Q: I don't want my kids, who are 11 and 13, sitting around in front of the TV all summer. But I haven't planned anything for them to do. Can you help?

A: Have you considered buying them a computer so they can divide their time between that and the TV? Okay, so maybe that's not a good answer.

But the Family Project 's parenting experts do understand your question. You've got a case of the "tweens" -- kids too young to get summer jobs and old enough to get into all kinds of mischief if left alone too long. And all day during the summer is too long. "They have to be supervised," says panelist Joanne Nigito. "They're too young to stay home all day every day. If a child has nothing scheduled, that's a good equation for trouble."

Nigito isn't necessarily talking about really bad trouble here, like smoking or drinking or drugs, gangs or sex, although, heaven knows, those troubles are lurking. It's things like trying to bake a cake without knowing what they're doing, or "exploring" the abandoned garage down the street with their friends that she's thinking of.

So, before school lets out you need to learn the three S's: supervised summertime smorgasbord. In other words, it's a rare kid at your children's ages who has any idea about what he or she likes to do or is good at, says panelist Bill Vogler. But it's also the perfect age for kids to find out by trying a whole bunch of things for a short while and seeing what sticks.

So, while you needn't choreograph every minute of your kids' "vacation," you can start planning some activities to pry those kids off the couch. Specifically -- get your children involved in a supervised sport situation like a summer swim team. Try also to develop an academic, artistic or hobby outlet through lessons or "camp."

To find supervised summer activities, look to your local municipal parks or recreation department, the YMCA or YWCA, the Boys & Girls club, volunteer-recruiting agency, school district or community college. Don't overlook churches, scouting and sporting groups and nonprofit organizations, such as museums, libraries and charities.

If you think those activities are too expensive, ask about financial assistance or donating time in exchange for enrollment. And even though your youngsters are too young to "work," that doesn't mean they couldn't start a "Kids for Hire" business walking dogs or weeding yards to help pay the way. Think also about allowing your child to volunteer. The Lehigh Valley offers a uprising number of programs that accept kids as young as 11 or 12. And they don't need to find a formal program to help others. Could they wash an elderly neighbor's car once a week or help with yard work or gardening? Could they clean up neighborhood litter?

Another great summer activity for "tweens" is serving as role models for younger kids. If your child is too old for T-ball, could he help the younger children in the neighborhood learn? Could she set up neighborhood story hours? Or return to a church Bible camp she attended when she was younger to organize games as a counselor?

The key to planning a tween summer is finding things that are time-intensive. Encourage anything that takes hours of practice to master or loads of hours to complete, whether it's interviewing grandma for a family history "project" or a handwritten and illustrated recipe book or running a neighborhood foul-shooting contest. But don't let the kids veg out, drown surfing the Net or wear out their thumbs playing video games.

Summers, panelists say, are too important to waste if "tweens" are to become successful people. "They're finding … their niche in life -- something they can do where they feel worth something. If they don't, they start to feel inferior," says Nigito. "They start losing self-esteem and they'll start choosing things for the wrong reasons."

Remember: behind almost every successful adult -- the astronomer who first photographed meteors the summer he was 14, the reporter who mimeographed a "newspaper" at 12 -- are "tweens" who found their souls.

familyproject@mcall.com 610-820-6562 The Family Project is a collaboration between The Morning Call and parenting professionals brought together by the Valley Youth House program Project Child, the Lehigh Valley's child-abuse prevention coalition.

Tips on things for your "tweens' to do

Here are 12 things your "tween" could do this summer:

Serve soda, sell merchandise, set up or clean up at Musikfest. Must be 12 and have an adult he or she knows also willing to volunteer. In downtown Bethlehem, Aug. 1-10. 610-332-1340.

Learn comic strip art animation. Must be 11. At the Banana Factory, 25 W. Third St., Bethlehem, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. July 7-11; $270. Also classes in video and film the weeks of June 23 and July 21 ($222) and photography 4-6 p.m. one day a week June 24-Aug. 12 ($180 plus cost of film). 610-332-1300.

Transport the elderly and assist them with activities. Must be 12. At Westminster Village, 803 N. Wahneta St., Allentown. 610-432-6245. Phoebe Home Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, 1925 Turner St., has similar opportunities for those 13 or who have completed 7th grade. 610-794-5362. Try any assisted-living or nursing home.

Investigate plant and animal life. For ages 8-13. At Earth, Sky & Water program at Wildlands Conservancy, 3701 Orchid Place, Emmaus. Full and half-day programs daily for a week every other week beginning June 16. Fees begin at $110 and range up to $250 per session. 610-965-4397, Ext. 36. Other programs on reptiles, birds, bugs, Native-American lore, aquatic life.