Hey parents, it is that time of the year again. It is that point of the year that the kids have been looking forward to for months, but that most parents have been dreading. Yes, school is over and many camps have not yet opened. That means the kids are home, driving us crazy and taking up valuable couch and computer space. While we do not want to be overly cruel to our children, as everyone needs some time off, many of us are now getting to the point where enough is enough. That welt on the couch where are teens have parked themselves is starting to get deeper. So, what do we do? Is summer just a lost cause? As a parent of a teen and pre-teen here are some tips that I have learned along the way.
- Schedules are a good thing- While we all deserve some “down time” over the summer, too much can be a problem. During the first day of vacation, I would not have know that my son was even home. I did not even know that he was capable of sleeping THAT many hours in one stretch. OK, so it’s the first day of vacation, so I am not ready to get on his case yet. After two more days though, I had enough. Time off is one thing, but even teens need to have at least some amount of productivity. So, on the third day, we sat down with my son and laid down some basic ground rules. Number 1, he had to make it to daily services every morning. The synagogue up the street has an 8:45 AM option, so he could still sleep a bit late. Number 2, he had to spend at least a small portion of the day doing something out of the house. Whether it be sports at the park, going to a friend’s or some other activity, this was up to him, but he could not sit and do nothing all day long.
- Productivity is a Good Thing- My wife and I explained to my son that we expected him to do some productive activities even during the summer. I suggested that he learn to read some of the weekly Torah portion. This suggestion was met with some resistance (we are still negotiating). My wife arranged for my son to learn once or twice a week with a member of the community who is ill and cannot leave his house. While my son was not thrilled that his parents were making him do this, he is actually starting to come around. Not only is he getting out of the house a bit, but he is actually doing something to help another person.
- Fighting with your Brother is NOT an Acceptable Activity- Things were starting to settle down until my younger son finished school. Now we had two kids at home. Getting along with your sibling can be challenging under regular circumstances. On a daily basis, when both are home is a different story. After a few loud (yet unsurprising) arguments, it was time to lay down some ground rules. While we let my kids know that we encouraged them to hang out and do things together, it was also ok to have some “alone” time as well. We made some schedules for the computer, TV, and other popular activities. To be even more parent like (or evil depending on who you ask), we also decided to force some together time during the day. So far, they seem to be making it work.
- Summer Learning is Also Not a Bad Thing- While we all think of summer as a vacation from school, it does not need to be a vacation from all forms of learning. This is a great time to encourage kids to learn something new or to expand their knowledge. Over the years, a number of students have used summer to learn a new programming language or have used the time to learn some other new skill. Swimming lessons for example are a great summer activity. There are also several online summer courses and learning platforms that kids at home can utilize. Some of these options are completely free. After watching my own children spend too many hours per day on line, I decided it was time to make a change. Now, for every one hour of productive activity, I give them 2 hours of fun technology time. I am not totally mean. It IS summer after all!
- Limit Those Devices- Finally, and I know this is a controversial one… Set some limits on how much time those kids spend on their phones. I know that this is the easy way to make sure they leave us and each other alone, but we also don’t want our children to turn into zombies. If I allowed it, my kids would be on their phones 9 hours per day. They are not unlike most kids in today’s world. Whether they should have these phones to begin with is another discussion (or blog post) but the fact is that we need to help them to set some limits. We use a great app called ScreenTime. I can limit their daily usage and can easily add time based on other activities during the day. There are other tools available as well.
Summer is supposed to be the fun time of the year, and a laid back atmosphere is ok. At the same time though, parents need to set some boundaries and guidelines to ensure that the summer months are not completely lost. The young minds of our children are continuing to develop and while school may be on a break, their developments are not.