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The spring musical has come and gone. Prom is a memory. Final exam grades are nearly in the books. Before you know it, the kids will be home from school with lots of time on their hands and their own expectations of what summer vacation will bring. Activities. Friends. Jobs. Trips. Or as nerdy hero Greg Heffley intends in the movie Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, an uninterrupted summer of junk food and video games. Of course, caring parents often have expectations of their own. In our private practices, we tend to hear certain questions every year at this time, and we thought it might be helpful to address them here. So fire up the grill and rub on some sun block as we help you prepare for summer in the areas of time management, dating, self-evaluation, personal responsibility, and the need to balance peer interaction with family activities.


In the past, my teenage daughter has battled boredom and wasted a lot of time during summer break. What can I do to change that?

It is difficult to move from a schedule of fairly structured 6- to 10-hour days to total free time. And a bored teen will be unhappy and more likely to gravitate toward trouble. It's possible to help structure your daughter's life over the summer months and still have her feel ownership and excitement.

Decide the overall priorities and tone of the summer. Will every day begin at noon or dawn? Will there be a family vacation? When? Is there a financial goal for your teen? Is camp an option? How do siblings' needs fit into the picture? How about summer school? And most importantly, are there character qualities lacking in her life? Develop a vision for what you feel is in your child's best interest. Be specific. Consider her gifts, skills and interests, and develop options that will engage her imagination and lead to success.

For older teens, employment is a key issue, but make sure any job supports the overall goals of the summer. If camp or a family trip is important, don't let a job confound those priorities. Most employers can adjust to absences if they're informed at the time of hire. Also, your counsel regarding job type, interview skills and even personal contacts may lead to a prime opportunity. If age or circumstances eliminates paid employment, consider volunteer service.

Your inspiration and determination to make the summer fun and productive may be the jump-start your daughter needs. Your follow-through and support (from an encouraging hug to offering to drive her to work) will build momentum. But now is the time to begin planning what could be the summer of a lifetime!


How can I use my son's summer vacation to help him find some direction in life and better understand himself?

For the "Who am I?" and "What am I good at?" questions, I suggest two exercises that can fit well with any summertime plans:

1. Have him experience a Vision Quest (click here for our free, downloadable worksheet). This is a way of logging past experiences, evaluating them and watching patterns develop that can point to a particular area of interest. For example, working with young people may prove frustrating, but running sound equipment may be very rewarding.

2. Contact your church, a Christian bookstore or search online to for resources designed to help believers discover their spiritual gifts. Work through that tool together. This can be an exciting time of discovery for your son as he sees his personality, the Bible and the world around him begin to come together.

As he does these exercises, encourage him to seek input from godly men and women—peers and adults. Often we are as blind to our strengths as we are to our weaknesses. In the end, he won't get a final "thou shalt," but such tools will provide direction and food for thought.


Our daughter has just started dating. How do we help her keep perspective and avoid trouble this summer?

First, we acknowledge that many Christian families feel uncomfortable with the traditional concept of dating. That's understandable. It really has become a minefield out there. And certainly there are other ways for teens to build good relationships. But for those families currently navigating the world of "dating," several thoughts may be helpful.

Conversations between parents and teens in this area often suffer from unclear terms and expectations. For example, if you express worry about your daughter "getting too physical," she may be thinking, "OK, we won't get sexually involved." But your concern is probably deeper still, desiring that she show self-respect, good judgment and grow in purity. Articulate that. Discuss healthy boundaries. Make sure her definitions and expectations clearly coincide with yours. It's up to you to initiate and frame the discussion using godly wisdom.

Also, teens often lump their parents into that group of adults bent on spoiling their fun, ruining their lives and preventing their happiness. (Remember those days?) Yes, kids even define us erroneously—and are encouraged to do so by much of the entertainment media. Again, clarify your love for her and your God-given responsibility for her wellbeing. Sure, you understand her need for fun, the thrill of romance and the sense of urgency that peer pressure creates. You also understand the emotional hurdles that await, and wish to help her avoid unnecessary pain.

By taking initiative and defining your family standard for dating (including curfews, conduct, where she's allowed to go—and with whom), you will be setting up a cooperative process. Set clear boundaries, and make it equally clear that exceeding them will lead to specific consequences.

Finally, one approach that can single-handedly answer numerous concerns is "group dating." Social interaction with a group can provide more relaxed fun and foster additional friendships. Instead of donning a "dating face," teens are more likely to be themselves, and won't be as easily tempted with physical intimacy.


Should we discourage our son from getting involved in a summer romance?
 
There's nothing inherently evil about summer romances. They've been around since the Beach Boys first waxed their surfboards. Likewise, a teen shouldn't feel like an outcast if he doesn't have someone on his arm between now and when classes start up again this fall. The important thing is that any relationship during any season be a healthy, respectful one.

Your tie to your son is important. Try to stay as involved in his life during the summer just as you have throughout the school year. Make your home a place he and his friends (including any special young ladies) feel comfortable. Your sincere love and encouragement can create a healthy, safe, godly environment for summer fun.

Also, keep in mind that summer romances are usually just that—seasonal relationships that give teens a way to fill those many hours once occupied by school, homework and extracurricular activities. Help your son think of it in those terms. That way, a September breakup won't be as devastating. If things are still working out at that time, then you can talk about it further.


Our son has been spending all of his time with friends and leaves no time for family activities. I'm afraid that will continue over summer vacation. What should we do?

A good portion of your son's behavior is part of a normal developmental process. Between the ages of 6 and 12, the need to identify with his peer group takes precedent over identifying with parents. This continues through the teen years and usually concludes with total separation and independence by the age of 18 or 20. To resist this natural pulling away hinders growth. Here are four ideas for making this transition navigable:

Assess your own motives. Is it possible that you have selfish reasons for wanting him to stay close to you? Is he meeting a hidden emotional need for you? Are you fearful of letting go and seeing him make mistakes on his own? As is often the case, healing first requires self-examination.

Embrace the shift and encourage healthy friendships. Since this is typical behavior for adolescents, it's better to bend with the winds of change than snap under their pressure. You can't actually pick his friends for him, but you can increase his chances of finding good friends by placing him in environments with healthy peers. Find a solid, interesting youth group. Encourage him to take part in summer camp, missions trips, sports or other Christian activities. If he likes music or drama, he may benefit from working with the church worship team.

Host activities for your son's friends. Throw a pool party, movie night, sleepover or summer barbecue. It will give you a window on your son's peer group, as well as the ability to discreetly chaperone the event.

Let friends take part in family events. While there's certainly a place for "family only" interaction, try to create additional outings that let your teen invite friends. When you head to the beach, allow one to join you. Point out to your son that you don't object to his time with peers so long as it's not at the expense of important family time. Also, he will resist family activities less if you try to plan some that he will find attractive.

This stage presents an important balancing act for parents. Encourage separation, but make your teen realizes that his presence is welcome and wanted at home, too.


Our 16-year-old isn't just "busy" with peers. He seems to avoid us. What can we do so he'll want to be around the family more?

Sometimes a teen will direct himself outside of the home because his role within it is unattractive. What motivates the average teenager? A home where he is valued, challenged, instrumental in the lives of family members, respected for who he is and capable of having fun. Think broadly about who your child is and what role fits him well. A good sense of humor, or even a tendency to ask tough questions, can contribute to how a teen blesses a family. Determine your son's value to the group and help him recognize it.

Teens yearn for a sense of the "heroic." Can you provide that this summer? Rather than asking for help painting the house, put your teen in charge of it (but let mom select the color). If he drives the family car, let him take a shift on your next long road trip. For the technology buff, maintaining and troubleshooting the family computer may do the trick. As a rule, if there is a reasonable likelihood of success—in spite of the chance for mistakes—use your home as a venue for heroics. Let him achieve greatness under your roof and he may become more comfortable there.

Does your teen sense that he is appreciated and enjoyed for who he is? Listen for clues that may suggest why your child prefers being distant ("You never talk to me"). Sarcastic comments, like "Leaving again?" or "Write sometime!," may be your way of telling him he's missed, but they don't instill a desire to hang around. What do you miss about him? Tell him. Whether it's the way he whistles or how he relies on you for help with his math homework, let him know how he makes a difference in your home.


What do I do with my 14-year-old son who doesn't want to do anything outside of the home? Is this normal?

Healthy growth involves an increasing independence and involvement with peers in the outside world. Still, some personalities are more "home bodies" or introverted by nature. They need less outside social interaction. He may also be a late bloomer in this area, which is not uncommon for boys.

Of course, he may also be staying close to home because he's harboring some anxiety. Is it possible that your son avoids new social encounters because he's worried about failing or being in a situation where he doesn't know the "right" thing to do? Try to help him identify his worries and confront those anxieties in small doses. He might be more willing to venture out with a good friend.

Remember, pushing teens into the world is not the same as letting go gradually. Well-intentioned parents can err by picking an arbitrary age as a turning point for social maturity. Encourage him; don't pressure him. A rushed transition may lead to failures and isolation for growing teens.


We feel it's time our 16-year-old picked up a part-time job for the summer, but he doesn't seem motivated. Is he just lazy?

Several factors could be fueling your son's reluctance to seek employment. It is important to determine which of them (or what combination) exist before intervening. Three common stumbling blocks include:

Being intimidated by the process. He's inexperienced and has no idea what it takes to get a job. He may be too embarrassed to even ask how to apply, and consequently does an inadequate job of searching … or doesn't apply at all. He may also be afraid of failing, convinced it's safer not to try than to try and fail.

Initiate a friendly chat. You can offer tips on what can lead an employer to say "yes," perhaps even drawing on your own early job experiences. Low-pressure advice may include ideas about clothes, hair, what words to use, eye contact and so on. Encourage your son to consider work settings that provoke his interest. Sometimes this kind of parental jump-start is all an intimidated teenager needs to move ahead with confidence.

Not recognizing the value of work. Some teens ask, "Why should I work hard? I don't have to. I'll just live off the land!" This might be a legitimate presumption by a bright or talented adolescent used to succeeding with minimal effort. But it's also short-sighted. It's up to you to explain why hard work is not only a virtue, but of lifelong value.

The Bible is clear that we must work (2 Thessalonians 3:10). We were designed to do so—especially as it honors God and serves others. Discuss the personal and societal rewards of labor. Besides tangible personal compensation (a paycheck), benefits from our work extend to others who are assisted or blessed as a result of ourefforts (Genesis 41, Daniel 6). Also, work helps us develop punctuality and discipline, as well as skills for problem-solving, goal setting, critical thinking, conflict management and interpersonal communication.

Downright laziness. You've counseled your son on finding a job. You've articulated the inherent and practical value of work. If he still refuses to seek employment, it's possible he is committed to avoiding labor. In other words, yes, he may be lazy. Is he getting everything he wants from mom and dad? Is he surviving solely on the allowance provided at home? It may be time to tighten the purse strings. Let his need for spending money, car insurance and other items motivate him to get a job.

Also, stop and consider the signals your son may be picking up from you about the working world. Do you complain about your job? If so, he may be reluctant to put himself through the same "misery."


My daughter rarely does chores around the house, and seems to resist hard work in general. Once school's out, I expect her to contribute more. How should I communicate that?

This issue can rub parents raw with frustration. And often, the more important character issue is eclipsed by a parent's anger with immediate symptoms (dirty dishes left in the den, piles of aging laundry on the floor, etc.). What is an important stage of maturity and growth in your eyes may be interpreted by your teen as nagging over "insignificant" chores.

Help your daughter see the bigger picture by articulating your concerns. Plan a casual dinner out together and mention the specific symptoms you see and the concerns they stir up in you regarding her future success. Don't get bogged down in an argument over yesterday's chores. Focus on the future. Make it clear that you want her to develop independence in the coming years (no doubt she will desire it, too), and working conscientiously around the house is crucial if that is going to happen. She must realize that you need to see responsible behavior demonstrated if she expects you to trust that she'll be reliable with a curfew or the family car. Don't assume that your daughter already makes this connection.

Ask directly, "Do you dislike hard work?" "Why?" Probe at an emotional level. "How did you feel when I asked you to do the dishes?" "What discourages you from trying to get a job after school?" Sometimes parents, teachers or coaches can unwittingly dampen any sense of satisfaction or accomplishment in a hard-working teen with unfair standards or a critical attitude. A label blurted in a heated moment, such as "You never do anything right!" can stick in a child's mind and hinder motivation to try again. Encourage hard work. Lavish praise on your teen when it happens. You can't control your child's attitude, but positive reinforcement will nurture it.

Let your daughter know that you see this summer as a chance for her to prove herself capable of handling additional freedoms and new opportunities. If she is outwardly defiant or antagonistic to these nudgings, it may signal a deeper problem requiring additional help.


I recognize the need to provide guidance, but how do I get started?

Have a planning meeting, drawing from the ideas already mentioned here. It's usually best to act in April or early May since jobs, camp enrollment or community service opportunities will be fewer as we near Memorial Day weekend. It's also easier to gain cooperation from within the family while expectations for the summer are still flexible.

Keeping this in mind, sit with your spouse and determine specific goals. Write them down. Be sure to include "fun" as a basic need; it's as healthy to play as it is to work. Sadly, some youngsters require assistance in figuring out exactly how to have fun. Spell out some options.

Next, gather the family to hear and discuss your plans for the summer. Set up a calendar with dates filled in for important events. Since the best laid plans often go awry, prioritize them in case a conflict arises later. Listen to your children's ideas, but don't lose sight of your vision and goals. Discussing limitations (such as prior commitments, finances, jobs) helps them understand the real world and can inspire creative solutions. Keep the tone light. Your own attitude goes a long way toward shaping their attitudes about the summer. Good communication will improve cooperation and will preclude "sourness."

If you hope to revive a strained relationship with your teen over the next few months, tell them so—and demonstrate it throughout the conversation. Remember, this is a "preemptive strike" against boredom and a wasted summer. By taking initiative early, you can light fires of inspiration sure to make your family's summer sizzle.

Published May 2013