It’s a refrain that can instantly make parents’ blood boil, especially when it’s issued during the first few weeks of summer vacation. Hearing your child grumble about having nothing to do can be extremely frustrating, especially when you’ve been listening to the grumble about going to school all year.
It’s tempting to tell bored kids to “go find something to do.” While that may work for many, it can be dangerous for teens who are prone to risky behavior or substance abuse, said Jaymes Murphy, business development assistant at Clearfork Academy, a residential, Christ-centered treatment center in Fort Worth, Texas.
Too often, instructions to “find something to do” can lead to troublemaking or risk-taking behavior. Given those instructions, teens might go find a swimming hole (a healthy way to push the boundaries with friends), or they might engage in riskier behavior like experimenting with drugs.
Luckily, parental involvement can help teens stay on track throughout the summer. Here, Murphy shares tips for keeping teens engaged, healthy and yes, entertained, all summer long.
1. Help them get working.
Holding a summer job used to be a rite of passage, but today only about one-third of American teenagers work during the summer. That’s problematic for a few reasons: not only does your teen have more free time on their hands, but they also have less of their own money to spend, so they may be coming to you with their hand out.
Having a job has many benefits. It’s a social outlet for teens who may otherwise spend too much time behind screens. It also teaches teenagers responsibility and accountability, qualities that are essential to living a healthy, successful life. Plus, it gives them the feeling of accomplishment for having earned their own cash.
If your teen is having trouble finding a traditional summer job, consider letting them complete tasks around the house for pay. These should be projects beyond the normal chores that kids are expected to complete as member of the household. Instead, consider bigger projects like painting or clearing brush. Make sure your teen knows your expectations, and once the job is done pay them promptly, like you would any other employee.
2. Encourage them to explore healthy hobbies.
Kids who are engaged with extracurricular activities are accountable to people outside themselves and their family. This can help kids stay focused and avoid morally compromised situations. This summer, help your child explore their interests in a more in-depth way.
If your teen is interested in a sport, consider paying for a camp that will help them hone their skills. If they have aspirations for a particular career, like law enforcement, see if you can connect them with a local internship or ride-along.
If you are willing to invest time and money as a parent, it can pay off big by building health habits and confidence in your child, as well as keeping them busy during the summer.
3. Limit their screen time.
Today, most kids are glued to their phones. It’s not just annoying—it’s dangerous. Overuse of technology, especially social media, can erode teens’ mental health and even contribute to depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide.
Work with your teen to develop boundaries around social media and other screen-time. By involving your child in this conversation you are inviting them to have skin in the game, and to propose solutions that work for the whole family.
If your teen isn’t willing to follow these rules, you may have to take more proactive measures like regularly changing the wireless password or setting a curfew for phone use.
4. Consider treatment, if needed.
If your teenager is already struggling with substance use disorder or mental illness, summer is the perfect time to get them connected with a quality treatment center. During the summer teens can complete treatment without missing out on school, a major concern for kids and parents alike. In addition, because many of their peers will be traveling during the summer, your child will be able to slip away unnoticed to get the help they need.
Teens might push back on the idea of using their precious vacation time to seek help. However, getting treatment during the summer will allow them to start the next school year in better mental health, prepared for any challenges that may arise.
5. Let them choose the family fun.
This summer, try to spend extra time with your teen. Connecting with parents and other family members can help teens stay connected with their family’s values, and avoid peer pressure. At an age when your child spends more time with friends than with you, having face-to-face time is invaluable.
Rather than planning an outing, let your teenager decide how they would like to spend the day, and just follow their lead. It may not be your perfect day out, but they will cherish the opportunity to introduce you to their interests and feel like you respect them enough to let them take control.