Making the most of long summer holidays with teenagers
How much down-time is healthy and how much routine should parents encourage?
Some parents relish the idea of teenagers having a three-month break from school, but others dread it.
Whichever way parents might be feeling, one thing is for sure; this extended period of time without the routine of a structured learning environment can bring about change and challenge for every family. It isn’t easy to have your all of your time scheduled, that is true at every age and so the extended break from school and academic work can be really beneficial.
Having down-time really matters, but how much down-time is healthy and how much routine should parents try to encourage (or even impose) during the summer break?
Here are some simple things parents can consider in order to make the most of the summer. By giving some focus ahead of time to thoughts and feelings about summer, parents can increase their chances of having a summer that runs smoothly for their teens and for all the family.
Be clear in your mind what your expectations are
It was Sylvia Plath who once said: “If you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed.” And while her words ring true, it can be hard as a parent to expect nothing from your teenager over the long summer break. Some parents can be very clear that they expect their teenager son or daughter to help out with younger siblings, some may expect that they do extra chores while the adults continue with their workload. Being clear what you expect is important and so too is checking in with the other parent (if you are part of a two-parent family) about their expectations. When you are clear about things like financial support for your teen over the summer, lifts, curfews etc, you are in a better position to back each other up if a difficulty arises.
Discuss the possibility of boredom
As the summer break begins, teenagers can imagine that it will be filled with nothing but fun and relaxation. But the reality is that after a few weeks, teenagers can become bored and they can wish then that they had planned their summer a little differently. While boredom is a healthy feeling for all of us at times, it can be a tricky feeling to navigate and it can be hard to manage too. It is worth highlighting the possibility of boredom so that you can talk about what can be done if this issue arises.
Give some focus to what they might need
The summer break presents an opportunity to give focus to some issues that parents may feel cropped up during the school year. For example, if a young person struggled socially during the school year, the summer can present an opportunity to focus a little more on developing friendships. A parent who is tuned into this issue is in a prime position to offer support, perhaps by encouraging their teen to meet up with friends or even by encouraging them to invite friends over. Another issue that can present itself during the school term is lack of exercise. This can be especially pertinent if a lot of focus was given to academic work. Tuning in to what young people may need matters as you can steer some conversation in the direction of that topic.
Ask about their expectations
It is only by asking questions that you get answers and so in order to find out what a young person expects from their time off school, it is necessary for parents to be quite specific in their questioning.
Questions such as ‘How much time do you expect to be allowed on your phone over the summer?’; ‘How much freedom do you expect compared to the amount you get during the school term?’; ‘Do you think that if you do extra work in the house you should get paid?’ can be useful.
Teenagers are dealing with the unconscious psychological task of working out their identity and so contact with peers (from whom they get feedback about identity issues) really matters. During the Summer, this contact with peers can involve an increased level of social media use as peers aren’t together as much as they are during the school term. Parents need to consider whether or not they can be ok with this, keeping in mind the value of positive peer contact for teens.
It is important when it comes to this conversation about a young person’s expectations that the age and level of maturity of the young person is considered. The older the person is, the more they might expect to be taking ownership of managing their own time and budget. They may even feel that they should not need to have to ask permission to do certain things over the Summer, especially if they are able to fund their activities or trips themselves. Checking in with them and talking about any expectations around this issue matters as it can lower the chances of conflict arising as June turns into July.
Communication is key
Having a conversation with teenagers about your own expectations and theirs is important and the best time for this communication to happen is as early as possible. A monthly ‘check-in’ to review how the Summer is going (for them and for you) can be really useful as it gives parents the chance to air any issues that are cropping up in quite a structured, non-conflicting way.
Creating this review space is good for your relationship with your teen as it reduces the chance of conflict between you and it tells them that you really care about them getting the most from their Summer. It is a chance to make a space where you can talk about what conditions make Summertime enjoyable.
What parent wouldn’t want that.
Anne McCormack is a Systemic Psychotherapist in Rush and Skerries, Co Dublin and is registered with FTAI & ICP.