A Teachable Moment—A Structure for the Summer
For parents and kids alike, summer is associated with freedom from the hectic school year schedule and with the chance to take a deep breath and relax for a few weeks. Bedtimes are later, house rules become more flexible, and playtime stretches out into the evening hours. This change, as well as the chance to slow down, are great for everyone’s psychological well-being. That being said, even in the summer, it is important for kids to maintain a routine. In fact, too much ‘relaxing’ isn’t healthy for kids or teens.
To begin, excess screen time (TV, computer, video games, phones), is no better for kids in the summer than it is during the school year. Your child may not have homework, but the opportunity to be active outside, spend time with friends, and take advantage of experiences that are unique to summer, will all be diminished by spending too much time engaged with a screen—whether at home or on the go. Therefore, the summertime rules for screen time should not be very different than the school-year rules. The maximum recommended total screen time should not be more than two hours a day for kids and teens, no matter what time of year it is!
Next, it can be easy to allow your child to have a later bedtime in the summer. The sun sets at a later time, and there is no school the next day (although some kids must get up for summer camp). While it is tempting to allow kids and teens to stay up as late as they choose and then sleep as late as they desire the next morning, this is not in their best interest. In order to grow healthily, feel happy and behave well, kids and teens need a minimum of eight hours of sleep, and most need nine or ten hours. In addition, the eight hours of sleep that begin earlier in the night, are much better quality than when these hours begin later at night. Finally, when you allow kids—and especially teens—to create their own sleep schedule, they will often stay up well past midnight, and then sleep away a good part of the day. This is not a healthy way to spend the summer, and it becomes more difficult for them to adjust back to a school year routine. Therefore, while it is fine to allow some flexibility in your child or teen’s summer bedtime routine, it is important to enforce a reasonable bedtime, ensuring that your child gets enough, good quality sleep.
Finally, while it is important to slow down in the summer, kids and teens function much more healthily, and are less likely to get in trouble, when they have structured, supervised activity. For example, did you know that the rate of marijuana use amongst teens is much higher in the summer months than at any other time of the year? This is because in the summer so many more teens are allowed to spend every day, for weeks, with little to do and barely any supervision. Even younger kids with little structure are more likely to get into fights and become cranky and hard to manage because they are bored. So, while it may be summertime, parenting must still include organizing a regular schedule of activities for your child, and supervising older kids and teens to ensure that they are doing more than just hanging out and sleeping the summer away.
Dr. Susan Bartell is America’s #1 Family Psychologist. Her latest book is The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask. You can learn more about her at www.drsusanbartell.com.