by Dana Martin, BYS Counselor
As we head into summer, we are all likely feeling a mix of emotions – hope that things will return to “normal” soon as well as some uncertainty around what this new normal will look like. For teenagers, summer is a much-needed break from the pressures of schoolwork, their very full schedules, and all the extra stressors they have faced this year. On a positive note, summer can be a time when busy schedules and routines give way to much-needed relaxation and fun. On the other hand, the lack of structure tends to increase the pressure to participate in risky behaviors that teens might feel. Consider opening a family discussion as to what structure and routine can look like over the summer months and why some structure can be helpful. Bringing up the topic of peer pressure in your family may feel tense, but it is valuable to let your teen know that you understand how difficult peer pressure can be. Letting them know you are on their side, want what is best for them, and are not simply imposing arbitrary rules can help your teen to feel more confident in making smart decisions. These discussions can help both you and your teen find a routine that works for you.
The lack of routine teenagers experience over the summer can also lead to feelings of anxiety or depression. For any of us, when we do not have the usual markers in place to help us feel purpose and drive, we can start to feel aimless and unsure of ourselves. Coming up with ideas for a summer routine can help combat this. Putting some structure in place to help organize each day/week can help alleviate some anxiety as it reduces unpredictability and the need to make sometimes overwhelming decisions. Work towards finding a balance between structured and unstructured time as both are important to one’s well-being.
Adding to all of the usual changes teens deal with over a summer break, this particular summer is different with the continued impact of the pandemic. Since the pandemic is something that affects all of us, it might feel like you have less capacity or patience to talk with your teen about how they are coping. Staying curious and being willing to hear the unique ways the pandemic has impacted your teen will help them feel seen and heard. There might be many things that teenagers feel; perhaps they feel they are missing out, or maybe they have found a silver lining in the changes brought on by the pandemic. (For instance, many introverted teens have felt relief in not having to face the crowded school hallways every day.) Some young people have noticed things about themselves that they would not have otherwise seen if their busy lives and routines had continued on as usual. The changes in lifestyle have led many teens to discover who they are or want to be, question their friendships, or, perhaps, reach out to an estranged friend. It is amazing what we can all learn about ourselves when we take the time to slow down and tune in.
Of course, there will be a lot of anticipation and, perhaps, anxiety about the next school year. Will everything be back in person? How will that feel for me? What have I missed out on? What am I excited to return to? What am I dreading having to deal with again? These can all be important questions for teenagers to think about and talk about. Change is hard for most of us, so it is helpful to normalize that, while going back to school seems “normal,” after the year we have been through, it might feel anything but.
No matter your age or stage of life, remember to be gentle with yourself this summer. Take time to check in honestly with yourself to see if your routine and choices are working for you. Maybe you need to switch your schedule up, try a new hobby, or call that friend you miss. Whatever it is, make room for downtime, flexibility, and curiosity and encourage your teenager to do the same as we move forward into the unknown together.
BYS is here to help all youth find their way. Please reach out if someone in your family could use extra support in the coming months. Request an appointment at askbys.org.