What are the kids going to do this summer?

When New Yorker Jan Greenberg asked her 15- and 18-year-olds that question last spring, it set off a commotion -- the kind that erupts this time of year in households with teen-agers.

"It was a lot of screaming and yelling," says Greenberg. "Nobody had the slightest idea. When we tried making some plans we didn't know what to do."

Greenberg, who was between writing projects, began research, which culminated in her book: The Teenager's Guide to the Best Summer Opportunities (Harvard Common Press, $9.95). "I wanted to see how one finds out about special programs and summer work for teen-agers. These days, who has time to sit down and do that?"

By probing the maze of federal agencies, contacting private groups and talking with volunteer organizations, Greenberg learned that young people looking for something different have to work hard to discover it. But for the persistent, "There's a tremendous number and variety of summer opportunities for kids besides a fast-food counter job or a trip with the folks."

She stresses, however, that the time to make contacts is now. She also advises young people not to be discouraged by the red tape. "No one is expecting a 15- or 16-year-old to have special skills. These programs look for quality in a person -- responsibility, initiative and potential rather than experience."

Here's a sampling of leads from Greenberg's guide. Some pay wages, others want volunteers. Some are expensive, although many offer financial assistance or scholarships.

Government Jobs and Volunteer Programs: Because funding has been slashed, competition is particularly keen. Deadlines are early.

* Career-minded high schoolers in the top 10 percent of their classes can apply through school guidance offices for The Federal Government Junior Fellowship Program. Employs 5,000 college-bound seniors planning federal careers. Provides jobs each summer during college years in fields such as accounting, computer science and engineering.

The Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service sponsor volunteer programs for all ages. Both want skilled volunteers, but use enthusiastic laborers to work on federal and state land. Local offices administer their own programs. Openings, rules and financial assistance vary by location. Contact local offices, or write The Human Environment Center, 810 18th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20006.

Drug abuse, waste recycling and environmental projects are the work of Young Volunteers in Action (YVA), a nationwide program for ages 14 to 22. Requires a minimum of eight hours work a month. Write ACTION, Office of Communication, Washington, D.C. 20525.

* Volunteer directories: The Directory of National Voluntary Organizations, available from the National Council on the Aging, 600 Maryland Ave. NW, West Wing 100, Washington, D.C. 20024. Lists programs that need volunteers of all ages. Another directory available from Volunteer: National Center for Citizen Involvement, 1111 N. 19th St., Suite 500, Arlington, Va. 22314.

Private Sector Jobs and Internships: Greenberg stresses the need for imagination -- among both teens and corporations -- in coming up with satisfying job ideas. She also suggests searching traditional summer job areas or starting your own business. Some possibilities:

* Although most summer camps hire counselors age 18 and older, many offer nonpaid or reduced camp fee counselor-in-training programs for younger people. Some hire under age 18 for kitchen and maintenance help. For more information: Parents' Guide to Accredited Camps ($6.95), from American Camping Association, 335 E. 46th St., New York, N.Y. 10017; Summer Opportunities for Kids and Teenagers ($9.95 plus $3.25 handling) published by Peterson's Guides, Princeton, N.J. 08540; the Association of Independent Camps, Dept. SED, 157 W. 57th St., New York, N.Y. 10019.

* For a chance to travel for pay, among agencies specializing in placing parents' helpers: Anne Andrews Employment Agency, 38 E. 57th St., New York, N.Y. 10019, and The Hampton Agency, 7 N. Suffern Rd., Suffern, N.Y. 10919.

* Paid and unpaid internships, usually for college and graduate students; sponsored by public and private organizations, as diverse as the Republican National Committee, SANE and the Smithsonian Institution. Requirements vary. A valuable resource, Internships (Writer's Digest Books, $12.95), describes 34,000 opportunities, eligibility requirements and application procedures.

Academic Summer Programs: Wide variety, sponsored by private schools, colleges and universities. Most tuitions include use of facilities for leisure, sports and socializing; financial aid and scholarships available. A few leads:

Camps 'n Computers ($12.95 plus $2 postage), directory to more than 50 computer camps, available from The Verbatim Corp., 4966 El Camino Real, Suite 228, Los Altos, Calif. 94022.

* International Language Villages, founded by Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn., in 1961 to immerse 8 to 17 year olds in the language, life style, cuisine and culture of foreign countries. Simulated French, Finnish, Chinese, Russian and German villages, among others. Two-week sessions, $395. (218) 299-4544.

Arts Programs: Most colleges and universities, and some professional theater and dance companies, offer summer programs in dance, drama, the arts and music. For example:

* Poetry, folk dance, jazz piano and drama at Interlocken, an extensive and experimental arts programs combined with an outdoorsy atmosphere in Hillsboro, N.H. Sessions for finishing grades 3 to 9 in July and August, $1,475 per month; 2-month session, $2,475. Participants live in cabins and tents overlooking Boulder Lake and a 1,000-acre wilderness preserve. Also camp and travel programs for students in several different countries. Finishing grades 7-12, $1,375 to $2,475. Focus on cross-cultural experiences, wilderness, cycling and performing arts. (603) 478-3202.

* Seminar '85 at Western Michigan University School of Music chamber music camp for ages 15 to 18. Ensemble performance experience and daily classes. Two-week sessions, $310; scholarships available. (616) 383-0910.

Outdoor and Wilderness Programs: To take in some of the most beautiful landscapes of America. A long list of conservation and wilderness organizations that sponsor hiking, backpacking, camping and climbing programs available from The Sierra Club Outing Department, 530 Bush St., San Francisco, Calif. 94108. Examples:

* Asheville (N.C.) School Mountaineering Camp activities include caving, backpacking, canoeing, rock climbing and white-water kayaking. For ages 13 through adult. $400 per two-week session. Some scholarships. (704) 254-6345.

* The National Wildlife Federation Teen Adventure, a program for beginning and intermediate backpackers in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Ages 14 to 17, June 21-28, $375. (703) 790-4363.

Sports Programs: Increasingly popular are the sports programs sponsored by universities, private schools and community organizations. A camp exists for virtually every popular sport. Samples:

* The 4-Star Tennis Academy one- to eight- week sessions in five locations, including Yale University and the University of Virginia. Ages 9 to 18, two programs at each site to suit individual skill levels, $400 per week. Participants live in dorms. (703) 893-4428 or (800) 334-7827.

* Snorkeling, windsurfing and waterskiing through the Sail Caribbean programs, ages 14 to 19. U.S. and British Virgin Islands and the Leeward Islands. All aspects of seamanship and sailing taught in 2- to 6-week sessions, $995 to $3,490 (airfare not included). Accommodations on 46-ft. sailing yachts; own housekeeping and meal preparations, cleaning and boat maintenance. (516) 754-2202.

Travel Programs: Bike through Wales and Scotland? Live with a Swedish family for six weeks? Among resources on travel, employment, exchange and foreign-study programs: The Whole World Handbook ($8.95), published annually by the Council of International Educational Exchange, 205 E. 42 St., New York, N.Y. 10017, and an extensive bibliography of publications and a list of programs, available from the National Association for Foreign Student Affairs, 1860 19th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20009.