Summer vacation is fast approaching. For many parents of school-age children, summertime is their worst nightmare. Unfortunately, due to our economic landscape, many of the recreational programs available for school-age children and young adults will not be available this summer. For students in high school, it will be harder to get a summer job. Many schools that have traditionally sponsored summer programs are unable to do so this summer due to budgetary restrictions.
So what do kids do with all this free time? That is a challenging question, especially for parents who work full time and possibly because of economic need work a second job. What should be the basic social rules for summer vacation?
For many of our children in elementary school, there are town recreation programs, beach programs and church programs that attempt to keep young children socially engaged. Most of these opportunities are free or have a minimal registration fee. The greater concern is for middle school and early high school students, what do they do with all their free time?
Most middle school and first and second year high school students do not have a problem with social engagement. They have a difficulty with social restrictions, with accountability and responsibility. Like the school year, there should be some rules. Summer vacation is not a free-for-all.
Life during the summer shouldn't be as rigid and as structured as during the school year. However, every young person should have household responsibilities to maintain and some basic parameters to live within. For example, it is ridiculous to think that seventh graders through 12th graders should feel that it's okay to sleep their days away. Nor should they think that it's okay to stay up most of the night instant messaging and/or texting their friends.
Curfew is another delicate topic for summer vacation. Many junior high and high school students think that during the summer they should be free to come and go as they please. Unfortunately, there are parents who have no problem with their 12, 13, 14 15 and 16-year-olds, staying out to all hours of the night during the week, and even staying out all night on the weekend.
This past semester, in a sociology class that I teach at Suffolk County Community College, I surveyed the 32 students in the course on the issue of summer curfew. Eighty percent of the students surveyed indicated that when they were in junior high school and in the ninth and 10th grade they did not that have a curfew during summer vacation. Some who did have a curfew said on a regular basis they snuck out in the middle of the night to meet up with friends. That same group also indicated that they felt today a curfew was appropriate. Most of the students questioned were in their 20s and 30s.
Curious at their response, I asked them why they would impose a summer curfew today. Most indicated that the social landscape was much more dangerous due to the escalation of drug and alcohol use. A number of students commented that even good kids were getting high. A few other students indicated that violence at social gatherings was escalating.
Another issue relative to summer vacation is that of parental supervision and accountability. Most teenagers deplore parental supervision. Many teenagers feel that they are socially responsible and can handle any crisis that might emerge, while they are out and about. The truth of the matter is that teenage socializing has become a great liability, both socially and legally.
Most teenagers think they are invincible. As a norm, they do not believe that trouble or tragedy will touch them. Unfortunately, the literature of this past year tells a radically different story. In the past four months, the major TV networks covered more than a dozen stories that dealt with reckless decisions on the part of teenagers that ultimately caused a tragedy-whether it was a car accident, a road rage accident, an accidental shooting or overdose on alcohol or heroin. Each circumstance involved teenagers who made poor choices and innocent lives were lost.
Young people need supervision. They don't need wardens or repressive, overbearing adults holding them accountable, but they need to be held accountable and responsible for the social choices they make or fail to make. It is not unreasonable for a parent to want to know where his or her son or daughter is throughout the day during the summer and during the school year for that matter. Since most teenagers have cell phones, that should be easy. Unfortunately, it isn't easy, because many teenagers do not believe they should be answerable to their parents when it comes to their social behavior.
Raising children is a full-time job. When they become teenagers, you definitely go on overtime. Summer vacation, too often, is your least favorite time of year. As parents, we do not get a vacation from parenting. Quite to the contrary, many of us worry even more because of the challenges and social choices our children face from the time they get up in the morning until they retire at night. Summer vacation should not be a nightmare. Rather, it should be a time for great fun that takes work on everyone s part!