Parents: Help Your Teens Maintain Wellness During Summer

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teens_outdoorsIt’s summertime and our kids are finished with school. For many parents, finding childcare or some sort of structured leisure activity for their children is a major task. For parents of a teenager with depression or bipolar disorder, the concern is heightened considerably.

Structured environments of predictable schedules, classes with expectations and accountability, and regular social contact are suddenly replaced by months of free time. Parents have the extra worry that isolation at home and a disrupted schedule may send some teens into a more depressed state. Here are some suggestions on how you can keep your teen on the track to wellness during the summer months.

  • Encourage teens to find summer employment or do odd jobs. The rewards are not just monetary. Even short-term jobs, like helping an elderly person clear out an attic or petsitting for a neighbor on vacation can boost a teen’s confidence and sense of self-worth.
  • Sign them up for a class.  Classes in areas of interest can fill the void of school vacation. I often discourage parents from using summer courses as a remediation tool to help teens catch up on school subjects in which they are doing poorly. Don’t force your child to be miserable all summer in a subject they hate! Find classes that spark their interest or help them imagine what they might like to pursue as a career.
  • Encourage them to volunteer at a human service organization or long-term care facility. Volunteering can expand a teen’s job skills and help them learn responsibility. For many of my teen clients, being in a “helper” role actually took their minds off of their depressive symptoms and increased their sense of self. Many organizations and facilities accept volunteers year-round; so don’t worry if summer is almost over for your teen.

The key is to keep teens busy and involved in something constructive. Above all, maintaining a connection with your teen is best way to monitor his or her mental health. During the summer months, teens may lose their bond with their therapist, school counselors, or friends, so it's important that parents continue to be a stabilizing force in their teens’ lives.

Dr. Joseph Gianesin is a Full Professor at Springfield College in Springfield, MA, and is a behavioral and educational consultant for school districts. Dr. Gianesin has worked in the field for over 30 years serving as a psychotherapist, school social worker, school administrator, and educational consultant. Dr. Gianesin received his M.S.W. from UCLA and Ph.D. from the University of Denver. His most recent research is on suicide prevention and intervention for children under the age of 14.

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Photo credit: Virginia Guard Public Affairs

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