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Summer is More than Screens: 21 Tips to Finding a Happy Summer Balance with your Tweens and Teens

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When the Summer of Renewal account asked me to join them this summer in finding ways for mothers to enjoy an intentional summer with their kids, I knew exactly what I wanted to talk about…tweens and teens.

Summer with littles was full of sidewalk chalk and bubble magic, but as kids got older, summer seemed to change its shape. All of sudden what used to be so fun, was “lame,” and battles I never thought about fighting seemed to happen more often than I wanted them to. So, after a few years in those teen and tween trenches, I have learned a few lesson and have a couple tips that, I hope, will allow you to really enjoy this new season with your kids in the summer and allow them to enjoy it too!

Before I share them, let me say each family is SO different, as is each child. Your kids may need very little structure and motivation or they may still need a lot and that is okay…that is why they have parents to help love and guide them to be the best people they can be.

Have a conversation about summer with them to set expectations. They might be thinking they will be watching movies, hanging out with friends, and staying out late every night and you are thinking they will be mastering a new language, earning money, and volunteering. As kids get older, communication is key…way fewer frustrations when you communicate, set expectations, and give some freedom.

Remember to help your summer plan fit who you are as a mom! If kids on screens make you anxious and crazy, set limits that work for you so you can be a happy, loving mom. If schedules make you feel boxed in, let the lines and specifics be more fluid so you don’t always feel like a cruise director. Remember who YOU are as you plan for the summer!

So read through, take what works and leave the rest behind, and if you have more to add, please do! I love learning what works well for other families!

  1. Talk about technology and set realistic parameters and expectations.  When we involve our kids in the technology conversation, there is significantly more buy in. Ask THEM how long they think they should be on technology during the day and what is realistic, and see if it matches with how you feel. You may need to break things down and get very specific or just set an overall limit. Don’t forget to talk about technology with friends, in the evening, and on the weekends, how it will be regulated and what happens if the limits are ignored.
  2. Set external tech controls. I was SO tired of always being the technology police, but I was also tired of my kids sneaking it whenever they could, so we established some external controls that would do that job for me. Some kids may just be obedient and not need this (lucky you!) but for most parents I know technology is a battle. We use Google Wi-fi for our home based electronics and Our Pact or Apple’s Screen time for phones. I love these options so much because I am no longer the bad guy and my kids have the opportunity to make their own tech time choices. If you want more info on these, feel free to email or DM me!
  3. Decide on must dos before tech. Summer is a great time for kids to contribute a little more at home, so it is nice to set up a “must do” list before any tech can be used. This will vary by family but could include indoor and outdoor chores, learning, music practice, and physical activity. This ensures the things important to you are getting done and makes for a much happier and less contentious summer with clear expectations. One caution, don’t let them think that just because those items are completed that they can have free reign on tech if that is not what you want.
  4. Find a screen-free go to. As kids get older, they seem to think that free time equals screen time, so work to figure out other options with them. That way they can use their open time to: read, build, write, draw, paint, do puzzles, play games, free play, etc. My list HERE offers lots of great books to love, or HERE are good options if you are looking for something new to keep their minds  or hands busy or this list of games HERE would be great to mix up the summer! When they are “bored” remind them of other options they can take advantage of! My I’m Bored list HERE also has some great ideas!
  5. Talk about the 4 basic needs. There was a study that came out by the National Association of Early Childhood Educators that said that all kids needs these four things every day to feel happy: nature, physical touch, human connection, and physical movement. Talk about how important each of those things are and make sure they get them every day during the summer! For more insight or ideas for a discussion about this, click HERE.
  6. Help them earn money. This is the perfect age for them to start earning a little pocket change. Because of their ages it might take a little work on your part but putting them in charge (flyers, advertising, follow through) and being a support is a great way to start learning independence. A few ideas are: a lemonade stand, a bake sale, weeding or mowing lawns, moving or packing help, babysitting or being a mother’s helper, running a kids’ camp for a few hours a day, sport’s training, dog walking, pet or plant sitting, or reach out to relatives and if they could use help. Help them with what to charge and making it valuable for everyone involved!
  7. Pay them for services around the house. Sometimes you are the person who needs the help, so paying tweens and teens for a job well done in their own home is a great win/win. The best way to do this is to have them do something that really benefits you and remember you don’t have to pay them much or if you are short on money you could pay with privileges instead. If there are younger siblings, pay them to be in charge during certain hours each day so you can get work, exercise, cleaning in during the summer (my rule is no screens during that time and real, fun interaction if they are being paid). Give them the job of making breakfast/lunch/dinner on certain days. Let someone be in charge of the laundry for the family. Or, have a list of jobs on the fridge with a dollar amount attached so they can earn money any time they need to!
  8. Incentivize a book/article/podcast/TED talk family club. They like money and you like education and enlightenment, so try starting a summer plan where your kids read or listen to something of your choosing and then discuss it with you or as a family. It can be a small monetary amount or a little bigger if it is a book. If you don’t want to do money, you can give extra privileges instead. A fun way to keep their brains working and connect this summer!
  9. Purchase a pass. Summer is a great time to develop independence, so purchasing a pass to a local pool, amusement park, or this cool Youth on Course golf pass (only $10!) is well worth the money. Find a friend who is willing to join them, and they will have some independent play hours that are active and screen free and you will have a little time apart which is always good for everyone! If your kids are younger, start saving for this option or ask for it for birthdays or Christmas from grandparents. The gift that keeps on giving.
  10. Join a gym or rec center. A lot of gyms offer steeply discounted kid and teen passes, and it is a great way to keep them working out and active during the summer time. You can go together, or if they are old enough, drop them off! Finding one that has a basketball court, pickleball or classes your kids will enjoy is a bonus for sure.
  11. Sign up for classes and camps. I know that this is not an option for every family, but using the summer to explore new interests and gain new skills is a fantastic way to keep tweens and teens engaged. You can find less expensive options through your parks and rec or YMCA programs or more expensive private camps too if you have the time and money for them. Have them try something new during the summer…it might turn into their passion!
  12. Tap into friends. If you have different genders or an age gap, sometimes bringing a friend is the best option for a happy, family activity day. For example, if your little girls still want to go to the park, have your older son bring a friend and some soccer goals. If you are heading out on a hike that the older one is too cool for, invite another family to join you, and it changes everything. If your kids are old enough, allow them to bring a date to a family activity…if you’re paying, they won’t be bugged at all by the family fun!
  13. Give them a project. Does your house need new paint? Would you like to build a shed? Is it time to redecorate their bedroom? Are you planning a family trip? Do you need to organize old photos? Give your kids the tools to own a home project over the summer. This is a great way for them to have something to keep their mind and body busy!
  14. Set family time expectations. Remind them that every activity is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is important to you that you have some good family time this summer which means compromise for everyone. Lay out the things that you want everyone to be a part of (maybe anything on the bucket list) and some optional things too, so there is some choice. If they don’t want to join, they usually need to have a legitimate alternate plan. Not a big fan of skipping a hike to play Fortnite instead ;).
  15. Plan around them. Being in a family does mean compromise, but planning some summer fun that your tweens and teens can get excited about it super important, that way they have something to look forward to! It won’t be all the time, but putting some items on the bucket list that older kids like is important, even if you have to get a sitter for the littles every once in awhile.
  16. Learn a skill or create a habit. See if there is something your tween or teen has been dying to learn or try…guitar, a radio song on the piano, running a faster mile, being able to do a certain number of push ups, a gymnastics trick, a new language, making a dinner or dessert, Spanish, sewing, etc. Provide what they need to make it happen and give them time to learn something all on their own!
  17. Encourage service. Depending on the ages of your kids, volunteering can be difficult, but head to JustServe.org to see what opportunities exist in your area! There are great options in many cities for tweens and teens to volunteer on their own or alongside their parents. Also look inside your own neighborhood…is there an older couple who could use a visit? a young mom who might need a little help? What a cool opportunity to make a difference together.
  18. Introduce them to something you love. One of my favorite things about kids getting older is that they can do the things WE love!! So, are you a mountain biker, ballroom dancer, builder, runner, crocheter, botanist, organizer, engineer, etc? Get them into it with you and it can be a habit and hobby you share!
  19. Give family history a try. I am no expert on family history, but there are multiple sites that let you search for your ancestors, read about them, index old historical documents and do all kinds of other things! Get them started and see if they catch the bug. If they need help, there are family history centers and libraries you can visit to help you get started!
  20. Talk about the real stuff. With all the free hours, it can be easy to take that time for granted, but the older they get, the faster the time goes so use it! Develop and deepen your relationship by having real conversations about real things…they aren’t little anymore, so talk with them like they are growing up. My Teen Talk Tuesday series on Instagram HERE is perfect for starting those deeper, more adult conversations in an easy way!
  21. Set work hours. If your child is old enough to get a job, but is also busy with extra curriculars and other things, one thing we are trying this year is setting expected work hours. These hours can be filled with a real job, sports training, school classes or ACT prep, etc. and then the remainder of time can be “free time” that can be used to your teens’ discretion. This allows our expectations to be met,  a nice transition into real life, and gives him the freedom to control his own schedule. We will let you know how it goes!

Before summer begins officially, we will be meeting with our kids individually to find out a few things: what goals they have for themselves for the summer, how they plan on utilizing the hours they have each day, how they play on earning money, what relationships they would like to build, how much screen time they think is reasonable and how they want to control it, how they plan on being creative this summer, what activity or activities will be their “go-to” when they are bored, and how we can help with anything! This will be a time when we also negotiate what we will need from them and how they will be help accountable for their summer plan.

So, do any of these sound like they might work for your family? Have you tried any out? What has been effective? I like the mix of structure and freedom these ideas offer. Some weeks seem to go really well, and others I am still frustrated, but overall it makes for a summer full of relationships and memories!

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