How to avoid zombie children and juvenile delinquency this summer

Bored_teen_CC_sunshinecityRaise your hand if you fear that your child's honest answer to 'What I did on my summer vacation' will be: slept a lot; did most of my socializing online; spent countless afternoons moping around and fighting with my siblings; played hundreds of hours of video games; lost a huge chunk of the previous year's learning - or worse yet - got into lots of trouble in the world when no one was looking.

Most tweens and pre-working teens love the thought of summer vacation. But once it gets going the sheer number of hours to fill can lead to 10+ hour, zombie-induced, video game marathons interspersed with wandering the world under the radar and getting into trouble.

And while over-scheduling and too much parental control have its own challenges, and screen time may seem preferable to unsupervised social time, having a discussion about your expectations and assisting your kids in finding alternatives to on XBox or crossing the line into risky behavior can insure that everyone, including parents, has a better summer.

First a word of caution: Your main job is to create some structure, giving only as much of a timeline for daily expectations as your child needs. ('By the time I get home from work I expect - such and such - to be done'.) Micromanaging how to fill their FREE time will likely create a power struggle over whose job it is to find an acceptable solution. The 'acceptable' part is your role to define. The 'solution' part is their responsibility. Ideally we want our kids taking the lead with us backing them up - with a little encouragement, money or rides - to help make it happen. Though we don't actually want to make it too easy. Otherwise their little brains will not grow and learn how to solve challenges to success and then where will they be?

Here's your cheat sheet (For a downloadable pdf version see below):

Creating Structure - Every day Minimum Standards Checklist:

  • Maintain yourself (eat right/shower/brush teeth)
  • Maintain your space (Minimum: path through your room)
  • Contribute to the house - Do your chores (Do mine too if you want!)
  • Be physical (1 or more hours)
  • Turn on your brain (Make a few new neurological connections)
  • Read something (Cereal boxes count but not very much)
  • Laugh and have fun (legally of course)

Physical exercise ideas:

  • Swim, jog, take a walk or hike
  • Ride bike/skateboard/rollerblade
  • Work out or lift weights
  • Join a sports team or camp
  • Find a friend and play catch, frisbee, tennis, soccer, basketball, football, baseball

Brain/Learning Exercises: (According to the US Dept of Ed students lose as much as 25% of their learning in the summer)

  • Read a book or magazine
  • Play a board game or cards
  • Just for fun - try to remember some geography facts, or math facts, or what photosynthesis is (don't be surprised if you child's brain hurts during this exercise)
  • Use your curiosity to figure out how things work - toilet, automatic garage door, coffee maker
  • Do a science experiment

Set a goal for yourself and accomplish it:

  • Learn an instrument
  • Take singing lessons
  • Learn a foreign language

Be creative:

  • Build something
  • Draw, paint, sculpt something
  • Cook or bake something
  • Make a movie
  • Make a garage band song
  • Make your own board game
  • Design a computer game
  • Learn photoshop or flash
  • Take pictures - pick a subject and get a picture from every angle
  • Take on a craft project: And think outside your gender:
    • girls ~ think model cars
    • boys ~ why not try sewing or crocheting
  • Write, Write, Write! - Stories, poetry, journal, essays, letters to favorite people
  • Listen to music or make music
  • If you have younger siblings: read them a book, build a fort or teach them something new
  • Go to the library and see what's going on. Join the summer reading/activity program
  • Take a class - (Local Ann Arbor: Rec and Ed, Neutral Zone, Ann Arbor Art Center, etc.)
  • Go away to camp or sign up for day camp
  • Get wet ~ town pools, go to a lake, get in a boat or canoe and get on the water
  • Start a home business - mowing, dog walking, mother's helper, summer tutor
  • Shadow someone who has a cool job
  • Volunteer for an organization or help a neighbor
  • Raise money for a good cause - have a carnival, join a walk-a-thon or car wash for charity, visit a non-profit and ask for their wish list and then gather items

May you and your children enjoy many of the moments of summer.


Annie Zirkel, LPC is a Parenting Consultant, Workshop Presenter, Author and mother of 3 potentially bored teenagers with a long summer ahead of them. Contact her at Creative Common License photo credit: sunshinecity