Summer can be a special time for teens filled with camp, vacations, romance, summer jobs, boredom and lots of free time. For parents, however, summer vacation presents unique concerns that differ from those of the routine school year – how to manage ALL that free time and feel confident your teen is safe, while trying to maintain your own regular work and family responsibilities.
Impulsivity and risk-taking are natural parts of development in adolescence. Portions of the brain are expanding at lightening speed without yet achieving efficiency, leading to seemingly irrational thoughts and unchecked behaviors. Too much unmonitored and unstructured time can allow unhealthy creativity free reign.
Thankfully, parents who cultivate remote supervision and break up the boredom can increase the likelihood teens stay safe. Here are a few tips to help minimize the stress in your summer and maximize the fun and safety of your teen’s summer:
- Conduct periodic spot checks of your child’s whereabouts or activities
Cell phones have done wonders for parent peace of mind, but they will not always be helpful. Calling your child to check on where he is may be effective or it may provide an opportunity to practice skirting around the edge of the truth. Your child’s well-being may depend upon your cleverness and subtlety. Use all available resources. Put the inevitable tattling of siblings to good use. On occasion, casually verify that your child is where they should be by using an excuse to contact another parent or a friend of your teen. Once in a while unexpectedly return home or drop by the location that your child should be. You do not need to go overboard. The random check simply reminds your child that you are paying attention.
- Expect Your Child to Do Chores Regularly
Chores have many healthy benefits. They teach responsibility. They demonstrate the importance of contributing to the household. They save you effort. And not unimportantly, they take up time! Expect that your teen might complain about your reasonable expectations of labor and think of the complaining as a positive.. All the energy he or she spends grousing about you is effort not being expended getting into mischief!
- Network with other Parents
One parent I knew lived in a neighborhood with many young adolescents and working parents, so they got together and agreed to have the kids rotate between one another’s houses on a regular schedule. Parents then rotated supervision on a schedule as well. For some that meant taking an occasional day off, others worked odd shifts, still others paid for an older youth to monitor the group or recruited the assistance of grandparents. Everyone isn’t lucky enough to live is such an accommodating neighborhood, but creativity is more likely to blossom if parents collaborate.
- Provide and Encourage Boredom Busting Activities
This is easier said than done when talking about teens, especially if you are on a budget that does not allow for camps, enrichment classes or sports programs. A couple of sources are 50 Fun Things to Do in the Summer or The Big Book of Boy Stuff , which contains zany ideas both boys and girls will love, such as cutting into grapes and microwaving them until they create sparks. Friends can make anything more entertaining, so building positive friendships is an important part of any adolescent’s summer. Cultivate healthy risk taking opportunities. Allow your young teen to take the bus or ride her bike to a new part of town for lunch. Remember that being bored once in a while is part of life. You need to offer a few thoughtful suggestions, but you don’t have to become a cruise director.
Article by Becky Mather
Becky is the Prevention Education Coordinator with the Wisconsin Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board where she oversees statewide efforts to offer professional development and training to family serving professionals to promote healthy family functioning and reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect. She and her husband are the parents of two adult children and a teenage son who challenges them to keep honing their parenting skills and strategies. Becky previously served as a parenting outreach specialist for the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension and was one of the co-founders of Parenthetical.