Hello, PATH Parents!
June has flown by, and summer is officially ON! July is my favorite month of summer vacation because it is the one month that doesn't involve school at all, so it feels like the real "break" we've all been aching for by the end of the school year. Of course, distance learning (AKA schooling from home), has caused some of us to yearn for it all the more. July is the month where we can fully enjoy relaxed schedules and outdoor fun. But it's also the month that our teens start to get bored. They are looking for things to do and often come to us for ideas that can be hard to come by as we have adult responsibilities already keeping us busy, leaving little time for researching solutions or becoming our teens' daily activity director. However, if we're only telling our teens to "get creative and figure it out," they will most likely take the road of least resistance by grabbing their phones, jumping online via their computer, or watching TV for hours on end. That may keep them busy, but it's not necessarily a constructive use of their time.
So here are four great ways to keep your teens engaged in something OTHER than mindlessly scrolling through Instagram:
1. GET THEM OUTSIDE AND MOVING. Vitamin D is your teen's friend (especially during a pandemic), so finding ways for your teens to enjoy a little outdoor activity is a great start. We are fortunate in Northwest Indiana to be relatively close to the beach, so some beach days are great for summer fun, whether it's all-day or just for a few hours. If your teen needs to stay closer to home, riding bikes, skateboarding, and roller skating are great activities to not only be outside but also get some needed exercise. If you have a yard, an inexpensive badminton kit will provide hours of fun. Not everyone is great at racket sports, but badminton is one that almost anyone can play immediately with some success (as well as lots of movement and laughter). Pick up a $5 volleyball from Five Below, and that net can be used for volleyball, too. No yard? A paddle ball kit works well in a small space. Or pick up a $5 kickball and a bucket of chalk. Your teen can easily draw a 4-Square court on the driveway and have outside fun with neighbors and friends for hours. (That game is addictive!)
2. GET THEM CREATING. Summer is the only time that our teens have extended hours to work on meaningful projects. If we can get our teens to work on areas that interest them, they can exponentially develop their skill sets over these summer months. Our family has four kids (a 20-year-old son and three teen daughters), and we told them that they have to create something new almost every day of summer (Monday to Friday). Our kids are musicians, so we wanted them to go beyond simply "practicing" their instrument, which is essential to creating something measurable. They have had great fun creating content together (both cover songs and original work), which can be loaded on a personal (and private, if desired) YouTube channel, not to mention different social media outlets (which also can be made private, like Marco Polo videos). If you have an artist, YouTube is FILLED with painting and drawing tutorials. If you have a dancer, there are fun dance videos available with routines for them to master. Budding photographers and videographers can have great fun creating Chatbooks or iMovies. Those who love to write could have fun creating their own short stories or novels. (Did you know that the classic novel Frankenstein was created by the author at age 19 as a summer holiday competition with her friends to see who could write the best ghost story?) Whatever skills your teens have, there are ways to increase those skills with dedicated summer hours.
3. GET THEM READING. Maintaining and advancing reading levels is so important during the summer! But unlike during the school year, your teens can read whatever interests them, even if the material is not difficult. It's all about word count. The more words read, the better! So take a few minutes and help your teens find reading material that they can tackle at least 30 minutes per day. It only takes a few minutes to Google parent-approved reading lists. There is a lot of crazy material out there now (even in local libraries) labeled "teen," so be careful to check out titles online to make sure your teen isn't exposed to material that is too mature. My kids loved The Tripods series (by John Christopher, first book The White Mountains), the Narnia series (by C.S. Lewis), and Conspiracy 365 (by Gabrielle Lord). These were all exciting with danger and adventure but minimal violence and no mature sexual themes. (Again, even though my kids loved these, always check out media before giving it to your children to make sure it passes your family's specific media standards.)
4. GET THEM ENGAGED IN REAL-LIFE ACTIVITIES. Teens develop so much through real-life experience. Winning a video game is not psychologically the same as winning a real-life competition. Watching a documentary on the value of community service cannot hold a candle to the growth achieved by actually doing something to serve one's community. Look for opportunities for your teen to develop real skills. Perhaps your teen can help your family or your neighbors with landscaping projects. Maybe your teen can secure a summer job at the grocery store or intern for free for a professional in your student's area of interest (i.e., photography). Perhaps there are volunteer opportunities at your local food pantry? Any activity that gets them engaged in real-life dynamics has value! I recommend establishing a daily schedule of hours to help keep your teens on task. For example, outdoor and creative activities can be reserved for the day, with TV and movie time saved for after 4 or 5 PM. By giving specific parameters on media use, your teens are forced to get creative and develop important skills during typical school hours. Media can definitely be part of the summer fun (just not the ONLY summer fun ;) ).
My last thought: Make sure that you, as the parent, take time out from work and responsibilities to take care of yourself, too. Make time for recreation that you enjoy and also have some fun with your teens in your yard or driveway. We never get these years back, and they fly surprisingly fast! I hope these tips have been helpful as you make summer memories with your family that will last a lifetime.
A Positive Approach to Teen Health (P.A.T.H) is a 501(c)3 organization that reaches seven counties throughout Northwest Indiana. Since 1993, A Positive Approach to Teen Health has been working to empower teens to make healthy choices regarding drugs, sex, alcohol, and violence.