The Summer Activities Dilemma
By Joseph D. White, Ph.D.
As the end of school approaches, the anxiety of many parents seems to grow in direct proportion to the excitement of their children and teens. “What will I do with the kids when they are out of school?” parents ask themselves. There are many possible approaches to this question, and some are better — and safer — than others. An approach some parents take is to put off doing any planning for summer until the very last minute, hoping a great new idea will come along. Dreading facing the “summer activities dilemma,” these parents are often stuck with drastically limited options as summer begins, which becomes all the more stressful as they scramble to find something that will occupy their child’s time.
Other parents plan well in advance, selecting a large number of extracurricular activities, summer camps and vacation Bible school programs to the extent that their children’s summer schedule looks very much like the school year. This can leave children feeling stressed-out and disappointed that the expected break never came, and it can complicate parents’ lives as they struggle to keep up with the schedule they set for their children and find a few days somewhere for a family vacation.
So how do we find an appropriate balance in the summer? How can we be proactive in scheduling enough, yet leave room for spontaneity? Here are some tips:
It’s OK for the kids to be bored sometimes. Remember that necessity is the mother of invention. Remember the days when we were young and didn’t have all the gadgets and activities that fill the lives of kids today? Back then, a little boredom, a little unscheduled time, could lead to creativity and give us some much-needed rest. Provide simple supplies such as paper, crayons, markers, paint, scissors, glue and other art media, and see what the kids create. Given the right materials, unscheduled time can be precious time to create.
- Limit time on computers and video games. It’s wise to start the summer off with a daily limit of time on the computer or video-game system, or you might find yourself shocked that your child is turning into a “video zombie.” It’s easy to become addicted to these gadgets, and kids will often play them as long as they are permitted to. It’s much easier to set limits on the front end.
- Encourage outdoor time. Spend time with the kids outside, in activities such as water play, nature hikes (inexpensive nature discovery kits are available at many educational stores) and sports.
- Choose scheduled activities wisely. Check the local library, museum and your parish church for their calendars of summer activities, and weigh what is available with your child’s particular interests. A few scheduled activities each week will break up the monotony of summer without overdoing it. If you will be dropping your child off for an activity, be sure to find out who is supervising, and note the ratios of children to adults. For most school-age groups, it’s wise to have at least two adults for every 20 children.
- Consider an early summer vacation. August is still the most popular vacation month, but you might be able to get a longer and better vacation for your money if you vacation in June.
Remember, teens need structure, too. It can be a challenge to find a variety of summer activities for teens, but there are some available options. Check with other parents about what they are doing, speak to your parish’s youth minister to find out about youth-group activities, and see what is available through community agencies.
With a little planning and some room for creativity, summer can be both exciting and relaxing. Have a great — and stress-free — summer!
For Working Parents
The approach of summer can be especially anxiety provoking for working parents, who must plan not only for activity, but supervision as well. Most communities have a variety of summer day-camp options for younger children, but the quality of these programs varies widely. Start your research early. First, check into summer programs at child-care centers that offer after-school programs during the year. These facilities often have experienced staff and are familiar with state licensing standards. Ask about planned activities (checking for a balance between activity and downtime), and check into the qualifications and experience of the staff.
Older children and teens need supervision during the summer as well. In fact, many teens may need more supervision than younger kids, because they are aware of more ways to get into trouble! Seriously, because the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that governs impulse control, is not fully developed until young adulthood, even the best kids can act without thinking when left to their own devices. If older kids are left at home, lay down ground rules about who can come over and when (and surprise them by checking up), what they can and can’t watch on television, and other issues. Also, remember that the Internet can be a dangerous place for teens when they are left alone. You might want to have a “computer off” rule when you’re gone, or if you are tech-savvy, a way to monitor your child’s online activities.
Of course, supervision is good. If there is a relative or responsible college student who can stay with the kids during the day, you might wish to consider that option. Again, be sure to surprise them a couple of times by popping in unexpectedly. This will help you know for sure if the person you have chosen is as responsible as she or he looks. If the kids protest that they “don’t need a babysitter,” just say, “Then don’t act like a baby, and this can just be an extra person to spend time with”!