Summer is officially here. For many teens, the end of the school year means excitement and freedom from structured, hectic days of note-taking, studying and exam anxiety.
While teens welcome a break from their busy school routines, summer freedom can also bring on feelings of anxiety and irritability.
There’s the stress over finding a summer job or driving for the first time. And some teens might feel anxious simply by not knowing what to do with so much down time.
We checked in with Courtney Oliver, Bainbridge Youth Services Director of Clinical Services, to get some tips on how to support teens during the summer months.
What feelings are teens dealing with in the summer?
It’s difficult to cope with lack of a calendar. It can feel like a culture shock, not knowing what to do with oneself. Another feeling is the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Watching other youth’s experience through social media can make you feel lonely, sad, or anxiety you might be missing out on something. Transitioning from complete structure to no structure at all is challenging. At first youth love the opportunity to sleep in or stay up late, but after a few weeks they get bored and idle.
What opportunities does summer provide for parents?
This is a great opportunity to slow life down, do family activities you might not have the chance to do during the year. It also gives the family time to evaluate what they would like to change around the house and create healthier habits if needed. That new, summer structure could be cleaning up rooms, making beds in the morning or eating dinner together. Summer is a great time for you and your kids to come up with a list of activities you might want to do in the coming weeks. Parents also have more time to increase family activities and have individual time with each child. Try a new hobby or make it be a goal or challenge.
Is it important to maintain some sense of structure or routine?
It’s important to provide some structure so they have something to look forward to. There is a balance of trying to give some structure for the day, but not create the same calendar as if they are in school. Have a conversation with your youth, ask them if there is a hobby or something they are interested in trying that they do not have opportunity/time during school year.
Is down time the enemy?
It’s important to plan down time with your youth. Having down time gives your youth the opportunity to know how it feels to just be; alone with themselves is a huge gift. Knowing how to be with yourself and be comfortable without distractions are great tools against mental illness.
Why is it doubly important for parents to be involved in their child’s life during the summer?
Summer is also a time when children have time to stretch boundaries and do things they usually do not do during the school year (ex. hanging out with new friends, outside longer, extended curfew, new environments). This is an opportunity for children to be tested when these new opportunities show up. It is important for parents to be around to monitor these new boundaries and able to communicate when new experiences up come. Setting good expectations and clarifying roles in the beginning of the summer is important so everyone is on the same page.
How else can we ensure the mental health and wellbeing of our kids this summer?
• Encourage your youth to go outside; limit screen time if possible.
• Continue to take medications. Some youth will think because they are feeling less of the symptoms they need to stop. Continue counseling if they are currently in treatment.
• Giving back. Children volunteering and giving back to the community can keep them busy, build their self-esteem and gets them out of their head which can reduce mental illness.
• Check in with your youth regularly. It might feel like they want to spend all their time with friends, but they will always look back and remember the moments they created with their family. Confront them if you see red flags on unhealthy behavior. Communicating early can reduce potential mental health concerns.
• Establish clear expectations for youth to reduce potential arguments or misunderstanding. This can open communication throughout the summer.
Courtney Oliver is Director of Clinical Services for Bainbridge Youth Services.