by David Coleman
Holidays and teenagers. For many parents, the two just don’t go together. Not because teenagers don’t like the long three-month break from school (they do), but parents often dread the thought of their teenager hanging around listlessly with too much time and not enough focus.
Even if your teens were doing state exams, they’re finished and rested now. There are still weeks of summer to fill.
Most of you probably can’t take extended holidays of your own and must continue to work.
That means that there are many teenagers with hours in the day and days in the week to fill, with nobody structuring that time for them. Teenagers with little to do and little or no supervision are ripe for falling into mischief.
These kinds of circumstances lead to bored teenagers and anxious parents.
With a view to keeping your teenager on some kind of healthy and even virtuous path, I have 10 tips for occupying your teenager over the holiday period.
Plan some goals with them:
Sit down with them and plan the next nine weeks. Teenagers are renowned for not being able to think past their next meal.
This isn’t a character flaw, it is an issue with their brain maturity.
However, the upshot is still the same. They may have grand ideas for what to do, but no real plan for how to achieve it.
You may be amazed to discover that your son or daughter has some very clear goals, but just haven’t taken anybody else in the family into account when coming up with those goals.
Spend a bit of time talking about what they would like to be different in their lives, themselves or even the family by the time they go back to school.
You will probably find that they do actually want to improve on some skill, build up their friendships or feel like they have a real rest and a break.
Help them to think about their hobbies or pastimes and whether there are any personal goals they could achieve now they have more time to practice or devote to the activity.
Help them to think broadly about what they might do.
It may fall into many categories, including sport, fitness, dance, music, skateboarding, writing, gaming or drama. Indeed, the list could go on.
Your teenager may limit themselves, and your outside perspective may get them thinking about other goals they hadn’t considered.
One of the most important things about this kind of chat, however, is that it means your teenager’s voice gets heard so they don’t feel that their summer is being scheduled for them.
Consider a summer camp:
There are actually quite a few blocks that can keep teenagers from taking part in summer camps. For example, expense or lack of enthusiasm from your teenager may be an issue. In addition, quite a few summer camps will only facilitate youngsters up to the age of 14.
However, if you can overcome these obstacles, a summer camp could really fit in with the goals your teenager has set. For example, they may want to gain skills in their preferred sport, or in photography, drama or music. These tend to be the kinds of camps that are available for teens.
Getting a structured week in the middle of the summer can often helpfully interrupt the malaise of boredom and listlessness and possibly give them a break from those friends that may be leading the mischief.
Organize household chores for them:
This may sound like an easy way to a row. But the theory is sound. Chores give teenagers a sense of responsibility, so they feel healthy and good in their own right.
Moreover, the additional chores you agree with them on may also allow you to give them some small amount of money. This will increase their feeling of independence.
Teenagers do need to have some access to money, and no parent likes to feel that they are being bled dry for cash all the time. If you get something useful done around the house (for money that you may have had to pay out anyway), then everyone wins.
Rope in your relatives for accommodation:
Think about giving your son or daughter a break from you, their home area, and their friends by sending them off to aunts, uncles, grandparents, or family friends.
Like a summer camp, this just mixes things up for teenagers rather than having them fall into a slump of inactivity at home.
It can work very well for the relatives, who may have a project or piece of work that they need to be done at their home, farm, or in their business. The extra pair of hands that your teenager provides could be very welcome.
This is great for their self-esteem as they can feel valued and needed.
The dynamic is often much more positive between your son or daughter and your relatives than it may be at times between you and your teenager.
This is natural enough since their relatives don’t have to live with your teenager full time!
Rope in your relatives for a part-time or full-time job:
Even if your son or daughter is still living at home for the whole time, it is a great thing for them to have a job.
Family or family friends are often the best sources of such work.
If the job is of interest to your son or daughter then all the better. The most important thing is that their days get filled up productively.
There is a lot for teenagers to learn about life and other people when they are in the world of adult work. They can gain huge amounts of responsibility and a strong work ethic. They will also learn about dealing with people, meeting expectations, and pulling their weight.
Get them involved in volunteer work:
We sometimes give little credit to teenagers for their interest in and capacity for helping others. Volunteering in an area of social justice or one that helps marginalized people is good for them and good for the folks they are volunteering to help.
Some ideas include animal shelters, halfway houses, nursing homes, church-run initiatives, soup kitchens, Special Olympics or local youth clubs.
In many ways, the kind of volunteering they do is less important than the simple fact of the work they do.
Take them away with you:
When your time and finances permit, do try to take them away for a few days or as long as you can. The opportunity to travel is great for teenagers.
They can get so much more engaged in the culture and the excitement of foreign travel than younger children.
It also has the same benefit of perhaps breaking their reliance on a peer group that you may not be so happy with.
Sometimes it can kick-start their usual daily rhythms again to get them awake and busy in the day and sleeping at night, after falling into bad habits of sleeping late and staying up too late.
Encourage their entrepreneurial skills:
Many teenagers, especially those who have gone through Transition Year, will have formed small companies that have created and sold products or provided services.
It can be a real shame if the mini-companies just fade away, especially when the concept or product is good.
So why not get your son or daughter to kick-start their business ideas again?
Money isn’t the only motivation for teenagers, but they can all usually find plenty to do with their cash when they have earned it.
Small businesses can generate some income, but more importantly, they’ll soak up time and energy.
Get to know their friends:
As long as you can offer some initial supervision then you might want your son or daughter to bring their friends around to your house.
This provides them with a base rather than loitering on the streets, and it also allows you to get to know their friends.
Sometimes we can worry unduly about teenagers having downtime just ‘hanging out’ with their friends.
However, that hanging out is an important part of their adolescence and their development. They need the time to flirt, joke, chat, laugh and row with their friends (just like we did when we were their age).
Most of the time this happens out of eyeshot and earshot of parents, so it can be reassuring to know that most of their friends are pretty copped on.
It is also useful to be prepared if you learn that some of their friends count as ‘bad company’.
Talk to other parents of local teenagers:
If you live in an area where the majority of teenagers are loitering aimlessly, by talking with other parents you may come to realize that all parents share the same worries about the kids having little to do.
This may be the catalyst to try to form some kind of community cooperative, with interested parents volunteering to coordinate some kind of youth club, structured sports or activities, day trips, or any other imaginative plans that you might come up with to occupy your collective group of teenagers.
Each of you may not have the time to do each activity, but together you may be able to put something useful, engaging, and fun together for your sons and daughters to do.
When all else fails, we may just have to reassure ourselves that September, and with it the structure and sanctuary of school, will come around soon enough.