Question: Summer is a hard adjustment for my kids. We lead such busy lives during the school year- soccer practice, dance class, youth group, homework. Now that school is out, my kids mope about and complain of nothing to do. When I was a kid, summer was a time of relaxation and I found stuff to do. No one had to tell me how to play. What is going on? Am I the only one who has kids who don’t know how to entertain themselves? (BTW, my kids are 6, 9, and 12).
Ah, summer boredom. It is the time of year when we have the most opportunities for fun and it seems that kids today don’t know what to do with themselves. It is a source of frustration for many parents who feel that these claims of boredom are completely unfounded. First let’s address some possible reasons for this modern phenomenon and then we’ll discuss some solutions.
That Was Then, This is Now
You’re right. Your kids are different. Not different from other people’s kids, but different from kid 30 years ago. In my opinion (and this is nothing but opinion), kids are different today because society is different. Here are a couple of possible reasons:
We are more safety conscious. Scratch that – safety obsessed. When I was a little kid, I would think nothing of riding my bike down the street (the street) with no hands on the handle bars, flip flops on my feet and no helmet to block the wind from whipping through my hair. Today, kids dress like they are ready for battle – even if they just want to hop on a pogo stick. In my opinion, two things have contributed to this panic: 1) Parents have a natural desire to protect their children and manufacturers have created an entire industry devoted to keeping kids safe. It has no doubt saved many lives but it has also made us see danger at every corner. 2) Communication now happens in an instant. We learn about every freak accident, every dangerous stunt by kids within seconds of it occurring. It’s this safety conscious culture that might be contributing to the fact that kids no longer play with abandon.
There are more passive forms of entertainment available. Now there were video games and cartoons when we were kids, but Pac Man blinking his way through a monochromatic maze tends to lose its draw after a while. And adjusting the antenna manually (my husband actually had to climb on the roof to do so) made TV watching a bit of a pain. Now we can be entertained in a myriad of ways with little or no effort or imagination on our part. There is less and less incentive to get off the couch. Often a lack of equally exciting alternatives leads to summer screen time battles.
There is too much going on. Today is the age of opportunity. Many parents over-schedule in an attempt to create cultured and well-rounded children. As odd as it might sound, ultra-busy lives can lead to bored kids. Children need a lot of unstructured time to daydream, invent, create and explore. A busy schedule can strip children of their innate ability to entertain themselves come summer vacation. Some parents “solve” this problem by keeping summer as busy (or busier!) than the school year. But this really is not a solution.
Solutions to Summer Boredom
Regardless of how kids came to be this way, we need to find ways to address it. Here are some ideas:
1) Look objectively at your kids’ toys. They may have rooms brimming with toys (and claim there is nothing to do), but are the toys age-appropriate? Have your kids out-grown them? Take a rainy summer day and make keep and donate piles. Cut through the clutter so you can see what’s what.
2) Don’t buy more stuff. Most toys today are one-note. They are not designed for creativity or ingenuity. More is not the answer for your problem, different is. They need activities and toys that will encourage and foster creativity.
3) Do they know what they like? If your school year is highly scheduled, your kids may not have the opportunity to develop personal hobbies or interests. Sit down with each kid and brainstorm about the different things that they like to do for fun -things that they can do alone or with each other. You may have to help them get started if they are really stuck. Make a trip to the store to get any supplies that they might need to further their hobbies (within reason, of course!).
4) Take a trip to your local library. Ask your librarian about books on hobbies and crafts for kids. You will find a host of books on making paper airplanes, catching butterflies, gardening and more.
5) Make a schedule. Some kids get so dependent on the minute-to-minute schedule of the school year that the open-ended days of summer become incapacitating. Try making a daily schedule with some general categories: chores, reading, crafts or hobbies, play outside, screen time, quiet time, family field trip, etc. You may find it helps to jump start their own creativity.
6) Put a tent up in the backyard. Creating a summer hide out is a great way to get the kids outside and thinking creatively. Giving them a space where they can get dirty and make it their own will do a lot to create the independent play that has been lacking.
7) Have each family member create a summer “bucket list.” Give everyone the opportunity to have a say in what you do this summer. After the lists are created, look for common entries and start there. Feel free to exert your right to put financial and distance restrictions on this activity.
I hope that these tips are helpful. You may also want to check out our FREE Things You Can Do For Fun Printables!
Have a wonderful summer!
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[Photo credit: kakisky from morguefile.com]