As we enter into the middle of another humid July, the excitement of being free from academic structure morphs into the dull days of summer. Kids often become bored and many parents become frustrated. Arguments escalate as parents tell their children to just ‘do something!’ The problem is that today’s youth don’t really understand how to enjoy their free time.
Toddlers enter daycare at a young age where they participate in highly organized activities. Without missing a day, students then graduate to a structured school schedule and spend their free time in adult-guided extracurricular activities such as sports, music lessons and homework clubs. However, there comes a time during the preteen years, many kids choose to simply ‘hang out,’ without really knowing how to entertain themselves.
Parents often need to teach their children how to embrace their leisure time. At some point, every child masters the video game or outgrows the Legos. This is a good thing because it motivates one to try something new like pick up a book, call an old friend, or attempt a challenging task.
The true trick to increasing your child’s leisure-time happiness is to help him find the balance between structure and free time. Creating a consistent schedule with regular sleeping hours is an important first step to a productive summer day. Kids should wake a little later but sleeping too much can cause a child to be lethargic, irritable and make it difficult to fall asleep at night. Most kids need about 10 hours of sleep.
Next, parents and children should collaboratively create a weekly schedule that includes specific events, as well as open times. It can be helpful to brainstorm a list of independent, timeoccupying tasks, but, as the week progresses, parents should let kids figure out how they fill the gaps in their day.
And of course, no article on summertime doldrums would be complete without a strategy to combat excessive computer usage. As much as most parents would like to ban screen time, creating expectations around tech-toy use is a better way to foster summer productivity. Limit when and how much kids can play video games. Mornings should be screen-free times because it forces kids to find something else to do. It also is possible that the alternative activity is so engaging that your child will forget about the computer, at least, temporarily. And make sure all devices are off an hour before bedtime to quiet the mind and allow for a good night’s sleep.
Lastly, your child’s favorite summer pastime might turn out to be harassing his little brother or sister. Many find this activity amusing, and it is often a sign that the sibs are spending too much time together. Structure some activities away from each other, but also consider letting the kids work it out. Discuss with your children how to solve their own problems. After all, if they can’t figure out what television show to watch, then no one will be watching TV. You may not be able to keep your kids from arguing, but a parent can influence their children to argue less.
All kids struggle with being bored, but they also can easily learn how to overcome these tedious times. Further - more, successfully mastering this emotion results in increased self-esteem and greater life enjoyment. Kids who don’t master this mood; however, often engage in risky and destructive behaviors. So spend some time with your kids this summer—but don’t go overboard. Guide your children toward independent activities and watch them flourish and mature.
Russell Hyken is a psychotherapist who works with families and young adults. For more information, call 691-7640 or visit teenparentingexpert.com.