Teenagers often have the idea that summer is for relaxing, staying up late and sleeping in, and doing whatever they want, when they want. For a short time, this vacation routine is fine and allows them to rest, relax and unwind.
However, having an unstructured summer-long routine can have some unintended consequences for our teen’s health. For example, increased internet use and gaming or spending a lot of time watching TV can increase isolation from peers and family, which can negatively affect their social skill development. Poor sleeping habits such as sleeping in and staying up late can lead to poor sleep hygiene (not enough sleep, poor sleep), lack of exposure to sunlight both of which can decreases teenagers ability to manage their emotions and they miss opportunities to spend time interacting with peers and family. Also, by not going outdoors as much, our teens get less fresh air, sunlight exposure and physical exercise. All these habits can have negative impacts on their mental and physical health which could be difficult to address when it is time to return to a more structured school routine.
Teens are social and experimenters by nature. They develop intellectually, emotionally, physically and spiritually when exposed to a variety of people and experiences. A summer routine with structure provides opportunities to experiment with different activities and explore the world outside of school in meaningful, productive ways. Their involvement can be in many different areas such as training and skill-building programs, sports, the arts, and volunteer or paid work to mention a few. The main idea is to ensure our teens have the opportunity to participate in activities that are meaningful to them and provide them with a sense of mastery of their world, worthiness and self-identity as an individual and a citizen of their community. This can happen whether or not our teens struggle with their chosen activities. Struggles can help them build mastery, worthiness and self-identity when reflected to them as learning experiences. A structured routine provides our teens with the base from which to engage meaningfully and productively in the community.
Let’s face it, after a long school year, our teens need time to rest, relax and unwind. However, there is a difference between taking a break and wasting two months. To help our teens avoid the pitfalls of an unstructured summer, it is up to us as parents to provide at least a basic structure including a time to get up, organized and ready to engage in a meaningful activity. This will help us have healthy and productive teens as well as offer us parental peace of mind. And, having happy relaxed parents influences good mental health in our teens as well as in us.
"Having suffered from a serious mental illness most of my life, I feel the need to give back to those that suffer from similar hardship and struggles; especially the kids in our community. I appreciate being given the opportunity to support children's mental health initiatives like Steps for Kids."