For some children and teens who struggle with social, emotional, and behavioral issues during the school year, summer can be either a great challenge or a great opportunity. While a low-key and low-stress relaxed family vacation might seem like a good idea to parents, for some kids it can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, worsening symptoms of depression and anxiety, and increased acting-out behaviors. Choosing a program just because it ‘gives them something to do’ might be a loss of a great opportunity. What can help is for parents to have a serious look at their child’s challenges and to think strategically. Here are some examples: a child who during the school year has an intense and positive social life with good friends and serious academic work, but who struggles to engage with family might benefit from a family hiking, cycling or canoeing adventure. Parents can make this time most productive if they are mindful of the goal of the vacation: to get closer to each other, to work on trust, to enhance communication and to build family memories. There are some great readings on fine tuning parent listening skills and developing trust with your child, which parents might want to read beforehand (“How to Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk” by Faber and Mazlish or websites like https://portal.lifeworks.com/portal/viewers/HPSArticle.aspx?HPSMaterialID=5062). Keeping sight of goals and allowing lesser issues to slide, this type of vacation summer can help build a very important foundation for tackling teen challenges in the future.
When you have a child who is struggling with making friends, a small summer program where kids work together on common goals might be very beneficial. There are many programs out there; and assessing your child’s strength and weaknesses will help you find the best fit. Consider whether a specialized camp to learn kayaking, theater production, or attending sports camp, or a summer police academy for youth might suit your child. Overnight camps where children are immersed in program activities allow more time to bond and share experiences with peers, leading to more opportunities to feel empowered through their achievements.
For a teen who has lost interest in learning, replacing it with ‘hanging out’ and engaging in risky behavior, an exciting academic program could help get him or her back on a positive track. Learning a language abroad or attending a challenging academic summer program at a university could be very valuable. Many outstanding colleges offer fascinating programs that will also enhance your teen’s transcript and help with college admission in the future. Youth conferences and workshops offered by the United Nations or other international organizations can re-direct, inspire, and motivate the child.