Summer Days: Beating Boredom

There is tremendous variability in teens’ and tweens’ ability to entertain themselves. While for some the lazy days of summer offer a welcome respite from the regimentation of the school year, for others the thought of entire days and weeks with nothing to do can seem daunting or even overwhelming. It can be tempting for parents to rescue their daughters from boredom for fear that they will be terribly unhappy or get into trouble. But down time can be quite productive and instructive.

It is psychologically healthy—especially for adolescent girls—to learn to tolerate boredom, to be comfortable in their own company, and to be in touch with their real thoughts and feelings. In fact, some tweens and teens unconsciously stay overly busy during the school year to avoid thinking about things that make them anxious or uncomfortable. Summer days can be a time to learn about themselves and discover inner resources they didn’t know they have. Before each summer, parents have to figure out what each of their daughters need, including the amount of structure that is right for them.

Involve girls in discussions about their summer plans. What does she want to do? Are there sports or activities that interest her? What events is she looking forward to? Is she concerned about being bored? Generate a list together of fun things she might do, both independently and with others. By enlisting her input—especially early on—you can avoid her becoming discouraged or lonely. Also, you are encouraging her to develop strong planning and problem solving skills. She might even do some research online or in the local newspaper to find out about opportunities.

There are two big issues to consider at the outset. The first is safety. Although young teens are capable of staying by themselves for short periods of time, they are too young to take on so much responsibility for entire days. If parents work outside the home, girls need some supervision. Since this age group feels too old for babysitters, consider either trading off days with other families or hiring an appealing college student to serve as both chauffeur and “buddy” sitter. The second issue that parents often face during summers is how to handle television and video games, which have their value but often become so addictive that they consume most of kids’ free time. Agree in advance on how much time will be devoted to these activities and which shows and games are acceptable.

Although there is much to be said for down time, it is usually best to break up long summer days with some structure, even for an hour or two. That is why many parents continue music lessons or sign up girls for swimming classes, art camp, or soccer lessons. Your daughter can also consider volunteering her time for a community service project or to gain skills for a future job. Maybe she can baby-sit for children in the neighborhood, which will give her a sense of responsibility and satisfaction along with the pride of earning her own money. You might also give her extra household jobs so that she can save up for something special.

Summer can be an ideal time to start a project or new hobby, such as learning to sew or redecorating and painting her bedroom. Down time facilitates thinking, dreaming, and using one’s imagination. Your daughter might find and channel her creative interests into cartooning or writing poetry or plays. She might tap into her strengths and inventiveness by building coming up with a new club for school or starting a charity. Many a teen has found a whole new world—and possibly a career—awaiting her after she borrows a parent’s camera one summer.

Although teens typically are not elated by the idea, summer is also a chance to maintain or catch up on academic skills. Your daughter might benefit from meeting with a tutor once a week to reinforce elusive concepts, doing a reading enrichment course, or just getting a head start on the books she will be assigned next fall. Both of you (as well as siblings) can read the same book in order to discuss it together, as a sort of family book club. In fact, when kids and parents are able to be more relaxed, without the pressures of homework assignments and hectic school year schedules, there is usually a better chance to discover the sillier, more amusing sides of each other and find the time you spend together that much more enjoyable.

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