Teenagers can be very excited at the prospect of three months off - no school, no homework, lots of free time. After all the responsibility and demands of secondary school, their time is now their own, and they want to choose how to spend it.
This is when things can become challenging. Many parents feel they have to manage their child's time, and conflict can ensue.
We all own our own time. We should have choices around how we use it, but of course, there are boundaries; and with every choice we make, there are consequences. So, how do you allow your teen to own their own time?
Explore with your young teen how they would like to use their time. Remember what it was like to be a teen, or at least remember how you wish your life as a teen could have been. Allow yourself to empathise and understand what their needs are over the summer. Find a way to negotiate with them so they do own their time but that you also have a say. Your role should be to support them to make responsible choices about how to use this time well.
Agreeing on clear boundaries at the start of the summer will support everyone. Curfews should be set; the permitted distance they can go from the house, and with whom; how much money they will have; places they can and cannot go; and household responsibilities should all be established.
Depending on their age, the boundaries will vary, and the level of freedom and responsibility will vary. There is no clear rule about at what age young people can stay home alone. Many people agree that 14 is a reasonable age to allow a young person to stay at home alone. The issue around staying at home alone is very much focused on each individual child's ability. It is about focusing on what your child would do if the unexpected or dangerous happened, such as a fire or a stranger at the door.
Leaving young people responsible for other children is never a good idea. An adult should always be responsible for younger children. It is very different to place a young person in charge of themselves, but to leave them in charge of a younger sibling is a very risky undertaking. Siblings argue, and arguments lead to other things happening.
Leaving a number of teens at home unsupervised can pose dangers. It can be worthwhile exploring if they can break out, and spend time in friends' homes where there are adults at home or involve grandparents.
You know your children best, and you know what happens when they disagree. You need to explore if they can handle this well and responsibly if you are not there to support them.
Cooperation is the key to a happy summer balance. If your teen feels that you understand some of their needs and wants, they will be more likely to cooperate with you and find ways to do some of the things you request of them.
Try to allow your teens time off over the summer. What harm is there in occasionally staying in bed until lunch time? Why not stay up until 2 am watching rubbish on TV as a treat? These are some of the simple pleasures of life. Encourage them to meet up with friends, join clubs, and pursue activities over the summer. Maybe they can get a part-time job or volunteer?
Just because they are off, they should not be treated like Cinderella but as a member of the family; they have to play a part, and you can have reasonable expectations of them.
Trust your young person. Unless they give you a reason not to trust them, it is important to trust them and give age-appropriate levels of responsibility.
Summertime can be a great time to put money in the bank as Dr John Sharry would say, meaning you are building your relationship with your child; you are putting resources into that relationship. When the days come when you don’t have as much time to build on these resources, at least there is plenty there to keep things going steadily. The foundations are solid, in a sense.
Love-bombing is a popular new concept, the idea being you give your time to your child and they decide what you do, and for how long. Again, you are reinforcing all the positive aspects of your relationship.
Use the summertime to get to know your child. You will recognise their needs with more ease and appreciate how difficult life can be when you are a young person, and often you have so little control over what is happening to you.
So, this summer, try to find a way to let go of controlling your young person. Enjoy the summer with them. Give them the space to grow and develop, and support them in this. Encourage them to invite you into their world instead of expecting them to come into our adult world - they will be there soon enough!
Parent Mentor