For teens, the countdown to summer break has begun. The structure of school, busy scheduling and balancing act of extracurricular activities and homework will soon transform into unadulterated independence. Summer is a time for teens to slow down the pace and relax for twelve weeks. Long days and warm sunshine, freedom from schoolwork and responsibilities, hanging out with friends and sleeping until noon is on the horizon. For some parents that scenario is a nightmare.
Even if you have planned a long family vacation, or your teen is off to camp for the entire summer or attending summer school, there will still be hours each day of the summer that your teen has absolutely nothing to do. The thought that a teen will neither be productive nor have every minute of their summer planned out can throw some parents into panic. The fear is that not doing anything, or taking the summer “off” won’t look good on that not so far off and ever-important college application. Or worse, mixing boredom, less structure, minimal adult supervision with the teens “need” to break away from parental control and achieve independence is a recipe for trouble and possibly risky behavior and experimentation with drugs and alcohol.
Don’t let the start of summer turn into conflict, crisis, or the countdown until September. The key to keeping your teen out of trouble and away from bad influences and creating both a positive and memorable summer experience is to provide consistency and stability by:
• Keeping to a basic household schedule for mealtime, household tasks, bedtimes and curfews throughout the summer.
• Maintaining the same clear and reasonable boundaries as to what is expected, acceptable behavior and what is NOT permitted both under your roof and outside the home.
• Staying clued in to what your teen is doing with whom, where and when.
• Balancing structured and unstructured time (which does not translate into “unsupervised” time).
Don’t let summer turn into no-man’s-land for your teen.
Here is the Summer Survival Toolkit for Parents of Teens:
1. A spontaneous staycation
Rather than taking the classic epic planned summer vacation, which can be ripe for disaster, try a staycation filled with activities and outings in driving distance. A quick escape from daily routines can strengthen family bonds and have everybody in their own bed by nightfall.
2. Delight in downtime
Studies show that teens today are over-scheduled, sleep-deprived, digitally distracted, and sapped out even over the summer. Downtime is essential for the teen brain and body development. Summer allows more time for teens to rest, relax, reflect, and replenish. “Unstructured” and “unplugged” time, reading, listening to music, walking the dog, going for a bike ride, or just doing nothing also allows for parents and teens to connect, de-stress, and daydream together.
3. For the love of learning
Summer can offer time for your teens to explore, discover, and learn new things or a new skill. Ask your teen if there is something they want to try? Invite your teen to explore something they have never done before. There may be a teen program in art, music, or dance or perhaps a course at a local zoo, planetarium, natural history or science museum?
4. Growth, responsibilities, and random acts of kindness
Getting involved in volunteer work not only keeps teens occupied, but also more importantly it helps teens take the focus off themselves and develop a sense of purpose and personal responsibility. Encourage your teen to find a volunteer organization that sounds interesting: an animal shelter, a senior home, a soup kitchen — some place where they will experience the joy of giving back – even if it is just one day.
5. Teen entrepreneur
What better way to provide your teen with financial independence and encourage their ability to take on responsibilities outside the family, and structure their time then to start their own business? Babysitting, lawn care, and dog walking are all perfect jobs for reliable teens over the summer — and sometimes this can carry on through the school year.
Summer break is an opportunity to build your family structure and strengthen your relationship with your teen. Giving your teen time to recharge their mental and physical energy with a balance of structured and unstructured activities let’s them return to school refreshed. Your teen will be grateful for your encouragement and involvement both in the short and the long run.
Mendi Baron, LCSW, a passionate advocate for teens in the field of mental health and addiction and the go-to expert to start the conversation on critical issues that impact teens and their families, is the founder and CEO of Evolve Treatment Centers based in Southern California. For more information, please go to www.evolvetreatmentcenters.com