national youth organisation Foróige runs various summer events and programmes through its local projects in every county – and not just for its members. It also operates a number of drop-in youth cafes, open to all in the local area.
One of its national highlights is the Band on the Strand music festival, on Saturday, July 6th, which is expected to attract up to 3,000 people aged 12-18.
Held on Lacken Strand in Co Mayo, 7pm-12.30am, the line-up includes Keywest, Walking on Cars, Stonefree and Mojo Gogo.
Now in its sixth year, the idea is to give younger people a taste of what it is like going to adult music festivals but in a safe space, free of drugs and alcohol, explains Mary Duffy, a volunteer and press officer for Foróige’s Mayo District Council.
Tickets for Band on the Strand cost €15 for Foróige members, while “a buddy”, vouched for by a member, pays €20.
For more details about this and all the Foróige summer activities, see foroige.ie
A pilot scheme of funding for about 21 skate parks six years ago was a start but they have been provided on a very ad hoc basis by local authorities.
"There are still a lot of counties that don't have any," says Grant Masterson, owner of Wreckless, a skate shop in Gorey, Co Wexford. "But there has been a very positive reaction in any town that has a park."
A map on his website, wreckless.ie, provides the best place to get an overview of where to find both public and commercial skateparks around the country, which cater for BMX, inline skaters and kids on scooters, as well as skateboarders.
Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council's youth arts centre in Cabinteely Park has a programme of one-off events and drop-in sessions for teenagers over the summer, all of which are free, except for a week-long performing arts camp.
Grainstock 3 on June 20th, 2pm-8pm will include live music in the courtyard, pageant and street performance, sound/sculpture installations, circus skills workshops and much more.
The two-day Core Festival, June 22nd-23rd, 1pm-8pm, will feature more than 20 bands, solo artists and magicians, on a main outdoor stage in the courtyard, with more happening throughout the building.
The 12-plus age group programme at the O’Hanlon Performing Arts Summer Camp, July 15th-19th, will include hip-hop, jazz, musical theatre and choreography.
There are Minecraft and circus skills drop-in sessions every Wednesday, 6-9pm, for those aged 15 years and over. Meanwhile, The Grainstore music room is available for young bands to rehearse in, throughout the summer.
See dlrgrainstore.ie or contact Mary on 2047978 or text 086 0256727 for further details.
A week-long environmental summer camp for green-minded teens (age 13-16) on August 19th-23rd, 10am-3pm, is run by Eco-Unesco at The Greenhouse on St Andrew Street in Dublin.
The camp includes activities focused on learning about the natural heritage of various habitats close to Dublin’s city centre, as well as day trips to the Grand Canal, the River Liffey and urban parklands, along with classroom workshops. Places are strictly limited and advance registration is essential.
For information and registration, tel: 01 662 5491 or email education@