Parent Forum

Click here for previous Parent Forum articles.

NOTE: This page has not yet been updated to the new design.

June 2005
Summer Daze –
How much goofing off is too much?

by Annie Fox, M.Ed.

"Just because you don’t want your teen lolling around all day doesn’t mean that your enthusiasm for a goal-oriented summer will be shared."
On a recent walk in my neighborhood I saw Little Leaguers running bases, middle schoolers riding bikes to no place in particular, and teens driving around with their friends. It was a pleasure to catch these young people enjoying themselves and their freedom. After 9-10 months of reading books someone else chose for them, researching and writing papers on topics that were less than fascinating, studying factoids and taking tests, they finally have time for themselves with nothing that they have to do. We can all relate to that.

Our kids deserve a break from being full-time students. Especially kids who are over-scheduled with sports, after-school activities, out-of-school obligations, and part-time jobs. After being required to do so much, many teens need to get back in balance. A normal response to overwork is vegging out. But after a few weeks of seeing your 13, 14 or 15-year-old looking more and more like a sloth, we parents often feel compelled to push kids to do something “constructive.”

Is this a reasonable expectation? Absolutely. We know that summer is a great time for pursuing special interests, getting involved in community service, learning new skills and expanding your horizons (creatively, socially, culturally, and intellectually). But just because you don’t want your teen lolling around all day doesn’t mean that your enthusiasm for a goal-oriented summer will be shared.

Of course, not all teens have the luxury of “doing nothing” during the summer. Some have to go to summer school to make up coursework. And others have to work because their family’s financial reality requires that they earn money. These kids also need scheduled breaks whenever possible to help keep them rested and balanced (i.e., de-stressed).

And some teens actually dislike unstructured time. They can get antsy when there’s “nothing to do.” So they’re out there applying for summer employment or internships, signing up for sports clinics or courses of all kinds, volunteering in the community, and so on. If your teenager is like this you don’t need to push. In fact, you may be pleading for your son or daughter to “take it easy and relax.” If you model good balance in your own life, your teen is more likely to see the value of it.

But if your teen is happy about doing nothing all summer and you’re not, then I suggest you call a family meeting to discuss Summer Plans ASAP.

Helping Teens Create a Summer Plan:

  1. Ask what he/she wants to do.
  • If your teen has an actual idea for the summer, treat it with respect no matter how “out there” it sounds. Tear it down and you will alienate your teen and make him/her unwilling to openly hear your suggestions. The form of the idea is not as important as the substance. Be a good consultant and work with your teen to help make the substance of the idea come to fruition.
  • If your teen says, “I don’t want to do anything this summer except hang out with friends, play computer games, go to the mall, watch TV etc.”, then proceed to Step 2 ASAP.
  1. Express your concerns – Be honest about any fears and worries you’ve got. Concerned that your 14 year old might make bad choices if he spends every day hanging out with his buddies in an unsupervised environment? Then say so! Disappointed that your daughter isn’t feeling more ambitious? Speak up! You’re entitled to your feelings and kids respect adults who tell the truth.
  2. State your expectations – If you want your teen to be involved in an adult-supervised activity for at least 4 hours a day, 3-5 days a week, then say so. When your expectations are ambiguous your teen is more likely to find loopholes in them. (“But Mom, you said you wanted me to do something creative!”)
  3. Brainstorm options – Every community has opportunities for teens during the summer. Let your teen’s natural interests and temperament guide both of you as you explore ideas together. Remember, be less attached to the form of the activity and more open to the substance of what your teen’s saying.
  4. They need to have a voice and a choice – You can’t expect a 13-year-old to happily accept being signed up for anything without his/her prior approval. You set the guidelines, contribute ideas to viable options and then let him/her choose the activity.
  5. It’s all about balance – You are your teen’s most influential role model. If you say that a healthy life is a balanced life (focused activity, relaxing with friends, time alone to reflect, etc.) then you have to walk the walk. If you tend to work like a demon 24/7 you’ll make a less convincing case for “balance.”

Good luck and may your summer be off to a balanced start.

In friendship,



Got a parent-teen problem you need help with?

Click here to Ask Annie


Home | Teens | Parents | Educators | Events | Books | Blog | Podcast | About | Contact
In the Media | Newsletters Archive | Subscribe to Email List | FacebookFacebook | TwitterTwitter
Cruel’s Not Cool