Do You Have Seasonal Parenting Disorder? Summer Vacation and Your Teen, Part I

Junk food, messy rooms, and too much X-box. Parents may cringe when envisioning summer break with teens at home. Adolescents, on the other hand, wax starry-eyed about summertime: hanging out with friends, sleeping in, and reveling in no-homework bliss. Why the disconnect between parents and teens?

Parents often consider the summer months an opportune time for teens to “get ahead.” They could practice piano, read The Odyssey, or finesse present-perfect Spanish. Parents want to provide their adolescent children with a competitive edge, and the long summer break offers the ultimate sharpening stone. Why not optimize abundant time? Well, it’s a bit like spending your beach vacation doing taxes. Sure, you could do it, but it negates the point.

It has always been interesting to me that during the school year, parents ask me how to increase their child’s sleep time, reduce anxiety, nurture friendships, protect family unity, and create space for relaxation. Yet, when the perfect opportunity arises (aka summer break) parents often hone in on cognitive or developmental weaknesses and unrealized academic progress. Conversations buzz around resume-building experiences, volunteering, and internships. This is because these savvy parents understand that adolescents need support to actualize growth. The problem isn’t the subject of their concerns; it’s the timing.

Paradoxically, during the jam-packed school year, parents focus on recharging batteries, seeking refuge for angst-ridden adolescents. Summertime, on the other hand, mandates performance, productivity, and success. My inner teen says, “Seriously, what’s up with that?”

Summer, by default, can provide the reprieve parents earnestly seek for their harried teens during the school year. It’s a natural vehicle for social-emotional growth, because the activities inherent to summer facilitate friendships, boost self-esteem, and offer the time and emotional energy adolescents need to step back and reflect on their identity and aspirations. The concerns of the school year melt away in the summer, and it doesn’t require parental intervention. Hanging out may seem sedentary and unproductive, if not wasteful, but the time that teens spend uber-lounging is critical to success. Lingering poolside, walking around the mall (on a beautiful, sunny day, no less), and late night runs to Yogurtland are pivotal in providing tensile strength to their social-emotional skill set for the next school year.

Students make measureable progress when summer break is augmented with topic-focused learning. But it’s critical that parents help arrange a schedule that allows for ample relaxation and fun, every single day. Adolescents do best, and are more compliant, when parents collaborate with them on scheduling, so that obligations like work, reading, and sports are mutual priorities detailed by time and place on the family calendar. This provides specific windows of time that adolescents have to do whatever they want, including nothing. Parents and adolescents reap the benefits of summer when structure is balanced with large, nag-free, pockets of relaxation that are predictable and guaranteed. Not only does this help your teen practice good time management, it maximizes productivity without souring summertime’s reputation for unabashed R&R.

Next on Lana’s blog: The Four Most Important Conversations to Have with Your Teen about Summer. How, exactly (give me the talking points already), do you talk to your teen about summer? What about sex, drugs, technology, and defiance? Next week’s post will give you the parental play-by-play.

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