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Teens During Summer: Advice from Lisa Damour Ph.D.

After 10 months of school, sports and other obligations, many teenagers just want to spend the summer “hanging out.” But, says Dr. Lisa Damour, “there’s no benefit to having teens hang out for 8-12 hours every day.” In this series of four videos, Dr. Damour offers suggestions for summer activities for the teens during summer months.

Suggestions for Summer Activities

Video #1: The Importance of Structured Time for Teens During Summer

Transcript: Summer is almost here, and parents are wondering if teens should be allowed to have lots of unstructured time during the summer. Teens will make the case for this as they worked hard during the school year and they’re exhausted. It might be hard to press on a teen that is facing finals to go find a summer job or volunteer position. I recommend that your teen have structure to their day.

There’s no benefit to having teens hang out for 8-12 hours every day. They can have leisure after they come home after their job. And you do want to support them to have something that keeps them busy during the day. They might have to wait until after finals are over to go figure out what that something might be. Or you may have to do a little hunting and put several options in front of them for the things you have in mind. Even though your teen will resist, it is the right thing from the standpoint of helping them grow and keeping them safe, for having something structured and concrete during the day during the summer. It doesn’t have to be 5 days a week, 12 hours a day, just something to do.

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Video #2: Teens During Summer: Your Teen May Resist Getting a Job

Transcript: Some teens will really resist the expectation to have a job during the summer. Just because they resist doesn’t mean you’re wrong. This is a fight that is worth having with your teen. I think you can say, “Look, it’s our expectation as parents that you will do something constructive during the day while you’re home for the summer.”

If you’re really running into trouble, you can make privileges contingent following through on this. A teen who refuses to work shouldn’t have access to their car or go out and have you fund fun things to do with their friends. This is how the world works; when we meet our responsibilities, we get to enjoy privileges. IF teens don’t want to have responsibilities, it doesn’t make sense for them to enjoy privileges.

Video #3: Help Your Teen Find a Job: Teens During Summer

Transcript: So, your child might have to work pretty hard to find something meaningful during the day. And you might have to call on some of your friends and resources to see who can help your teen do something structured and perhaps interesting. That might be an unpaid internship, babysitting work, anything like that. There are lots of options for teens.

I wouldn’t put a high premium on the job being paid or being the most interesting thing that they’ve ever done. Teens should get good at work that feels tedious, that could be boring. A lot of success in life comes from being able to do tedious and boring tasks really well. And there’s something really good for your teen to be around adults. The research shows that being with adults is really good for kids, and especially good for teens. Your teen will need to learn having a boss, having colleagues, having to share a workroom, going on time, dealing with an unhappy boss. And there’s no better time to learn these lessons than in the teenage years. Making mistakes now is better than later.

Video #4: Choosing Different Rules for Teens During Summer

Transcript: The nice thing is, most summer jobs can be arranged so that there’s plenty of free time, given that your teen won’t have homework and they should be able to relax and enjoy themselves. Summer days are long; the sun will stay up late. Teens will lobby to have more time during the evening than they would during the school year. This is a tough call, and one families need to make child by child. My experience with families is they make one rule for one child and another for a different child. Sometimes it’s hard how good your teen’s judgment is, because it could be all over the map. They can be thoughtful and then make rash and flip decision.

One guideline for having a sense of how much you can trust your teen is how much they assess risk. If they assess risk in terms of how often they can get caught, then you want to keep a tight rein on your teen. If they assess it with the actual dangers in the behavior they’re considering, then you can afford that teen more freedom.

Research has shown us that teens exercise different kinds of judgment for the same situation in different context. So if a teen is with a group of friends, then they might make a bad decision about drinking and driving, but if you ask that same seen in the context of a conversation with a parent about the same scenarios, they will give you a very different answer. Another way to put this is that a teen’s good judgment will dissolve the larger the group gets. One piece of advice you can use is how big is the group your teen is going out in and what do you know about the teens they’re going out with? Do they make good judgment or not? If it’s the second, you’re going to want to keep a tight rein on your teenager.

Lisa Damour, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice and director of the Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

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