Q: If their activities aren't harmful, is there any reason my kids can't pace themselves over summer?
A: Yes. Parents still must define limits and set responsibilities. Children get to make choices within these safe, healthy parameters. Without parental planning, summer may lapse into mindless lying around, punctuated by spurts of chaotic activity — none of which takes advantage of the opportunity a three-month vacation offers for family bonding and personal and academic growth.
Parents need to put these good things into motion.
Set reasonable daily limits on the amount of time children spend watching television, playing electronic games and amusing themselves on the computer. The time children spend doing chores can be increased. Some major jobs can be assigned to older children over an extended period of time.
Adolescents and teens need both age-appropriate curfews and limits on the time they can spend socializing. Be specific about which nights, which days and what parameters a child can use to see friends. Socializing is healthy, but it should only occupy a modest portion of a child's summer.
Hopefully, structured activities will meet some of a child's social needs.
Q: Some parents schedule their children nearly all the time. Should I do this? How active should a normal child be?
A: Structure doesn't mean that a child should be busy all the time. Downtime must be a part of any healthy mix. Too often, parents confuse good parenting with doing their utmost to develop all their children's talent, maximize every opportunity and schedule them to the limit. Constant activity is stressful — especially when the focus is on "improving."
Children should maintain a regular rhythm of when they rise and when they go to bed, when they do chores and when they can expect to participate in family meals and activities. They also should be involved in responsible activities.
Q: What about schoolwork? Should children have the summer off like we did? Don't they need a break from all the pressure?
A: No. Make academics part of the mix. Three months is too long for a child to go without intellectual stimulation and building skills.
Expect your child to read for an hour each day. Keep a record and set achievable goals for the reading accomplished. Most libraries offer children special summer reading programs with intermittent rewards. Organizations like Gifted Resource Council offer challenging enrichment day camps.
If your child has an academic weakness, design a plan of attack. Include structured assignments, regular homework times and supervision. If the deficit is serious, consider tutoring.
Q: How can we get our child engaged in activities? He resists my suggestions.
A: One good way to provide summer structure is to involve children in family planning. Brainstorm together. List all activities each member would like to do. Possibilities include biking on the Katy Trail, attending a Cardinals' baseball game, exploring the Saint Louis Science Center, visiting grandparents, reading 10 books or vacationing at the lake.
Then take a calendar. Write down those with a defined time and try to work the rest into family plans. Post a family "wish list" and check off each item when it is accomplished. Review and celebrate together at the end of the summer season.
Dennis O'Brien is a licensed clinical social worker, experienced educator and therapist. O'Brien's column in the Suburban Journals, "Prevent Teen Suicide by Addressing It," won an award from the Missouri Department of Mental Health for outstanding reporting on suicide in 2010.