We were so thrilled when the TeenLife team reached out to us several weeks ago looking for ways to partner! TeenLife  is the “go to” source for teens and young adults nationwide who are seeking programs and interesting experiential learning opportunities. Just as the Dormify team scours the universe for fabulous products for your dorm so that you don’t have to, TeenLife does the same with finding information for you on summer programs, community service opportunities, academic experiences, and gap year programs – regionally, nationally, and internationally. If you are a teen or young adult, I recommend you looking into TeenLife and I also recommend you read my interview with TeenLife founder, Marie Schwartz. 

Stephanie Hayman: What inspired you to launch TeenLife?

Marie Schwartz: I was inspired to start TeenLife because it was a resource that I needed when my family moved to Boston and I had nowhere to turn to find programs and services for my sons who were entering 6th and 8th grade. As a class parent, I created a list of summer programs for teens in Boston and handed it out to the other parents at the school. It was a big hit and the rest is history!

Stephanie: Why do you feel it is important for teens to take on activities in addition to school?

Marie: Activities outside of school can become lifelong passions and interests as well as provide a social outlet that helps balance teens’ lives. Teens can gain confidence and a sense of achievement that is often greater than what they experience at school.

Stephanie: How do the programs listed on TeenLife help prepare students for college?

Marie: It is important for college-bound students to experience living away from home before they go to college. The overnight Summer Programs on our site, for example, are a great way for students to experience living with a roommate and gain basic life skills without academic pressure. College is just as much about learning how to live and make decisions independently as doing well academically. 

Stephanie: What do you think are the best types of activities that stick out on a teens resume when applying for college? 

MarieActivities that set students apart are those that demonstrate some type of perseverance and real commitment to a few activities AND/OR show significant personal growth. Colleges also like independent thinkers, so I encourage students to have hobbies, get jobs, and pursue activities that fall outside the norm. Essays and interviews are so much better when a student can speak about something that they are passionate about or that had meaning for them.

Stephanie: Activities such as community service, internship, and summer programs seems to be a large time-commitment. What sort of advice do you have for students on managing their time well?

MarieI encourage students to focus on fewer activities at a time and to use the summer for activities that require a higher time commitment. For example, it is better to spend a month doing community service in a more engaged way during the summer rather than doing it sporadically during the school year, a few hours a semester.

Stephanie: What advice do you have for teens who have not quite figured out what they want to be or do when they “grow up”?

MarieThe teen years are a great time to try and RULE OUT options without penalty. Some high schools give students the option to engage in an internship before they graduate – this is a great way to learn about different professions. Other schools have a Career Day where they invite members of the local Chamber of Commerce to come in and present. Parents should also ask adult friends if they are open to giving their son or daughter a tour of their workplace. Finally, there are several summer programs at colleges that help students to experience certain majors (engineering, medicine, architecture) while they are still in high school.

Stephanie: A phrase you are known for is “helicopter parents.” How would you describe this type of parent? How do you suggest teens deal with these hovering parents, especially when transitioning to college?

MarieParents of college-bound teens are very anxious about the admissions process and don’t want their child to “fail” at any cost. They tend do everything possible to prop up their child. This robs students of the ability to experience natural consequences of their actions. In college, teens need to be sure to proactively communicate with their parents about how they are doing so that the parents don’t have to call or ask, and only inform them of problems AFTER they have had a chance to address them. For example, “I didn’t do well on the first exam, so I went to the Center for Academic Support and got a tutor”.

Stephanie: Describe your freshman year dorm room at Princeton.

MarieI lived in a suite with 7 other girls my freshman year. I had very little else in my room except what the university provided and my clothes. I think we bought a used couch and some other items from the student agency that recycled furniture.

Stephanie: You spent much of your youth abroad in Europe. How important is this type of experience for teens?

MarieI absolutely think that traveling abroad is a critical experience for teens. It challenges their assumptions about what is “normal” and teaches them how to cope in a completely unfamiliar environment. I had the opportunity to go on a charitable trip to Cuba with my son when he was 17 and he was stunned by the difference in living conditions and lack of personal freedom. By the end of the trip he had given away everything except the clothes on his back.

Stephanie: Being a teen can be stressful. From experience with your own children, how would you describe a good living space for students to feel at ease? What are some items you recommend all teens have in their rooms to de-stress? 

MarieMost students don’t study in their room – rather, it’s a place to sleep, socialize, and “hang out”. One of my sons pays a lot of attention to making his bed as comfortable as possible. He created a nest with a pillow top mattress pad, a duvet comforter, four pillows and a throw made out of the softest material he could find. Another important feature is a comfortable place to sit with friends. Wall décor and a carpet can further personalize a space and make it feel “like home.” Finally, a super messy room can make some students feel overwhelmed. It’s important to have places to easily store clothes, shoes, and dirty laundry. 

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