In some states, kids are already out of school and starting summer activities. In other states, the countdown is on! Summer break! Swimming pools, camps, vacations and NO SCHOOL! But for parents, summer break can be a real stressor: work doesn’t take a summer break, and kids and tweens need a carefully planned calendar of events. What to do?
I was able to sit down with Ralph Blackman, President and CEO of Responsibility.org the other day, and we got to talking about summer and the necessity for parents to be vigilant about some of the risks that kids may come into contact with—such as underage drinking—while keeping the “summer fun” vibe alive.
Summer is a time of less structure for a lot of kids. Alarm clocks start gathering dust; neighborhood friends drop by unannounced; there is no homework to be done. For middle school kids, this is freedom in the truest sense of the word. Leashes are longer. Independence is gained. New friends are made. And these are all great things! As parents, though, we also need to recognize that too much free time can be too much of a good thing.
Here are five tips for keeping your kids safe over summer break—while allowing them to have the fun they crave and deserve.
- Make routines and stick to them.
School starts when the bell rings. Then there is math, science, recess, lunch—all scheduled out. Once summer calls and school is out, routine often goes out the window. For the summer, make a schedule for your middle schoolers. Give them chores, set TV or device limits, and communicate what their responsibilities are.
- Register for clubs or camps.
They say idle hands are the devil’s playground. When kids are bored, they tend to get into more trouble: breaking rules, testing limits. Camps are a great way to stay in touch with friends, stretch bodies and minds, and remain accountable for actions.
- Take a break!
It’s called summer vacation for a reason! Whether it’s a beach getaway or something as simple as a picnic in the yard, take a break with your tween and show interest in what’s going on. Ask questions. Listen to answers. These small conversations will entrust you to your child—who is so ready to grow up. During this time, you can also look for new behaviors, interests and friends.
- Know where they are and who they are with.
Whether they are at camp, with a babysitter or family member, or staying with a friend, know the whereabouts of your tweens. Trade contact information not only with other parents, but with your tween’s friends as well. Let them know that you are available in the case of an emergency, a change in plans, or just to check in.
- Have conversations.
As parents, we know that questions such as “How was your day?” or “What did you do today?” will result in the predictable answers of “fine” and “nothing.” But when you engage in actual conversations with kids, that is when the information really starts to flow. Talk about YOUR day or a challenge that came up. Ask them about a new friend, the movie they saw, or what they might like to do over the weekend. It’s these mini conversations that can transition into talks about responsibility, risks, and making good decisions. It’s also important that your kids see you having conversations with others about being responsible. Talk about who the designated driver will be, why some people drink and others choose not to, and be open with them about why drinking underage is not a good decision for them.
So go ahead—loosen those leashes for the summer! Encourage your kiddos to have some fun and try new things. Let them be adventurous and make memories. But also let them know that you are there. You are available and engaged.
You got this, moms and dads! And in the meantime, we are here to help! Check out our tips, conversation starters, healthy living videos, and games. These are great ice breakers for any conversation that you may want to have—or need to have—to make sure your kids are ready to say NO to underage drinking.
And then celebrate when you see the first “Back to School” advertisements. I know I will!
Proud Member of the Ask, Listen, Learn team