Summer Break with a Defiant Teen: 5 Tips for Parents
Summer vacation. This favorite time of the year for kids is often the most stressful time of the year for parents. Whether your child is off for three full months or attends school year-round, if he is oppositional or defiant, you’ve probably learned to dread school breaks.
Here are the top concerns we hear from parents and some tips on how to prevent the summer break from turning into a summer breakdown.
1. My Teenager Won’t Get a Summer Job
Why do any of us work? Because we’re motivated. We either feel good about the work itself, or we want money or some other kind of emotional payoff.
If your teen isn’t motivated to get a job, don’t enable them by giving them money. Don’t give them money for movies, eating out, or gas. Not having money may motivate them to get a job. And it will teach them the value of working and earning money.
2. Keeping Your Teen Out of Trouble
During the summer, there are more opportunities for kids to get into trouble: more parties and more friends wanting to hang out who are a bad influence. What can a parent do?
Although kids often want to run free during summer, limits such as curfew still apply. Decide ahead of time how many nights per week your child can go out, how many times friends can come over, what is okay and what is too much hanging out.
Make the limits and expectations clear from the start of summer and stick to them. The issues of toxic friends and poor choices are tougher for parents.
But here’s something to think about. When your child was two years old, you monitored him very closely—probably 24/7. But as our kids grow, the time they are unsupervised gradually increases. That’s natural. Each milestone he achieves—staying home alone, walking to the store, driving, dating—is preparation for adulthood. Think of these years as practice for the Big Game of Life.
Will your child make mistakes? Certainly. We all did. Mistakes and poor choices are how they learn.
Once your child reaches a certain age, it’s impossible to choose their friends. They are exposed to bad influences at school, in the community, and all over.
Instead of trying to keep your child from associating with someone you perceive as toxic, focus instead on teaching values and how to make positive choices. This is a skill your child can use in relationships throughout life. Whenever she encounters a risky situation—as we all do—she will use those skills to decide how she will conduct herself.
Most of us have had at least one friend who wasn’t good for us. The one we always got into trouble with. The first one to suggest we drink or use substances. How did you learn to stay away from that person? How did you learn to make good choices for yourself?
Lectures from a parent probably weren’t nearly as effective as learning from experience. So if your child makes a poor choice, try to think of it as an opportunity to learn and grow. But don’t shield her from the consequences. The consequences are a key part of the learning process.
3. When Your Child Won’t Get up for Summer School
My child has to attend summer school, but he refuses to get up in the morning. What do I do?
If your child has failed a grade, think of summer school as an opportunity rather than a punishment. It’s an opportunity for him to make up credits and to move forward to the next grade.
But let’s be realistic. If he’s failed the grade due to not turning in homework, not studying, or skipping class, it’s certainly possible he will continue to make similar poor choices when it comes to summer school.
But remember, this is your child’s issue to correct. Not yours. If you take responsibility for his performance, you are making it your problem to solve, robbing him of the chance to learn from his mistakes.
When you make summer school your responsibility, that’s when you get emotional and desperate to get him up in the morning. As hard as it is, let him take responsibility for his own actions.
Call the school just as you would during the normal school year and let them know you’ve provided every opportunity for him to attend, but he is choosing not to do so. If he makes the choice not to get up, he will fail summer school and the natural consequence is he won’t be promoted to the next grade.
If this makes him uncomfortable or unhappy enough, he will change his behavior. Repeating a grade won’t be the end of the world—his or yours. Many people have had to do things twice before learning what they need to.
4. My Child Is Supposed to Attend Summer School but We Have a Vacation Planned
Many parents find out at the last minute that their child is missing assignments and failing. This is particularly problematic if summer school conflicts with a family vacation.
You know your child better than anyone, and you know what the failing grades are about. Was he truly struggling to turn in assignments or pass tests because he had trouble staying organized or he didn’t understand the assignments? Was he putting effort into the work but just couldn’t pass? If so, you may choose to suspend your vacation plans to support him in the opportunity to pass the grade or allow him to stay home with family or a friend you trust.
But if you know he was messing around, watching TV, or playing video games instead of putting effort into his work, you may make a different decision. If he refused to do the class assignments out of defiance or failed due to suspensions for poor behavior, this is his consequence. This is not your consequence. And it’s not the consequence of any other member of the family.
You still may decide to go on vacation and leave him home with a friend or family member. A natural consequence of having to attend summer school may be that he misses some fun activities. Or he can go with you and the natural consequence is he may fail summer school.
There’s a quote often used in the business world: poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine. This is how the real world operates. Daily decisions affect us in the long run and other people (bosses, coworkers, spouses) don’t always jump in to save us.
5. My Kid Is up All Night and Sleeps All Day
Many of us fondly remember the days we stayed up late watching TV or just fooling around. Indeed, kids tend to feel energetic at night and tired in the morning.
But what if your child has a summer job but stays up all night and shows up late to work? Or worse, misses work altogether? Just remember, the consequence will be his, not yours. Coach him to make better decisions, but don’t shield him from the consequences.
Most parents worry that this pattern of staying up late will make it hard for their child to readjust to a school schedule. It’s definitely appropriate to say to your child a few weeks before school starts:
“Okay, we’re going to get back to our routine now.”
But if your child is oppositional or defiant, you must choose your battles carefully. Staying up late and sleeping in is not a legal or safety issue. Is it something you can live with?
If your child is oppositional or defiant, choose your battles carefully over the summer. Focus on the important ones.
Three months is a long time and if you try to change every behavior that’s annoying, it’s going to be even longer.
Whenever an argument starts, ask yourself: is this my problem or my child’s? Is it a legal or safety issue? Is it worth getting upset over? In a year or two, when I look back at this, will it be a big deal?
Asking yourself these questions can help you to determine if you’re effectively coaching your child or, instead, needlessly stressing yourself out by micro-managing him. Either way, make sure you make some time for yourself to enjoy the summer regardless of what your child is doing.