School is out. Summer vacation has truly begun. The summer months are clearly a challenge for those among us who have school age children, whether they are elementary, junior high or high school students.
How do you manage and/or supervise your children during the summer months, especially if you are a single parent working or a two-parent household with both parents working?
In many communities there are a wide range of programs for elementary school children. These programs are well designed, supervised and cost affordable for most families. However, what is available for junior high and high school students?
The middle school students are challenging because they clearly need on-going supervision. They can be rebellious and non-cooperative. A growing number of middle school students do not like sports or any kind of group activities. They just want to hang out and listen to music. Thus, how do you engage them?
Middle school students are engageable. They demand creative, high-energy tolerant adults to work with them to create social opportunities that will motivate them to action.
Probably the most challenging to engage during the summer are our high school students. They are on the threshold of adulthood (so they think) and freedom. They run the gamut of wanting to do absolutely nothing to wanting to do everything without any limitations or boundaries.
Many high school students believe summer is not only a vacation from school, but from life. They want no schedule or accountability. Many high school students think that during the summer they should be free to come and go as they please. In English, that means get up when you want, go out and stay out as long as you want.
Since it is summertime, a growing number of high school students feel the summer months should be a continuous party that never ends. Therefore, working, doing chores around the house and participating in family activities are not important. Our children feel we are being unreasonable to expect them to be compliant, especially if they worked hard during the school year. Some teenagers would want to convince us that a summer free-for-all is a legitimate reward for a good school year.
What is frightening is that some parents do concede on purpose or under duress and allow their teenagers to have a free-for-all summer. That approach is a disaster and a potential tragedy in the making.
Summer is naturally a time to be more casual. It is healthy to shift gears and change the pace of one's life. However, it is dangerous for parents to suspend all rules or to have few to no rules.
Every teenager needs to know the parameters he or she is to live within. Those parameters should be clear and reasonable. It is reasonable to have a summer curfew that is more flexible than during the school year, especially if your son or daughter is not going to summer school. But you should have a curfew.
It is not unreasonable to have a set list of chores that need to be done on a daily or weekly basis. You are not running a Holiday Inn with room service. It is not unreasonable to expect that these chores be done well and completed before one's social life begins. Don't assign chores that cannot be checked. Be sure to hold your son or daughter accountable.
During the summer, don't take a vacation from your basic family rituals. It is so easy to become anonymous strangers who share the same house, but are like ships that pass in the night.
If the nightly family meal is a ritual, don't suspend it for the summer. Try as much as possible, to keep to it. If you worship together as a family on Sundays, don't skip that during the summer months. Don't stop growing and changing. Often during this time substantial changes take place that we run the risk of missing, if we become too disconnected.
The hardest area to address during the long, lazy days of summer is supervision. How do you supervise your teenagers without shackling them on one end, but not allowing summer to be a free-for-all on the other? The challenge is to find the balance. It is hard work. It demands time and effort on our part. It also means that we have to work on communicating effectively with our children.
Teenagers, even on a good day, are not an easy group to talk with. Many of our high school students are monosyllabic. They are grunters. You ask your son or daughter at dinner how his or her day was. They respond, "okay" period. Then you say, "what did you do?" The response is "nothing." Those responses are with no tone or inflection and absolutely no eye contact. That method is clearly an indication that your child does not want to talk to you.
Grunting seems to be the principle form of teenage conversation, except when said teenager wants something. Then he or she is most capable of an extensive conversation. As parents, we let our kids off the hook. We should consistently force the process of communication. Don't excuse or accept grunting and non-communication. If you do, you are saying that it is okay not to engage.
If we can foster consistent communication, we need to be prepared to hear things we don't want to hear and know things we don't want to know. As parents, we have to work at hearing and knowing without using shame, blame and guilt as our response. We should respond when a response is called for, but our response should be in an appropriate manner that will foster connectedness and not disengagement.
Parenting, at times, is stressful, but we need to be reminded that we are in charge. At times we may have to say "no" and set limits that are not going to be thrilling for our kids. During the summer, we are going to have to work harder at knowing what our kids are doing and where they are going. Just because it is summer, we should not suspend our values or beliefs. We should call each other to task as adults, especially where our kids are involved.
If we don't, in the name of being casual and laid back for the summer, our children's future could hang in the balance!