Q; How can I help my adolescent have a fun, productive, and safe summer?

A: Summers can be a unique challenge for parents of adolescents. On the one hand we want to honor their desire for making more of their own decisions regarding summer activities, as the shift to independence is a key developmental task for adolescents. On the other hand, we still need to encourage healthy choices and ensure that their summer includes opportunities to enhance their social and emotional development.

When adolescents are bored and have nothing productive to do, this often leads to an increase in engagement in a wide range of at-risk behaviors. Specific concerns include experimentation with drugs and alcohol, engaging in risky behaviors that can result in physical injury, and unsafe sexual behavior. Research has shown us that when adolescents under the age of 15 experiment with drugs and/or alcohol, their risk of developing addiction and/or psychiatric issues later in life significantly increases. We also know that summers can often represent a shift in new and increased experimentation with drugs and alcohol for young adolescents. It is important to strike a balance between well deserved down time and participation in fun, structured activities.

Consider a respectful, collaborative discussion with your adolescent about summer plans and activities. Let them know that while you want to see them doing some structured activities, it is important that they feel good about what those specific activities may be. Take advantage of the activity information in this month’s Thrive newsletter as a springboard for these discussions. Whether it’s getting a job, recreational activities with the family, participating in an art class, signing-up for a one-week camp, or working on home projects with Mom and/or Dad (and getting paid?), try to create a balance of down time and structured activities. Periodically checking in with them over the summer can also be beneficial.

Helping your adolescent proactively develop an effective summer plan now will be more effective than waiting until problems emerge over the summer and attempting to deal with them reactively.