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“When the Lazy Days of Summer Are Too Lazy”

Here’s how you can make sure that your kids unglue themselves from screens and devices.

Summer has officially started, but if you’re like most parents of teens with ADHD, you already wish that school is back in session. Although school days have their own stress and worries, at least the kids are occupied during the day instead of laying around, being lazy, making messes, fighting with each other, and eating you out of house and home.

When my son with ADHD was a teen, I worked full time and there were many days during the summer when I’d return home and he’d be in the same spot on the couch as when I left that morning. Left to his own devices, he would have stayed connected to a video console or glued to one kind of screen or another all day, every day, all summer long.

Lucky for me, he had a younger brother, so before too much time passed during summer vacation, I found a college-aged girl to come over to “look after” my younger son. Although her primary job was to keep an eye on the younger one, (and keep the two of them from killing each other), her most important undercover job was to keep both of them occupied and unplugged as much as possible and to make sure my house stayed in one piece.

I know that not all parents have this option, so here are some ideas to get your teen off the couch and off the devices for at least part of each day for the rest of the summer.

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  1. Decide on “Allowable Device Hours”: Set limits for how much screen time is “reasonable” each day. Include your teen in the discussion by saying, “Obviously, due to your brain and physical health, it’s not a good idea to stay ‘connected’ all day every day; let’s decide together how much time per day is reasonable.” (When you ask for a teen’s input, I have found that he comes up with stricter guidelines than you would have come up with! Since it’s their “idea,” they are more likely to stick to it than if you just lower the boom and state how much time that will be.) The end goal for this part of the discussion is to have a consensus on what hours of the day devices are allowed: “The Allowable Device Hours for Monday through Friday are: _____.
  2. Talk with your kids about which things should be done when it’s not device time, including household chores (who does what, when) as well as fun activities. Many times kids resort to screen time because they don’t know what to do instead. So it’s a good idea to make a list ahead of time that they can choose from instead of leaving it up to them to think of something in the moment.

Work First

Before you start brainstorming the fun things your kids can do during “device-free” time, explain to them that, during the school year, school is their “primary “job,” but that now, during the summer, pitching in to keep the home nice is their “primary “job.” In a brainstorming fashion (where you go around the table and have everyone suggest something; no ideas are off limits; and then you go back and narrow down the list), have everyone come up with some of the jobs that must be done to keep the home nice. Sometimes it’s helpful to take one room at a time: “Let’s talk about the upstairs bathroom; what things need to be done to keep the bathroom nice and clean?”

After you narrow down the list to a few things per room, decide who will be responsible for which job (or decide how you will rotate the responsibility).

Once you have the list, create a checklist to post in the appropriate room, so that whoever is responsible for that room will be able to look at the list and know what needs to be done. Remember, that it’s best to be descriptive and specific. Instead of saying, “Clean up the kitchen,” say, “Unload the dishes in the dishwasher and put dirty dishes from the sink into the dishwasher.”

Now for the Fun

In the same way you brainstormed chore ideas together, go around the table and have everyone suggest something for the “fun” list–things they can choose from when it’s “device disconnection” time. Keep going around until everyone is out of ideas. Then, narrow down the list to at least 20.

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Here are some things that were on my sons’ summer list:

  1. Go for a day hike.
  2. Be a tourist in your own town: Visit the zoo or a museum or go see another “famous” site.
  3. Make your own crafts, soaps, or other homemade products and sell them on Etsy or at your local farmer’s market.
  4. Start a lawn-mowing business.
  5. Draw on the sidewalk with chalk; then “clean” it up with squirt guns.
  6. Play in the water/sprinklers like you did when you were a kid.
  7. Bake a summer treat for a neighbor who doesn’t get many visitors.
  8. Make dinner for the family.
  9. Have a picnic lunch with a friend.
  10. Hold a car wash to raise money for a local charity.
  11. Have a garage sale and make a few bucks cleaning out your stuff.
  12. Volunteer at your local animal shelter.
  13. Volunteer at a nursing home. Offer to read books or paint their nails.
  14. Go on a long bike ride.
  15. Go to the local library (many of them offer free summer activities for kids).
  16. Learn to play an instrument.
  17. Create and bury a time capsule to that you will open when you’re 25.
  18. Buy a metal detector and go treasure hunting!
  19. Write some ghost stories to tell later around a campfire.
  20. Plant a garden.
  21. Start a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle.
  22. Read a book.
  23. Rearrange/redecorate your room.
  24. Make a tie-dyed shirt.
  25. Build a model airplane or car.
  26. Do a random act of kindness for a stranger.
  27. Write a play and act it out with homemade puppets.
  28. Create/build an invention

Put all the ideas in a box or a big jar and at bedtime draw out one or two for the next day so that everyone has something to look forward to after chores are done.

The fact is that summers should be relaxing and fun, but “relaxing and fun” doesn’t have to mean staying on the couch playing video games, watching movies, and turning into “vampires” (staying up all night/sleeping all day).

It’s part of our job as parents to set limits, but when you get creative and include your teens in the discussion, the limits won’t feel so limiting and everyone wins.



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