Your teenager is likely to be on holidays this week. Have you a plan for their summer? Have they a plan for their summer? Unless either or both of you have put some thought into it, it could easily drift into an extended weekend of getting up late, lying around the house, gaming, or endless scrolling on social media.
ost parents worry about their teenager having too much unstructured time over the summer, even though most of us recognise that some unstructured time is valuable. As with all things in parenting, we need to strive for some balance. Keeping them busy, while also letting them laze for some of the time will meet their need to relax and feel “off” from school, while also keeping them developmentally stimulated.
We know that teenagers’ sleep habits differ to children’s and adults’. Teenagers are typically more wakeful at night and feel more tired in the day. The school timetable can mean punishingly early starts for lots of teenagers and they then don’t get the corresponding rest at night. Therefore, sleeping till lunchtime on a Saturday may reflect a need to recoup lost sleep, rather than be an indication of laziness. The summer then may also be a time to recoup some of the sleep they missed out on during term time.
There was a time when I would have been arguing to let your teenager be bored, by not planning too much for them. Boredom is a great stimulus for creativity. Unfortunately, in the age of phones and tablets, teenagers won’t let themselves be bored as there is a constant stream of digital content waiting for them. And they know it. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that they will be seeking it out, given how rewarding it is for the pleasure centre of their brain.
So letting them have no plan to spend their time will most likely feed into their dependence on their phone and could lead to greater challenges in September when they need to curb their phone habits to free up time to focus on their academic learning.
Planning, however, needs to be a shared task. If you dictate their summer plans you are more likely to get significant resistance. So, if you haven’t planned with them, this is the time to do it. As with many important conversations with teenagers, you may have greater success in communicating when you speak with them “shoulder-to-shoulder”. Rather than sitting down at the kitchen table, suggest a walk, or a drive, or get them involved in some shared task with you and use that as your opportunity to discuss their summer.
In the discussion, be conscious of spending more time listening than talking. They may not have great creative suggestions for things they want to do, but engaging them about their likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams can often give pointers to activities that might appeal. You might want to suggest, from the outset, that they think about their summer in groups of weeks. Some of the time needs to be productive, some needs to be unproductive and some needs to be family-oriented (most likely a family holiday, if you are going to get a break this summer).
With Covid rules relaxed, Gaeltacht summer courses are back on track. Indeed most of you have probably already dropped off your teenager, since June is the favoured month to keep them busy in the Gaeltacht. This staple of teenage summer activity hits all the high notes of a bit of productive learning of Irish, plenty of fun and bucket-loads of social engagement. It is a great example of a win-win use of time over the summer.
For the productive time, you might want to get them thinking about part-time work, if they are old enough. Most formal part-time work requires teenagers to be 16 or older, but typically friends and family may have some less formal work that can occupy your son or daughter, while also giving them greater responsibility and the chance to get some more financial independence from you. Failing that, compile a list of “paid-for” chores that you would otherwise pay someone else to do.
Some families may be concerned that if left to their own devices in the neighbourhood with friends, that their son or daughter may end up in near-delinquency. This can happen, but it is rare if you have a good-enough level of communication and you have done a good enough job at listening and setting limits in the past. Having a passing knowledge of who their friends are is also helpful. Having down-time with friends is important, and at least they are not isolated in their bedroom with just a phone for company.
Finally, how do you like to spend your family time and how do you think they may enjoy spending family time? For it to feel successful and companionable, it may have to meet everyone’s needs most of the time, even if it just meets some members’ needs some of the time. The more you talk about it and plan it, the better it is likely to go.