Summer’s pleasure is also its danger. While summer offers a chance to slow the sometimes too-hectic pace of the school year, it also brings the sort of idleness that gets kids into trouble.
With no classes, kids are more likely to sit around, staring at screens and snacking. Besides contributing to the learning loss teachers call the “summer slide,” these habits are unhealthy.
Increased social media use can magnify worries such cyber bullying, fear of missing out, and poor self-esteem. When older kids do get out of the house, they are more likely to be unsupervised and susceptible to negative peer pressure to make risky choices.
It does not have to be this way. Summer can be an opportunity to engage and grow without over-scheduling or pricey camps.
So, how can a family relax without falling apart over the summer?
1. Try Something New
Build excitement by creating a family summer bucket list. There are plenty of examples online to help your family get started. Alongside old favorites, include plenty of new experiences. Kids will love giving input into the family’s summer activities. Try not to censor the kids but instead get creative with alternatives for any impractical or impossible activities. A trip to Mars might not be on the agenda but visiting a planetarium or a university with a powerful telescope and a little imagination can get you close.
Tackling new experiences together builds confidence–exactly the sort of confidence kids will need to say “no” to peer pressure to drink or engage in risky behaviors.
2. Set Goals
When kids set and work towards goals, they make better choices and build confidence. Each of my children sets a personal goal to take advantage of the slower pace of the summer. It is the kids’ responsibility to figure out how they will achieve that goal. Many libraries, school booster clubs, and town recreation departments offer free or low cost programs. Some of the nations top universities offer free online courses. Whether they want to speak a new language, master an athletic skill, or finish writing a novel, they learn to plan, gather resources, schedule, and assess their own progress.
Educator Erin O’Malley also recommends setting shorter-term goals, such as exercising, staying in touch with friends, or reading a good book. Another creative idea from O’Mally is to ask kids to envision their summer from the perspective of next fall–if they can picture it, they can do it.
3. Screen Time Rule of Three
Experts say that boredom allows kids to develop creativity and independence. However, kids are uncomfortable being bored, especially if they are used to the non-stop entertainment of tablets and television. If you are tired of your kids constantly begging to turn on the devices, use the rule of three: something active, something creative, something helpful. Before they can play a video game or watch a movie, they have to do getting moving (preferably outdoors), make something, and contribute to keeping the household running smoothly. Brainstorm lists of possible activities together and then keep them in three separate jars. If the kids are having trouble coming up with ideas, they can pull from the jar. Sometimes they’ll get so involved in whatever they are doing, they may even forget their tech cravings for hours.
When kids make a habit of taking care of their minds and bodies, they are less likely to risk that health by trying alcohol.
4. Make Family Time a Priority
Family is what gives kids consistency and a foundation for good judgment. The slower pace of the summer allows for more impromptu picnics, family game nights, and long nature walks. When the whole family makes healthier choices together, kids will be more open to the message.
Doing things together also helps reinforce the family’s core values and gives you opportunities to have those meaningful chats with kids. You cannot schedule those moments when your kids suddenly open up about what happens when you are not around, or asks questions about drinking, or expresses anxiety about fitting in. You can, however, make room for those conversations to happen by connecting through fun activities.
Summers are golden–precious pauses in the family’s routine that allow us to reset, reinvigorate, and re-imagine our lives. By focusing on our families, we can support our kids as they choose their paths.