By Cary Quashen, C.A.S.
“Summer time and the living is easy” and “there ain’t no cure for the summer time blues” are musical words that typify the summer season of our lives, especially for teenagers. They either find their lives jam-packed with summer activities like summer school, football practice, band camp, a summer job, or they find themselves bored and endlessly complaining there’s nothing to do. You might even find them on the couch, devouring bags of chips and gallons of soda, eyes glazed from hours of playing video games, day after day for months on end.
As far as I am concerned, summer time is the toughest time of the year for our teens. Sure, there are fewer school plays, sports activities, and parent meetings to attend, so we tend to believe that both the lives of teens and of parents are less stressful and more relaxed. However, when the school year ends, the absence of a structured school day can allow some kids, particularly teenagers, to wander down the wrong path.
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According to a poll by nonprofit organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California, children who are not supervised are more likely to commit crimes, be victims of crimes, do drugs, or hang out with gang members. The organization also reports that youths start committing crimes around noon during the summer, compared to 3 p.m. during the school year. In addition, teens tend to commit drug crimes later in the evening during the summer, most likely because they can stay out later without worrying about getting up early for school. This means teens need constructive activities to occupy a broader range of time in summer than during the school year. For working parents, it's difficult to be around from noon until late in the evening every day.
A report from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy suggests that more American teens try marijuana for the first time in summer than at any other time of year. This translates into 6,300 new users each day, a 40 percent increase in first-time youth marijuana use during June and July as compared to the rest of the year. A hike in new underage drinkers and cigarette smokers also occurs during the summer months.
Summer is not a time for easing up on parent expectations and teen accountability. If we are managing our teen’s lives with consistency, be it winter, spring, summer, or fall, we will hold our teens accountable for household chores and responsibilities, curfews, family and moral values, and we will still be there to watch our teens with that watchful parenting eye and pay attention to whom our teens are hanging out with.
In many homes, all of the structure and scheduling that occurs during the school year turns into unadulterated freedom in the summer. The very nature of summer leaves most teens these days without supervision.
Keep in mind I said without supervision, I didn’t say without friends. Ah the friends, even if you tell your teen they are not allowed to have company in the house while you’re at work, they still find themselves in the company of their friends. Impossible you say? Consider this. In this day and age, most teens have a cell phone or have friends who have a cell phone. The telecommunications world has given our teens the opportunity to talk to their friends, 24-hours per day, and to text message them as well. If you think your teen is home alone, think again. In many instances, the internet has become our teen’s best friend. Instant messaging, chat rooms, and MySpace.Com has increased the teen-to-teen communication process, and it has also, exposed our teens to unwanted negative influences as well. Many teens fill their time with non-stop video game playing. I am not talking about an hour per day, but in many instances, it is the entire day, especially during the summer months.
So what’s a parent to do? I recognize you can’t quite your job or take a three month vacation. However, your consistency in setting boundaries and rules will ensure the safety of your teen.
Know where your teen is at all times. Keep in touch with your teen and have a check-in time everyday. Make sure you meet their friends.
Sleep-overs – if your teen tells you they are spending the night at a friend’s home, contact those parents and make sure that’s where your teen is. Make sure there is parental supervision and that parents are home for the evening. Likewise, if your teen brings home a friend to spend the night, make sure you call that teen’s parents and let them know where their teen is. You would be surprised how many parents don’t know where their teens are.
Set and enforce a regular curfew. If that curfew is broken then set the appropriate consequence for offending the curfew rule. Teens adhere to rules when they know what the consequences are for breaking the rules. When setting consequences for actions, make sure they are appropriate and fit the infraction, and the behavior you are trying to curb. The rules of parenting are consistency and frequency. Don’t assume because you told your teen once they will comply. They needed daily reminders about the family rules and regulations, especially curfew rules.
Imparting rules can be done with love and objectivity, without sounding like a Marine drill sergeant. Discipline is not necessarily the consequence for a broken rule, but the message that is delivered before the rule is broken.
It’s important during the summer to schedule activities so your kids aren’t bored. You may not be able to take a family vacation, but may be able to design a one-day trip or weekend that departs from of the ordinary routine. Have the entire family help plan the event.
Summer camps, attending summer school, volunteering, taking your teen to work with you to see what your daily routine is like, are great ways to keep your teen active and out of trouble as well. A summer job helps teens learn to budget, make new friends, comply with authority, develop a strong work ethic, and lean the value of a dollar.
While there may be no cure for the summer time blues, there are ways for teens to have an enjoyable summer while we set boundaries to ensure their safety. It’s important for parents to create an atmosphere of open communication with their teen especially during the summer months. Along with setting firm rules and guidelines, parents can teach teens critical decision-making skills to help them make responsible choices.
Putting your positive parent power to work during the summer will help teens enjoy a memorable and safe summer. Now go out and enjoy your summer.
Cary Quashen is a high-risk teen counselor and a certified addiction specialist. He is the president and founder of the ACTION Parent & Teen Support Program and ACTION Family Counseling. The ACTION Parent & Teen Support Program meets every Tuesday evening at Canyon High School in the A Building. Quashen may be reached by calling (661) 713-3006.