With summertime comes time at the beach, fun in the sun, and hanging out with friends. But for teenagers struggling with mental health issues, especially those who avoid social settings, it can mean a summer spent in front of an electronic device, sleeping far more than what is healthy, and other poor behaviors. For many teens, these unstructured days during the summer means hours spent lounging in pajamas on the couch or while still snuggled in bed, scrolling through social media. In some cases, it means vegging out in front of the television with a bag of chips and a jar of salsa. During the summer, the average teen spends nearly nine hours each day consuming some form of media. And unfortunately, there is a strong correlation between social media and electronics usage with increased rates of depression and anxiety in teens. Because of this, it is imperative that parents help their teens find worthwhile and engaging activities to prevent declines in mental health over the summer.
Social media is strongly linked with harm to self-esteem and confidence in teens. Not only that, but excessive usage can lead to or exacerbate cyberbullying, fear of missing out (FOMO), pressures to keep up with friends, and unrealistic expectations. Further, the more teens engage online, the less time they spend engaging in real life friendships and relationships. When teens are actively monitoring the likes and comments on their posts, and when they are comparing their bodies to the various beautiful images that they see of models and celebrities on social media, it can result in sadness and a sense of learned helplessness that often leads to phobias, depression, and anxiety.
To help teens maintain their mental health and physical wellness over the summer, parents need to discourage the frequent usage of screen time and encourage activities that get the teen out into the community. On top of getting necessary therapy, doing good things that bolster their self-esteem and intellectual growth can only help teen mental health.
Teach your teen the value of trying new things
The summer is a great opportunity to try new activities such as picking up a new hobby, reading a different genre of books, or trying a new sport. Trying new things can actually change the way your teen is living their life. In fact, trying new things can benefit your teen in the following ways:
- Meet new people – getting out during the summer and engaging in new activities can help develop new, positive friendships
- Learn about yourself – in some cases, a new activity may help uncover a hidden talent that you didn’t know you had
- Enable a new way of thinking – you may become more open-minded or may look at something different than you did before
- Provides topics for conversation – new experiences inevitably lead to new dinner-time topics, and can even lead to more positive posts and information sharing on social media platforms
- Breaks up the routine – as we get older, it becomes more and more difficult to break out of the daily routine
- Increases overall satisfaction – it is possible to find joy in the oddest of places
- Alleviates boredom – doing the same exact thing every day can be boredom and doesn’t challenge the brain
- Grow as a person and member of society – new activities can help illuminate new interests that may lead to a profession down the road – this can even help to boost confidence levels
- Become more interesting – the more experiences you have, the more conversations you have because you have more perspectives to share
Summer activity suggestions that can positively bolster mental health
Getting your teen to agree to a summer activity, or to try something new, might be a tough argument. Unfortunately, you may have to drag them kicking and screaming. But, if you find the right activity, it is possible that the kick won’t be so hard, nor will the scream be so loud. Check out this list of positive and engaging summer activities that are good for your teen and the community in which you live.
- Seek out an organization where your teen can volunteer. Volunteer work for teens is about development in every sense. Encourage teens to engage in activities such as helping elderly neighbors, volunteering at a local hospital, walking dogs at the local animal shelter, reading to residents in nursing homes (or at a hospital), running recycling drives, working in soup kitchens, delivering meals to those in need, stocking food pantries, or even coaching the sporting teams of younger children.
- Encourage your child to look into business opportunities. If you live in an area where local ordinances limit the type of job that your child can take on, but your teen wants to make their own money, encourage a babysitting business, or mowing lawns, or walking dogs for neighbors that work out of the home during the day. And if your teen is of an age where they can hold a more official job such as at a car wash, fast food restaurant, or other, encourage them to get out and apply. There is a certain pride that comes in earning one’s own paycheck, and this can be a very positive and motivating experience for your teen. Plus, developing a strong work ethic now will pay off for them in the future.
- Have your teen take a class through community education or a local community college. Many teens and adults as well want to enhance certain skills, and the summertime can provide a great opportunity to take a class that is not offered as part of the regular high school curriculum. Maybe your teen is artistic and wants to improve their pottery or painting skills. Maybe your teen is a budding mechanic and wants to take an auto body course. Maybe your teen loves small animals and wants to take an introduction to animal science course as they explore if they want to be a veterinarian when they grow up.
- Join a gym, local fitness club, yoga studio, or running club. Exercise is great for both mental health and physical health. Those who exercise regularly do so because the act of exercise gives them an extraordinary sense of well-being. They feel increased energy throughout the day, get better sleep each night, have sharper memories and feel more present, and are often more relaxed and positive about themselves. Exercise is also a powerful medicine for many common mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, and more. And your teen doesn’t have to be a fitness fanatic or the next NFL star to reap the benefits. Even modest amounts of exercise can make a difference, regardless of age or fitness level. Because exercise is good for the entire family, consider making this a family activity (especially if the gym has a swimming pool – perfect to help cool off on the hottest of days).
- Plant a garden. While this might seem like a stretch, many teens find themselves fascinated with growing plants and vegetables. And, if your teen is getting more physical activity and is not lounging on the couch eating chips, they may also be encouraged to eat better. So, planting a vegetable garden can be a win on many fronts as it gets your teen out of the house, encourages physical activity, and at some point, will mean they can consume vegetables that are good for them. Not only that, you may find that some of the inevitable screen time is dedicated to researching gardening tips.
- Join a gamer’s club. If your teen is absolutely fixed on video games and you are struggling to get them away from the console, look for a local gamer’s club in your community. In the least, you might be able to tear your child away from the home gaming system and get them into an in-person gaming community that encourages actual communication, in person. Of course, there are also non-video game type gamer clubs available such as those geared towards model car construction, crafting, comic books, board games, and more.
Summertime is the perfect time to rebuild family bonds
Without a doubt, the teenage years are very challenging for parents as teens are learning to establish and practice more and more independence. Teens are often rebellious and emotional, and they are going through a variety of physical and intellectual changes that can be confusing and leaving them wondering who they really are. For this reason, teens and parents often experience the most challenging times in their relationship with each other during those teenage years. And all of this is made worse when your teen is battling a mental health concern.
The summer provides an excellent opportunity for parents and their children to reconnect. Many employers are more flexible with time off during the summer, and this can make it easy for dad and mom to get some extra time off of work to spend quality time as a family. When your teen is battling anxiety, depression, or another mental health ailment, just spending time as a family at home might not be enough. When we are at home, it is often easy to slip into our old routines or to find a project that we have been meaning to complete for some time. Instead of a family staycation, look for activities that get you and the kids out of the house for some stretches of time.
- Plan a camping trip. With 58 national parks in the United States and nine of those in the state of California, there are plenty of places to explore. If tenting and sleeping on the ground is not your family’s cup of tea and the budget allows, consider renting a recreational vehicle (RV) and turning the camping trip into a road trip. Seeing the various sites of the country can be very rewarding and stimulating for the senses.
- Plan a family volunteer opportunity in another country. If this fits into your budget, an intercultural volunteer experience can create lifelong memories, not to mention the learning that your family will share. There are agencies that are in need of volunteers all over the world, and it isn’t difficult to find a program that aligns with one of your passions. If you need help coming up with ideas, check with your church, local community center, or even your teen’s high school. You will likely be surprised as to how many opportunities exist.
- Create a family book club. If getting out for a summer vacation is just not in the cards, consider planning a summer book club experience for your family. Select two or three books that everyone will read during the summer; perhaps one book for June, one for July, and one for August. At the end of each month, plan a special night out, or even a backyard barbecue, and host your family book club meeting. Encourage your teen to help select the books and to be the facilitator for at least one of the sessions. This book club can create a safe opportunity for everyone to share their unique perspectives on certain issues that come up within the book, as it can be tied to the story instead of something happening to them directly.
Continued treatment over the summer is critical to your teen’s mental health
The teenage mental health battle follows a long and winding road. Parents who are supportive and not enabling can offer the best source of love that a teen can use during this difficult time. While getting your teen to engage in a summer activity might take some tough love, in most cases, the activity turns into a positive and rewarding experience (but parents should be sure to avoid the I told you so approach). And even though you are getting your teen active throughout the summer, do not forego any therapy or counseling sessions that your teen attends during the school year. Therapy should continue, as should the use of any prescriptions that your teen’s doctor or therapist have described.
In fact, summer as the ideal time to get treatment for your teen from a professional. As your teen is not facing the responsibilities of school during the summer, their therapist can assess their condition from an entirely different perspective. Further, when your teen is engaging with new activities that aren’t school related, the therapist can also uncover whether or not those activities are helping, or hurting.
Consider these four reasons why continued therapy is critical over the summer break.
- Your teen needs a trusted adult to talk to – Sometimes, parents want to be the one that their teen turns to. But that is simply not the reality in most cases. During the school year, your teen is surrounded by teachers, coaches, guidance counselors, and more, and also has their therapist to talk to. But in the summer, those school-related authority figures disappear until school resumes in the fall. Having regular sessions with their therapist throughout the summer will encourage your teen to process the big choices and changes that come with the season. Counseling is also a great way to lower stress levels for parents when they know their child has the support of a trusted adult to help them.
- Your teen needs space – Summer provides an opportunity for your teen to escape from the pressures of measuring up to all of their friends and classmates. Though it is important to engage your teen in summertime activities, make sure that your teen has a balance and gets some time that is just for them. It’s common for teens to feel safer and more comfortable processing social issues over the summer months, and their continued sessions with their therapist can help them work through those feelings.
- Your teen needs consistency – There is considerable value in seeking support for your teen before issues get out of control. Teens who seek therapy on their own feel more in control during their sessions, and have the motivation to make headway towards their goals. Thus, maintaining that consistent relationship with the therapist is vital to ensure your teen has the right level of support.
- Your teen needs to keep learning new skills – As suggested for one of the summer activities, teens can benefit from trying out a class to learn a new skill. Parents need to understand that the pace of the school year doesn’t provide much time for teens to develop new skills that can help them succeed academically. In many cases, teens struggle to keep up with the academic material while they are learning the valuable expertise of study skills and time management. Teens who put learning first, and develop new skills over the summer are far better prepared for the upcoming school year. And, if struggles come up during these summer classes, a therapist can be the first line of defense.
Combining ongoing treatment with additional activities can help your teen to pass the summer safely and in the company of loving and caring adults. If you are still struggling to find an activity for your teen, consider asking for suggestions from their therapist or doctor. These professionals have traveled this road with other teens before, and can likely provide a plethora of suggestions.
Looking for a facility for your teenager over the summer? Why not reach out to Hillcrest ATC for a consultation?