Keeping family life on track during the summer
Recently, a Mom asked me if it was important for her 12-year-old daughter, Sarah, to spend part of her summer vacation doing some sort of academic work. “She isn’t a strong student” she explained. “I’m concerned that if she gets out of the habit of doing school work she will have too hard a time making the transition back to school in the fall”. Mom was already concerned about Sarah’s school performance next year.
For Sarah, the school year is a 10-month long struggle where she feels like a salmon swimming upstream. When school is finally over, she takes a big, long breath out. Now she can relax. Summer is a vacation from hard labor.
I’m not a big believer in keeping school’s structure going during July and August. Give the kids a break! When I go on vacation, I leave my work at home. I don’t keep up with my email. I want to have a total break from my everyday work life. Kids are the same. They need a change of pace.
I think the real challenge of summer for kids of all ages is screen time pig outs. The long summer days invite hours of television, video games, marathon Netflix sessions, social media, and YouTube binges. It’s a strong draw, keeps them occupied, out of each other’s face, and out of their parent’s way. In my book, it’s a problem.
Parents need to make some decisions early on. How much screen time is allowed? When do they get shut off? How do they make sure that the rules are followed? What are the consequences if the rules are broken? Children have a way of nickel and diming their parents into bankruptcy. “Just 5 more minutes! I promise I’ll turn it off when I finish this game!” Joey whines. It’s so easy to give in. Trust me five minutes can become two hours before you blink your eyes!
Curfew poses the same problem for teens. It does make sense to push bedtimes and curfew up during the summer time. After all, they don’t have to go to school. But an 11 pm curfew can inch up pretty quickly during the summer. Bedtimes have a way of being stretched out too. Where do parents draw the line?
Teens also like to wander during these long unstructured days. First, they go to Bill's house and then they end up at Joe’s house. They are disinclined to tell their parents where they are and where they’re going. Parents need to decide on the rules of the road when it comes to destination reporting.
Here are some suggestions for keeping family life on track when school’s out.
- Set limits on screen times! Sure, give them more time, but don’t let it get out of hand. I worry that children have lost the ability to entertain themselves! We are all becoming addicted to our smartphones. I worry that we will lose the capacity to be present in the moment. We won’t know how to amuse ourselves.
- Set curfew and bedtimes and then stick to them. I always gave my teens 15 minutes of fudge time—but that was it. It gave them some time to play with, which I never told them about. But after that, I wasn’t interested in hearing excuses (It never ceases to amaze me how great teenagers are at coming up with reasons why they couldn’t make it home on time). I would simply subtract the extra time from tomorrow’s curfew. Figure out what works in your family— then stick with it.
- Give the kids more rope during the summer, but make sure you hold onto your end. I insisted on knowing where our teens were and if there were parents on site. I also insisted on talking to the parents too, which our teenagers hated. According to them, we were the “only” parents who wanted to actually wanted to talk to the parents. Trust, but verify.
The important point—figure out what’s important to you for your family and stick with it.