Another school year is in the books! Some households will gladly trade the nightly homework, the sports schedules, and the parent pick-up line for binge watching, backyard bocce, and pool passes. But for others, it brings on an excess of unsupervised free-time, isolation, and boredom.
As the mother of two teenagers, I asked my good friend for some advice on how to maintain positive routines during the summer. Jennifer Glenn is a licensed professional counselor, specializing in children and adolescent mental health. She says that despite the positives of summer break, it can disrupt students’ daily, healthy rhythms. And after a uniquely difficult school year like this past one, the disruption is even greater.
School provides our children with more than just academics. The daily structure and healthy stimulation is vital to growing adolescents. Some students say summer break can bring on feelings of depression and loneliness from not seeing friends regularly. And the lack of social contact, limited exercise, and poor eating habits take a real toll on their overall mental health.
Importance Of Structure
During her 18 years as an adolescent counselor, Jennifer has heard her share of hallway chatter. Summer is a lawless season. It’s two months of unlimited WiFi, no bedtime, and Doritos for days, all within the confines of a comfortably furnished bedroom. Students know this is not necessarily good for them long-term. They recognize the lack of structure and influx of downtime tends to do more harm than good.
It’s not only important for kids to have structure, but also for parents. “Be sure to model good rhythms for your children,” Jennifer said. Even though as adults we do not get the joy of a summer break, it’s a great time to check in with ourselves and reset where needed.
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
– Proverbs 22:6
I couldn’t agree more. I personally do not like to be idle. That’s when I get into trouble. I get lazy, my mind becomes overrun with negative thoughts, and my motivation is non-existent. When I became a mother, I adopted the parenting mantra of “busy kids are happy kids.” During the elementary ages, busy was easy. Summer camps, sleepovers, and youth group kept us moving at a manageable pace. But as they turned into middle and high schoolers and formed personal preferences, keeping them busy has become harder. They clearly know what they don’t want to do, but have no idea what they want to do.
Make A Plan
Jennifer suggests that families form a plan together. Involving your child in the process offers accountability and ownership. Gathering ideas that interest them, without overwhelming the schedule can combat boredom and the lack of routine in a healthy way.
Start the conversation with a few ideas:
- Create a list of household chores.
- Find a summer job.
- Acquire a new hobby.
- Use your local library and do a book study together.
- Learn a new skill (without YouTube).
- Allow them to paint or redecorate their room.
Include healthy habits:
- Use parental control apps and limit WiFi and screen time.
- Get those steps in! Spend 15-30 minutes a day outside doing a physical activity.
- Keep them hydrated. Use a water bottle that tracks their intake.
- Teach healthy food choices by making a meal plan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- Stay on any prescribed medications.
- Pick a reasonable bedtime and stick to it.
And speaking of sleep, my kids seem to go into some form of hibernation during the summer months. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, we should let them sleep. This June, the Academy reported in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine that children between the ages of 6–12 should get 9–12 hours of sleep a night, and teenagers between the ages of 13–18 should get 8–10 hours.
Summertime does not have to be wasted time. In between the napping, the snacking, and the gaming, it is possible to encourage healthy rhythms. Sure, your laundry may not get folded the way you like, but maybe you’ll then be blessed with the opportunity to teach the joys of ironing!