How To Let Your Teen Do Nothing This Summer
Summer is rapidly approaching, and for some parents, the battle is just beginning. What’s the struggle? Summer plans. Why is it a battle? Because you want your teen to do something this summer and s/he doesn’t want to do anything. But what if they are right? What if the best thing is for your teen to do nothing this summer?
After a year of Google alerts about teens, I am more convinced than ever that this generation struggles to balance their savvy with their well being. Technology is making them smarter– today’s teens are sophisticated and thoughtful. But the pace of the world and information is also stressful. Kids are busy. We all are.
Busy is a badge of honor, and downtime in scarce.
Though summer can still be a time to reset and enjoy being a kid, for those kids who have worked hard to keep it together all year, the last thing they want is more structure and expectations. Many kids may fall into this category: introverts, kids who struggle socially, over-achievers, people pleasers, LGBTQ kids, and anyone with developmental differences (ADHD, dyslexia, autism),
Also in this category: middle schoolers, specifically the summer after seventh grade. That year takes more energy and courage than we remember. (Unless we do, and that’s a whole other conversation.)
What if your teen is firmly against any kind of summer plans?
Here’s a quick test to know how it’s going to go if you sign him for something against his will: Does he have the kind of personality where he won’t get out of the car once driven to the activity in question?
If the answer is yes, here’s another question: What is the worst thing that can happen to him this summer if he stays home? Go here for a moment. If the answer is, “He’ll binge on Netflix,” then you might want to consider giving him a win.
If your teen is generally okay and not showing any signs of extreme mental distress, but s/he is adamant about this issue, your teen’s perspective may be worth honoring. As parents, we strive to do what’s best for our kids, but sometimes, at certain moments in our kids’ lives, we may not see the whole picture.
Maybe your teen daughter weathered a lot of girl drama. What if your introverted son needs some time to be alone and not have to perform socially? Would it be the worst thing in the world if your son, who has ADHD, who obeyed his screen rules all year, wants to play video games for four weeks in his pajamas?
The right choice for the right time.
Though you may disagree with the reasons, it may be wise to listen to your teen’s perspective. If you can, suspend your fears. (He’s going to do this every summer now. She’s setting a bad example for her younger siblings. She will become her phone. He’s never going to be interested in anything again.)
After hearing your teen out, consider how might it impact your relationship if you concluded that it was okay, for this summer, to just chill.
What if this time allowed your teen to be bored and also to recharge for the next year? The choice to let your teen do nothing for the summer may make him, or her feel independent, trusted, and understood.
I’m not advising you to do this, but I believe that for some kids, this may be the best thing you can do right now. Again, if you can see them for where they are now and meet their needs now, and they are of the age where they can take care of themselves (varies state by state, but the consensus is 13), then it’s worth considering.
What limits do I need to put in place for my teen to do nothing this summer?
If you make this choice, kids still need boundaries. Unstructured time leaves a lot more room to make bad choices, as reflected in the rates of accidents involving teens that are reported from May to September.
I suggest asking your teen to put in writing why s/he wants to stay home. If you chose to allow it, definitely create some agreement that sets the expectations in advance. You can work on this with your teen, but here are some templates to get you thinking. I would also address potential boredom, as in it’s not your problem.
In addition to the agreement, I strongly suggest setting your teen up for success. You can approach this in three ways: Promise to protect your child from himself (screens), seek the opportunity to connect, and giving your child responsibility at home.
For imposing screen limits, I would utilize a third party app and a new router. I don’t think it’s fair for kids to be left to their own devices to control their devices. The online world is too much to manage.
But also, I would set an intention to bond with your teen a few times a week, one on one. If need be, put this in the contract. Consistent and brief moments of connection can occur in simple ways–a dog walk after work, weekend coffee date, hikes, meal prep. Set out with the intention to know your teen better by the end of the summer.
And lastly, part of the compromise of staying home is that your teen will take on one new household responsibility. Some examples are laundry, dishes, meal prep, yard work, or dog walking. A teen is more than capable of these chores and should get the message that their contribution matters.
Letting your teen do nothing this summer may seem like a foreign and absurd idea. But for the kids who are deeply resistant to the idea, there is something they need that they can’t say. Trust for their feelings. If you can’t bear the idea of a whole summer of nothing, maybe compromise for a month. Whatever you choose, make sure you give them boundaries and prioritize bonding. The goal is for them to feel grounded for the next year.