Summer Break Is Hard

"…Children without structure, responsibilities, supervision, exercise and rewarding activities will become bored, lazy, temperamental, demanding and difficult to satisfy."

By: Michael G. Conner, Psy.D,

Oh Boy! Summer is here. For many kids that means,

  • No homework

  • No teachers

  • No reason to get up

  • No responsibility

  • No restrictions on television

  • No restrictions on the computer or video games

  • Doing whatever they want

So is that a problem? A lot of parents naturally think, "Gosh, I wish I could take the summer off." Many of these parents decide to give their children a nice long summer vacation. It seems natural for parents to want their child to enjoy what’s left of their childhood.

Fortunately, small children don’t want to stay out and run the streets all night. But children as young as six still need a great deal of structure during the summer. Without structure, your child will most likely have a hard time returning and adjusting to school next year.

Teenagers on the other hand are the bigger challenge because they can end up,

  • Hanging with friends

  • Running around unsupervised

  • Racing around in cars with friends

  • Going to parties

  • "Hanging" with kids who use alcohol and drugs

  • Causing trouble for thrills

  • Experimenting with alcohol and drugs

  • Going to bed when they feel like it

  • Sleeping until some time past noon

This kind of behavior is hard to change once it gets established. Many teenagers will argue and bend the rules once their parents start to set limits. Most teens will say things like, "My friends don’t have to work or do chores.", "I won’t do anything bad.", "Why don’t you trust me?", and "Just because others do drugs doesn’t mean I will."

School Burn Out

The intensity of school, the challenges that children face and the misfortunes of a class failure can be rough. A lot of kids are simply "burned out" by the time summer comes. And they’re not just tired. Some are clinically depressed. The summer can become a frantic effort to counteract the trauma of school.

School "burn out" is the result of our school system trying to do "too much" for "too many students" without enough resources. Burn out is inevitable when we place children in a demanding environment that is beyond their ability to perform, conform and adapt.

There are a lot of other reasons why your child may have crawled to the academic finish line. Here are the primary reasons.

- Getting up Early and Going to School is Hard. Researchers in sleep labs are discovering that children can’t sleep because they are worried, they don’t get enough exercise, their sleep patterns are chaotic and they are over stimulated at night with phone calls, television, video games and the internet.

- Psychological and Emotional Pressures are Tremendous. The U.S. Surgeon General reports that 1 out of 5 children have significant social and psychological problems. Many of these affect learning and the child’s educational experience. Going to school is not easy for a lot of kids.

It is sad to say, but many children will discover what they dislike about school during the summer. Of course there are a lot of children who truly like school. But letting children run free and do whatever they want during the entire summer will usually produce problems by the end of summer. Children without structure, responsibilities, supervision, exercise and rewarding activities will become bored, lazy, temperamental, demanding and difficult to satisfy.

Summer is no time for children to relax for more than a few weeks at a time. A brief vacation is fine. But a long and lazy summer vacation can change a child’s entire attitude about their education. After deciding they don’t like school, many of these kids go back to school just to see their friends and to socialize – not because they look forward to their education.

Steps You Can Take

Here are some suggestions that will help parents manage the summer break and make the transition back to school successful. These are the most essential things you can do.

1. Children should be up by 9 am and do something by no later than 10 am on weekdays. If they sleep past 11 am, then they probably need more exercise during the day, an earlier bed time and less stimulation at night before they go to bed.

2. Children need a schedule of daily activities, chores or a job opportunity. Children should earn money and not be given money before they earn it.

3. Teenagers should be home no later than 10 pm every night unless they ask parents for permission in advance. Teenagers may stay out later on weekends but not weekdays. Late night activities on week days should be planned and approved by parents at least 48 hours in advance.

4. Know where your children are, who they are with and where you can find them if you wanted to find them. It is important that you speak with and get to know the parents of children that your child associates with.

5. Look into a summer program for young children through your local parks and recreation department. Keep small children busy and away from continuous television. Know what you teenagers are doing and check on them periodically to be sure they are completely open and honest with you.

6. Read to and encourage young children to read everyday. Send your brief summer school experiences especially in areas where they are having difficulty.

7. Make sure your children get plenty of exercise. Do not let your child watch TV, play video games or disappear into the internet for more than 2 hours a day. You might consider sending your teenagers to an Outward Bound program (www.OutwardBound.Com) or to the National Outdoor Leadership School (www.NOLS.Edu). These are great ways to get your child off the couch and into the world.

Copyright 2002 to 2008, Michael G. Conner