By Susan Parmelee
June is filled with celebrating transitions, whether your children are finishing middle school, high school or college. I fondly remember the joy of encouraging my children as they embarked on the next steps in their lives. In part, some of this happiness came from the shift into summer mode and finding the time to reconnect with family and friends over lazy afternoons at the beach.
Hopefully, summer allows for more sleep and a slower pace for the whole family. While unstructured time with peers is important, so is the need to remain vigilant, as the weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day can be dangerous for teens in regard to driving and risky behaviors. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) reports traffic fatalities increase by 50 teen deaths per month nationwide during the summer. Youth experimentation with alcohol, tobacco and illegal substances also increases dramatically over the summer.
As a parent of teens, I was also ready to take the summer off, however I encourage parents of adolescents to help their children be prepared for some of the challenging decisions that come up in the summer months while still having a good time.
The following are some ways to help teens have a safe summer:
Reminding youth about their responsibilities as part of a family may help teens balance their free time and can lower parental frustrations. If they know they must unload the dishwasher and walk the dog before they can go to the beach, the job gets done and you do not have to nag later in the day. Families usually are happier if they try to keep the school year rules in place. Curfews are still important, and teens should be required to check in several times during the day. If their plans change, require a check-in so you know in detail the next activity on their agenda.
Consider forming a partnership with other families. This is especially valuable for taking groups of kids on outings away from San Clemente. Encourage the buddy system among the kids in your partnership. Teens are always safer in numbers, particularly a group where most of the kids are required to be in contact with parents.
Try to keep communication open. Use the slower summer months to bring up the trickier topics like substance abuse, dating, sexual activities, suicide and friendships. Try to listen and not to lecture. Your views are very important to your teen and a major influence on their behavior, even when you think they are not hearing you.
Consider limiting screen time—including social media. Video gaming and hours of YouTube can easily take over a teen’s life in the summer months. Plan screen-use limits before school lets out so that expectations are clear. Face-to-face social engagement and outdoor exercise is key to mental health and wellness. For more help with gaming and social media rules and guidelines, visit www.cybersafetycop.com.
I know I will spend most of these summer days thankful to live in a beautiful and safe city, and I hope you and your family share this gratitude.
Susan Parmelee is a mental health social worker and one of the founders of the Wellness & Prevention Center, San Clemente. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.