SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

June 7, 2013

Dr. Kate's Parent Rap: No summer plans for tweens and teens? Don’t panic

Dr. Kate's Parent Rap
Dr. Kate Roberts

---- — Many parents ask me for help figuring out what to do about their tweens and younger teens who have no plan for the summer.

Kids in this age group want freedom during their summer break, but they need help finding a balance that includes productive ways to use their unstructured time. Age-wise, they’re stuck in the middle. Typically, they don’t have jobs because they’re too young, but they’re too old for some things that used to work but might not work anymore, like summer programs that cater to younger kids. Working parents want to know: can my child handle being home without adult oversight?

What can these in-between-age children do? Here are some suggestions:

Help your child use the Web to get the word out that he or she can do odd jobs. With your supervision they can post their availability to work within the community. For example, my town has a parents’ Facebook page where many kids post (through their parents) their availability to baby-sit, walk dogs, do yard work, be a mother’s helper, etc.

Get them involved in the community. Service opportunities on the North Shore include the Open Door Food Pantry and Beverly Bootstraps. Boston Cares has statewide volunteer opportunities listed on their website (bostoncares.org).

If you belong to a local church or synagogue, ask the minister or rabbi if there are volunteer projects that your child can engage in.

Have them get creative with a new program. Software programs come with video and written instructional manuals and can be self-taught by a tech-savvy tween or younger teen.

Encourage them to start an exercise routine. Everybody could use this. If they are hesitant, set them up with a couple of training sessions through the local YMCA or a gym to get them going.

With some instruction, guidance and monitoring they may even be able to take on an odd job at your house. Who couldn’t use some help reorganizing the kitchen or painting the deck? Take pictures of what you want the end product to look like so that they have a model to refer back to.

A simple daily structure for children this age looks like the following: 9 a.m., wake up; structured activity until midday; afternoon of social time or planned family/friend activity.

Parents of tweens and teens should consider summer a perfect time to emphasize that with greater independence comes more responsibility. If your children are itching for more freedom and want more beach time, insist that they demonstrate their maturity and commitment by willingly handling additional chores at home. It is not unreasonable to expect them to help out by doing the laundry once in a while or having dinner ready when you get home.

Parents should encourage their children to participate in the structure the parent creates and to learn about the responsibilities that come with independence. You can help your kids by setting up a family framework based on this.

If you consider your child old enough and responsible enough to be unsupervised at home during the day while you’re at work, here are some guidelines for parents of kids up to age 18:

Know who is in your house at all times.

Do not allow your child to have friends of the opposite sex over when you’re not home.

If your child does have a friend over, make sure the friend’s parents know you’re not home.

Regarding technology: Closely monitor its usage. Limit Internet access, especially when you are not home, even to the point of taking the router. Unsupervised Internet access is not appropriate for tweens and teens. Also, parents who are concerned that their home-alone children will sleep until 1 or 2 in the afternoon after a late night of gaming or using social media are right to worry. If you suspect this, you need to work actively against it. Tween and teen use of technology needs to have restrictions. Overuse is not good for adolescent brain development, which should be busy with limit-setting, learning responsibility, and strengthening social skills.

These precautions may seem extreme, but we live in an extreme world. Although some adults may be used to kids sleeping until noon or later and being on the Internet many hours of the day and night, there is nothing “normal” about this behavior. This behavior is not what typically developing humans should be doing at that age, and it teaches anything but responsibility and life skills.

Take a stand and don’t settle for that kind of summer for your children. Help them be prepared by teaching them developmentally appropriate life skills, so that in a matter of a few years or less they are ready for college and a lifetime of independence with responsibility.

---

Dr. Kate Roberts is a psychologist and parent coach on the North Shore. Questions can be directed to www.drkateroberts.com www.twitter.com/DrKateParenting or www.facebook.com/Dr.KateRoberts. Next: “How do parents manage technology during the summer?”