June 27, 2011 by middleearthnj
Ahhhhhhhhhhh, summer. Remember those relaxing, carefree days of your youth? Summer brings a lot of potential for fun and rest after a busy school year, but without any parental guidance, teens can easily fall into unhealthy behaviors. It could be as simple as sleeping half the day away or playing video games too much, but it can also mean engaging in risky activities. For example, according to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), incidences of first-time cigarette, marijuana or alcohol use for underage kids spike during the summer months. Juvenile crime also increases. So it behooves parents to combat the boredom or unhealthy habits that summer can bring. The easiest way to fight this battle is to sit down with your teen and help organize his or her time.
The first step in this process is to use a calendar to mark in major events during the summer. Fill in your family’s summer vacation, your teen’s camp dates and sports practices, and any other day trips that have already been set. Then you will be able to see what free time is left. If you see large gaps of time available, brainstorm with your teen to develop a list of things they may want to consider doing and help your teen look into these activities. For example:
- Summer camp. Although summer camps can be pricey, the benefits are well worth the cost. There is no better way to make constructive use of free time than learning something new – a new skill or sport, exploring an unfamiliar place, meeting new people. Summer camps are usually very fun and teach all sorts of valuable skills that your child won’t get in school.
- Youth programs. Community youth centers (such as those offered by Middle Earth) and other youth clubs are an excellent way to engage your teen during their out of school time. Besides being in a safe and supervised place, teens meet new friends, learn new skills, and are exposed to a variety of fun activities that they would otherwise not have access to. If your child has a particular interest – whether it’s computers, extreme sports, art, photography, dance, politics, or a career interest – clubs are a great way to meet new people who share the same goals and interests.
- Exercise. Check out your local YMCA or gym to see what fitness programs are going on over the summer. Exercise is great for kids of all ages and you may find a sport your child is interested in. Participation on a sports team can vary from lessons to competitive and can last from a week to the whole summer. Summer sports leagues are a great way to get exercise and fight boredom. Many communities and neighborhoods have pools that are available for members or residents.
- Classes. Visit your local parks and recreation department to see what classes are being offered for teens. Your child may learn a new skill or hobby. Consider dance, art, cooking, sewing, music lessons, or other ventures.
- Volunteer. A healthy and proactive way to keep your child busy during summer vacation is to help them find the perfect volunteer job. Many volunteer jobs are flexible and can allow your child to work from 1 hour once a week to daily. The key is to find the best fit for your child. Options include animal shelters, halfway houses, nursing homes, libraries, churches, homeless shelters, soup kitchens or doing yard work for an elderly neighbor. Community service can keep teens occupied while developing a sense of purpose, self-confidence, and personal responsibility. In addition to teaching teens the joy of giving back, volunteer work looks great on college applications and resumes. You can find many volunteer jobs by your local newspaper, online resources, and the local library.
- Part-time job. Many parents find internships or small tasks for their children to do at their place of employment, or you can help your teen apply to local grocery stores, restaurants, retail stores, local car washes, or pet care facilities. Preteens can also earn extra money babysitting, doing yard work, pet care, house-sitting, and other odd jobs. Teens can become camp counselors at camps for smaller children. Part-time work helps teens budget, make friends, comply with authority, develop a strong work ethic, and learn the value of a dollar.
Research community opportunities that may be fun for your child to do. The local library may offer programs or the park and recreation department might show movies. Review your town’s website and the local newspaper to find out what is being offered in your area for teens. Be sure to also include some family time. Take trips to a local museum, beach, park, baseball game, or amusement parks – anything that would interest your teens. Plan a supervised camping trip with friends. Consider visiting some colleges that your teen might consider in the future.
Although it may seem simple for your teen to remember the tasks for any given day, having things written down reduces stress and establishes firm expectations. Develop specific targets for your teen to meet each day, such as a wake-up time (or they might sleep all day), a time to have breakfast (or they might skip), or a time to complete a chore (such as making the bed and setting the table before dinner). The key is to write down specific things that need to be done but to also leave lots of free time!
It’s important to leave free time. Organizing your child’s time to fight boredom does NOT mean overscheduling them. Every child should have downtime in their summer schedule as a way to rest and recover from the rigidity of school schedules. However, depending on how your teen reacts to free time, you might want to consider brainstorming a list of suggested activities to fight boredom. That way, if your teen does get bored during their downtime, you can suggest ideas such as reading, listening to music, going for a bike ride, or doing a puzzle. Be sure to have lots of interesting books, puzzles, and other activities on hand. Consider giving your teen a book to learn something new that they might be interested in – such as how to sew, how to play the guitar, how to cook or how to draw – and give them the materials they need to begin trying out their new skill.
The great thing about giving your teen free time is that they will inevitably practice making choices. This is an excellent learning and problem solving opportunity. Summer can be a fun time, but parents must guard against their teens using their downtime for destructive purposes. To protect against bad choices, parents should: set clear rules with established consequences; take time to understand and communicate openly with your teen; engage your children in positive activities; monitor your teen’s activities and behaviors; and reserve time for family.