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If you’re the parent of a teenager, chances are you’ll face behavioral issues this summer. Teenagers are coming off of a structured school year, knowing just what to expect at any given point during the day or week. Along comes summer, and suddenly all the rules are out the door. What can you do to ensure that your adventurous teen respects the rules this summer?
The bottom line, says Richard Lerner, Director of Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University, is this: You’re the parent, and your rules still apply.
“Ultimately, what kids will appreciate is the consistency and the exercise of rules to guide their life,” Lerner says. “What we often find is that our setting limits is actually a relief to children.”
Setting limits may be a relief on some level, but parents of teenagers know they are bound to run into conflict along the way.
The best way to avoid this, Lerner says, is to enter the summer in a dialogue with your teenager. This discussion should center around the idea that your values as a parent are nonnegotiable, but expectations and concerns are negotiable. Let your teen’s voice be heard, and allow some freedom and flexibility.
Here is a breakdown of some of the biggest issues that parents of teens face over the summer, and how to structure your expectations:
Work or internships over the summer are an important way for teens to experience being responsible. This might be about making money, or it might be about learning the specifics of a particular career path. Either way, Lerner says parents should be direct with their teens about their values and expectations regarding summertime work and internships.
Parents should explain why they feel these experiences are important (for example, to develop a sense of loyalty, teamwork, punctuality, pride in one’s performance, or to give them credentials and qualifications that will help them get into college) and how many hours each week they expect their teens to be involved in this kind of experience.
Another factor to discuss, Lerner says, is the concept of a teen contributing to the family and generating his or her own resources. “Maybe your teen will want to take a spring break vacation next year or go on a ski weekend,” Lerner says. “This is a good way to explain the necessity of the child working to contribute to that expense.”
Summer Reading and Academics
Reading and academic study over the summer can be a challenge to enforce. Lerner suggests parents be willing to negotiate on this topic. The important thing is for teens to do some amount of reading and academic work to keep their brains active and their learning continuing—the exact amount of time, however, should be up for discussion. Besides, he says, teenagers genuinely need some downtime during the summer, and they need to feel they are exercising their autonomy. Parents will not be successful overall if their teens don’t feel respected to make some decisions about how they spend their time.
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