Taking Stock of Summer

Overcoming challenges that parents face with their teens during summer vacation.

Posted Jul 28, 2013

Summer can be a mixed bag for teens and their parents.  While expectations for fun, friends, and freedom begin to distract teens in Spring, by late July many are feel restless and irritable. 

Seasoned parents know the drill:  Summer starts with corpse-like inertia during the day followed by rabid social immersion at night. If your teen is good at making plans and has a strong circle of friends, summer social life is likely to be lively. 

For teens who have not developed the skill of planning or activating ideas for fun, a case of the summer “blahs” may set in, leading to screen time escapism.  Since no one on Facebook or Instagram posts pictures of themselves looking bored and lonely, this escapism is likely to take a negative toll on your teen’s mood.

Family vacations can be wonderful and challenging.  It’s natural for teens to feel anxious when they leave their friends for a family vacation.  In the minds of many, especially girls, temporary disengagement carries the threat of permanent disruption in closeness or inclusion.

Parents understandably get annoyed when their kids seem put-out by the family vacations they used to love.  Getting teens away for awhile, whether it’s camping or exotic travel, often pays off because when teens transition away from social relationships, families have an opportunity to relax and play together, and reestablish bonds.

On the other side of the coin, lots of teens complain that all of their friends are going on vacation at the same time - leaving them high and dry with only summer reading and their social networking.   “I HAVE NO ONE!” exclaimed a teen in my office recently.  “I’m going to be a pathetic hermit or worse, start hanging out with my MOM!”

(In fact, this teen’s loneliness did increase her openness to hang out with her mom and the two ended up having a lot of fun together.  Predictably, the mom was jilted when her teen’s friends came back to town, but has no regrets about the opportunistic connecting.)

With the end of July often comes restlessness and intermittent irritability in teens who feel disappointed or frustrated by the discrepancy between their summer expectations and reality. “I wanted this summer to be epic but I’m bored and my parents are annoying me.”

Parents likewise struggle with annoyance.   “Give me the old days when I could plunk her in soccer camp and pick her up happy and tired.” 

Attempts to organize a teen’s summer may trigger full-scale mutiny.  Some parents work with resistance by insisting on a bare minimum:  a class, a volunteer commitment, summer employment, or a physical activity.  Loathe to sacrifice any of their precious free time, most teens end up feeling pleased that they participated in something structured and enriching. 

There are other challenges for parents. Your intentions were strong and self-respecting when you clearly stated your expectations regarding chores and basic household consideration.  So, why is it so hard to hold teens to those expectations? 

Oh right!  Because they’re either gone or sleeping when you notice the garbage is full, their dishes are left out, and the dog is starving.

Yet when you think about it, why should teens know how to structure their time in summer?  The planning part of the brain is the last to develop so for many teens, wanting to do things and have fun outshines their ability to brainstorm, research, collaborate with others, and schedule.

For 9 months of the year, many teens are so over-structured that they’re massively sleep deprived.  (Not to mention nature deprived and fun deprived.)  When the pendulum of summer swings to the other extreme, they’re paralyzed by the contrast. 

As adults we know what a challenge it is to live a balanced life.  Making time for the body, the mind, and the spirit is hard to create and maintain.  We can help our teens by checking in with them in late July to take stock of summer and to support them in creating more of what they want and need before back-to-school sales start!

Tips for a Good Talk

Initiate a conversation to help your teen reflect on her summer.  Reflection helps people appreciate the positive and think of ways to create more positive.  It also helps people identify what’s not working and think of ways to make changes. 

A common concern among professionals who note changes in the way teens grow up in today’s busy world is that teenagers don’t get enough time to self-reflect.  Without reflection, people tend to feel like empty automatons.  Reflection is important and beneficial to healthy development.

Teen:  “I like that I’ve been hanging out with my friends a lot but I wanted to exercise and I haven’t done anything so far. I also wanted to get my summer reading done and I haven’t even started yet.”

Now you can help your teen generate ideas about how to activate exercise and summer reading.  Note:  Avoid judging or any hint of disapproval or your teen will shut down and your conversation will be over.  

Parent:  “I’m glad you’ve gotten some good social time.  And the great thing about identifying your disappointments is that you can problem solve ways to get motivated and get moving.  I’ll help you.”

Ways to help teens meet goals include:

  • writing goals down on 3 x 5 cards and posting them around their room
  • scheduling time to spend on their goal activity
  • seeking support//company of friends and family to engage in goal
  • following up time spent on goal with time spent engaging in a reward activity, like napping or hanging out with friends AFTER a run or chapter is completed!

As we parents know, the best way to teach is through example so NOW is a good time for us to reflect as well.  What do you need to satisfy summer expectations?   I remember root beer floats on the hot summer nights of my childhood, so I’ll put that on my list.  I’ve loved summer barbequing but haven’t made ribs yet, so that goes on my list for sure.  And I have a hammock I spend very little time in, so I think I’ll meet that goal right now.  What about you?  

Join the conversation here on my Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/luciephd

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