Un-plugging this Summer: 9 Fun Activities for Teens Offline

Summer can be a breathe of fresh air for both teens and their parents who have survived the grueling, hectic schedule of the school year. In a previous post, I discuss the realities of stress that accompany adolescence, often due to the sheer number of changes and challenges that occur during this time of growing up. So, of course summer can and should be a relief for the student (and hopefully for the whole family).

However, in working with families, I commonly hear of how in this Age of Technology – the primary source of entertainment involves being online. Along with typical social media outlets (i.e. Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Tumblr, & Youtube), gaming online as well as marathon t.v. watching (Netflix) can take up an overwhelming number of hours for pre-teens and teens during the lazy summer days in between school years.

There is nothing wrong with having fun online or watching television. However, what we find is that when entire days are filled with nothing but being “plugged-in” and depending on a screen, a person’s mood tends to go south. Staying stationary for long periods of time, especially when isolated, tends to cause feelings of sluggish sadness over time. The reality is that getting up, moving, and doing something – even if for only a portion of the day – leads to feeling more accomplished, motivated, and typically better about oneself.  In short, having fun online is like candy. Too much of a good thing can turn sour and leave a person aching in the end.

Below I’ve included a few suggestions for alternatives to time spent online or in front of the t.v. The activities below are relatively budget-friendly and available regardless of the age and stage of the child or teen:

1. Relax by the pool. If you live in a neighborhood with a pool (or close to a community pool), this option is perfect. Easy access for families allows for a relaxing alternative to being “plugged-in” with the added bonus of a chance to get some Vitamin D. Being outside in the summer can be challenging – especially with the kind of heat we have in Georgia…being near the pool allows for a quick relief from the sun.

2. Join a team. While competitive school teams lasts throughout the school year, the summer can be a chance for your child or teenager to have fun interacting with other peers in a sport without the pressure of intense competition. Places like the local YMCA provide a variety of activities, including basketball, martial arts, swimming, soccer, and dance classes.

3. Volunteer. Volunteering can be good for the community and the young person engaging to better it. Helping those in need can teach teens important lessons of compassion, humility, and putting others first.  Nursing homes, homeless shelters, animal rescue centers, and so many other facilities are in need of volunteers. Websites like Volunteer Match & All For Good can match a person with opportunities to volunteer in their area.

4. Consider camp. Day camp and away camps provide fun opportunities for children and teens to experience what it is like to get out of their “comfort zone” – to be in a new place with new people and learn to tackle fun challenges in a safe environment. In this way, going to camp cultivates time for the young person to grow in independence and confidence. Camps exists for a variety of interests and are not only limited to younger children. A listing of camps in Atlanta can be found here.

5. Read. It doesn’t have to be a classic novel – like the ones you read for English class. How about a fun mystery novel or the latest comic book? Unlike watching a movie or television show, reading allows a person to more fully engage in the world of the characters and enjoy a story in a different way. Take a field trip to your local Barnes & Noble, peruse the aisles, and find something that peeks your interest.

6. Get creative. Drawing, painting, & crafting: only a few ways to let your creative juices flow this summer. Maybe getting creative for you looks more like writing a song/ playing music or choreographing a dance to your favorite new song. If you enjoy being artistic, consider setting aside specific time in the day to invest creatively.

7. Learn a new skill. Knowing how to cook, change a flat tire, or mow the lawn – these may sound like chores (and they very well may be) but they are also important skills that every individuals needs to have before entering the “real world”. Teaching these skills also provides an opportunity for parents to bond with their teen and pass along important tools. Consider making it fun by getting creative. For example, determine a certain night of the week as “their night to cook.” They get to plan the menu and together you shop for ingredients to make the meal. You are there to help but they are primarily in charge of cooking the dinner.  Added bonus: supporting their independence in this way creates an environment for self-confidence to grow.

8. Schedule game nights with the family. Puzzles, cards, board games – the options are endless. Plan a night at least once a week for your family to get together and play a game. Simple and fun.

9. Go for walks. Growing up, my family loved to go on walks together. It was a great time to get some fresh air, exercise, and talk about the day. Take a stroll around the neighborhood or visit a park with a nice walking path.  You’ll feel great afterwards.

These are just a few ideas – but you may know of even better ways to unplug and have fun. Hope you and your family’s summer is a time of re-cooperating and relaxing!

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Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

The Stress of Adolescence: 3 Reminders for Parents of Teens

CRCT testing. SATs. Final exams. Finding a date to prom. Passing the driver’s test. Do I trust them? Do they like me? How do I look? My parents don’t get it…. My teachers won’t give me a break. Grades. AP Classes. Group Projects. Sports. Extracurricular activities. Parties. Dating. Sex? Fitting-in. Social media. Graduation. First job. College? Scholarships?? Future??? Choices, choices, choices.

…as an Adolescent Counselor, these are popular topics of conversation in my office.  Sitting with the teens I am privileged to work with, I find that one word most correctly describes the adolescent years: STRESSFUL. Surely this is a good description when we consider how these changes and challenges are faced within a mere 7 years (from the first day of middle school to the last day of high school). Further, if these hard choices, and milestones above are not enough, many teens face additional difficulties. The death of a loved one, separating parents, a diagnosis of ADHD, and cyber-bullying are just a few examples of more “wrenches” commonly thrown into an already-demanding plate of new transitions.

All of these things and more line the path of the relatively short time, which exists between childhood and adulthood.  Compounding these experiences and circumstances are very real biological changes: maturing physically and shifts in hormones that affect the way teens respond emotionally to their world of school, peers, friends, and families.

…Perhaps you are a parent and you are fully aware of this knowledge. You experience these changes and your teen’s reaction to them on a daily basis. You see the high’s and low’s of their anger, sadness, anxiety, and disappointment, and maybe you yourself have felt exhausted and even confused as to their behaviors…For this reason, I want to share 3 helpful reminders for parents – and other significant guardians-  of teens:

1. You will experience push-back from your teen. (It’s not a question of “If?” but “When?” and “How?”…)

As the adult and authority, you will experience some push-back and rule-breaking during this time of their expanding independence. This is normal. It does not mean your son or daughter is bad, and it certainly does not mean that you are a bad parent as a result. Also, it does not entail that they are trying to hurt or disappoint you. Rather, this is to be expected as they “try on” independence and test the limits. Not only is this normal, it is healthy. It can be a sign that they are gaining confidence and autonomy, which is important as they move into adulthood. We should expect growing pains to naturally occur during this time, and along with this growth comes some normal emotional tension between child and parent.

2. Rules & discipline are important. How you implement them is just as important.

Just as teens are expected to test some boundaries, you are expected to implement rules in order to protect them and help them move towards positive goals. However, oftentimes fears can leave parents worried of what is enough in relation to parenting. Too little structure can be confusing for teens (who are still in need of stability) while too much protection can leave them socially and emotionally stunted. Further, when teens cross lines and break family rules, it is important that parents discipline their behaviorwhile treating their worth and value as a person the same. Regardless of what they do, teens need to know they are unconditionally loved, valued, and secure as your son and daughter. This means that despite your (certainly justified) frustrations with them, firm yet respectful and calm conversations with your teen are the most helpful and productive.   

3. Their peers and friends may be their “world” but you are their Safe Place.

You may feel ignored and treated as if you were “annoying” or “a burden.” In fact, they may even voice this to you. This is, after all, an unfortunate side effect of the natural push-back, previously discussed.  However, do not be fooledthey need you. And not just for the basic necessities. You are more than the person who pays for the data plan on their phone or drives them to soccer practice. Teens need to know that after their friends have betrayed them (which they will), their first boyfriend/girlfriend has broken their heart (which he or she will), and after feeling rejected by a certain group at school – that you will be there to love them regardless. You are the safe place of needed understanding, and knowing that you are on their side is essential towards their development of a secure and grounded sense of self. On a daily basis, ask how they are doing and how they are feeling. Even if they give a short reply, they notice that you care.  You can never be a perfect parent; however, being a stable place where they can come to you and express emotions is invaluable in their journey towards adulthood.

Hopefully from these three points I’ve listed, the importance of your place in your teenager’s life has been highlighted. I feel privileged to walk alongside teens and their families as they face some of the ups and down of these difficult years together.

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Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.