Summer is a time that kids generally look forward to—but it has changed since I was a kid. Back in my day, summer was a time for random ballgames outside, the ice cream truck, hikes in the woods and spontaneous time at the pool with friends.
Students are experiencing a new kind of childhood today. The pace is fast. The goals are set. The time is structured. “Even the lazy days of summer aren’t so slow anymore, with many kids in structured camp programs, often focused on academics,” writes Sharon Jayson, of USA Today. “The cost, some analysts say, is not just rising concern that kids won’t look back fondly on their childhood. Analysts say there are increasing signs that a lack of independence fuels stress, anxiety and depression among young people. Many child-development specialists and others worry that it’s just not as much fun to be a kid anymore.”
According to their own survey response, students from middle school to college (ages 12-24) say the number one word they use to describe their life is: overwhelmed. They feel pushed, pressured, probed and pulled in so many different directions. Perhaps it’s why they feel unready to leave adolescence or childhood. They feel they never got it.
May I suggest that this summer, you do something new with your kids or students:
- Prepare them for two hours a day of unfettered, unstructured playtime.
- If they say they’re bored, don’t solve the problem for them. Give them ideas, but encourage them to put their creativity to work and invent something.
- Challenge them to take on a project that’s very important and almost impossible—serving the community in some way. Reward them for service.
- If you have more than one child (or student), assign one of them to be in charge of the activity for the day—and let it be student-driven.
- Help them find a job and earn money to use during their free time. This is a double win, as they work and produce for a supervisor, and have the money to pay for some “fun time” later.
- Talk with them about the benefits of free time and how to best use it for their own health and growth.
“There’s not question there’s a lot of stress in the lives of children and particularly teenagers,” says pediatrician Kenneth Ginsburg. “We need to reduce stress by taking some of the pressure off while at the same time preparing kids to manage life’s inevitable stressors.”
I’d love to hear your ideas. What do you plan to do with your kids this summer?