Keeping teens on the right track all summer long
By Lisa M. Schab, L.C.S.W.
In the summertime when the weather is fine, you want to keep your teens in line.
When you take away the structure, supervision and obligations of the school year, add warm weather and late nights, kids are in greater danger of falling off the responsibility track.
It’s important that teens get a chance to relax and enjoy the freedom that summer provides. But it’s also important that they live within the boundaries of safety. You can help make sure your teen has a harmless, as well as fun, summer, by employing the following strategies:
• Set and express your limits. As with any other areas of your child’s life, let her know up front what kind of behavior you expect, whether she is in your line of vision or not. If she will have unsupervised time in your home during the summer, make sure she knows the rules and the consequences for breaking them. Decide your own comfort levels. Some parents forbid other kids in the house when they are not home, some limit it to one friend, others set no restrictions. If you want certain chores to be done, make sure the expectations and consequences are clear; talk about them together and post them in written form somewhere in the house, then follow through. The same thing goes for summer curfew. Determine your limits and stick to them.
• Teach him how to say “no.” All kids encounter peer pressure. Help your child respond with confidence when someone tells him, “Oh come on, just this once,” or “What are you, a wimp?” Even the best-behaved kids can get talked into things they wouldn’t have done on their own. Explain to him that “your parents will never find out,” is an age-old dare that usually ends in disaster.
Make sure he knows what will happen when you do find out, and let him practice saying, “No thanks, I’m not doing that.”
• Provide structure. Help your child create some kind of daily schedule for his summer days, especially if you and your spouse will be at work. This will give you both a general idea of where he will be and when. Also, decide on some goals for the summer. He can make a list of things he would like to do (see a Cubs game, go camping, spend a day at Great America), as well as a list of responsibilities-clean out the garage, babysit for younger siblings or take a summer school class. Have him decide how he will work toward these on a daily basis. Then get out the calendar and make a specific schedule for both work and fun to help make sure it will actually materialize.
• Provide opportunities for challenge and responsibility. Setting up some reasonable summer projects will give her a chance to feel proud when they are accomplished. Listen to her ideas, and contribute your own. Summer jobs abound for teens. For those too young to work, there are still the tried-and-true chores of dog-walking, babysitting, lawn mowing and house cleaning. Whether working for you or the neighbors, these “home businesses” give your child a chance to earn and learn. Other summer goals could include: learning a new language, painting a mural on the basement wall, breaking her own record in shooting baskets or doing volunteer work. Come up with goals that will be challenging according to her own interests and abilities.
• Don’t forget fun and relaxation. If kids have safe ways to have fun somewhat independently, there is less need to act beyond parental limits.
Brainstorm ways your teen can express his summer “wanderlust” that you will be comfortable with. The more input he can give, the more he can quench his desire for independence in a healthy way.
Along with traditional family vacation time, reunions or barbeques, think about activities he can do with his peers such as: a Christmas in July party, tent camping in the back yard, a “Tour de France”-style bike marathon, swimming at a new pool or lake, a local canoe trip, setting up a volleyball or skateboarding tournament.
If your child is more indoor oriented, let him save money for an all-day movie marathon, visiting museums or short trips to visit out of town relatives or friends. (Make it clear that these activities are privileges he earns by being trustworthy.)
• Provide a safe hangout for your teen and her friends. While it may not be your dream to have even more adolescents in your home space, remember that when they are gathered at your house, you know exactly where they are and you have some control over what happens. If you have a basement, garage, porch, yard, family room or other space you can make “teen friendly”-where you don’t worry about spills or feet on the couch- encourage your child and her friends to feel at home there.
If there is a place in your home where they can talk, laugh, eat pizza and be comfortable-free from too much nagging, criticizing or lecturing-they will be in your line of vision and be safe.
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