Van Beek: Structure keeps teens safe in the summer

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“Risky Business,” “Home Alone” and “Adventures in Babysitting” … while these films are humorous depictions of kids left to create their own adventures, in reality, smart kids are always pushing limits, and without structured activities and smarter supervision, they can find themselves in quite a mess. 

Of course, as adults, we never did anything that might be even remotely considered illegal, and others of us, are surprised that we didn’t end up on “America’s Most Wanted” wondering how we even managed to survive our teen years.

Every generation says that the newest one is so much worse, but in reality, each decade produces the exact same mentality, but with different toys to break.


Having said that, this year, things are a bit different. After two years of varying degrees of isolation, this past school year was the first return to normalcy for teenagers, and for some, it didn’t go as well as anticipated.

Academic achievement was off, and for some, quite a bit. Not everyone was back, as some chose to continue online learning. Some programs were diminished or eliminated. Even adults were different, as some businesses had to close, and others had jobs eliminated, and there were the moves. Many close friends and family moved away, seeking other opportunities, leaving those behind to wonder, will things ever return to normal? Because for many, it isn’t feeling very normal.

Add the usual teen angst to that level of uncertainty. We can safely assume that teens are currently not at their optimal best, and with too much time on their hands, they can get into a negative state of mind, or on the other side, a mischievous state of mind. 

For mental health concerns, there are some excellent peer groups that can be reached at

For the mischievous mind … there are several other options. 

While many programs are already full or may be beyond the family’s budget, there are other things that kids can do. There was a time when not every minute of a child’s life included a scheduled activity, yet there was structure and supervision. 

Like what, you may ask?

  • Some may find jobs, but given our rural location and limited public transportation, they may not be able to get from home to a job that can be located anywhere in the valley. 
  • Even volunteer opportunities are limited. However, have your teen register as a volunteer with day camps in the area, as they will sometimes be shorthanded and can use an enthusiastic young person who is willing to be on call. Summer camp volunteers have as much fun as the campers because they are usually engaged in the same activities. 
  • If the organized community sports teams are full or too expensive to join, the neighborhood kids can create their own touch football, soccer, or basketball teams. If they are uncertain how to do it, they can ask their grandparents, who spent every summer with their own version of sports like (stickball, kickball, handball, four-square, or hopscotch). They can be called the Retro-Teams!
  • In neighborhoods where there are many kids, parents may be able to organize group park or recreation center activities, or library trips, and take turns as the parent-in-charge. 
  • If transportation can be arranged, a trip to a horse farm or ranch to volunteer to help in exchange for riding time or other fun activities, like swimming or fishing in the property pond.
  • Even though some may say it’s corny, older kids love to create things like DIY obstacle courses and teach the younger ones how to navigate them and maybe offer a contest.
  • If someone in the neighborhood has an old flat-screen TV, they can set it up outside and have some fun movies playing with popcorn.
  • An afternoon can be made fun with everyone contributing to an ice cream sundae bar and a contest for the most creative.
  • A kiddie pool can be great fun, as are “war games” with water guns and water balloons … it’s summer, after all.
  • If it is a neighborhood of houses, perhaps each house can designate a small patch of dirt to be a “community garden” and the kids can go from house to house planting things and watching them grow. The homeowner gets a lovely garden, and the kids have a fun learning experience. It’s one of those muddy, dirty, experiences that create lasting memories, even if the garden isn’t perfect.
  • Neighbors can contribute to sidewalk chalk and have kids draw themes … which can be drawing animals on one day, plants on another, famous buildings can be interesting and historical, cars, foods, or an abstract day where people have to guess what it is. Just about anything can be added, and it will beautify the neighborhood in color, which can easily be rinsed away.
  • On a more caring note, the kids can pick one house a month or a week that belongs to a senior or disabled neighbor and do their lawn care.
  • If someone has a microphone, let the kids organize a talent show with different themes, like the funniest show, a show with only homemade instruments, a show with the silliest poems, one with the craziest DIY costumes, one where everyone has to sing a famous song but with their own imaginary words, etc.

There are lots of things that can be put together with little effort, which will make a huge difference in the life of a stay-at-home kid in the summer. I’d rather see them in their backyards having fun than in the back of a police car. 

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at

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