Hanging By Our Fingernails

The countdown has begun – by both the teachers and the students:  “One more Monday!”  “Nine more class days!”  As the end of the year quickly approaches, emotions run high – and in more ways than you might think.

Certainly everyone looks forward to a break from school:  time to play, lots of hours to sleep in, relief from homework.  But for some teens it causes equal parts stress along with the joy.  It’s a big change in routine, and that’s not always a good thing.

For the teen who can’t yet drive, it means getting together with friends can only happen at the whim of a parent or another willing chauffeur.  Certainly there’s MySpace, Facebook, and texting, but none of them take the place of a good punch in the arm, or giggling together until you can’t breathe.  For middle schoolers, most social interactions take place at school or revolve around school schedules, and they know they’ll miss that in the summer.

Younger teens present a unique babysitting challenge for working parents.  Too young to get a job but too old to stay with a babysitter, many teens wind up staying home alone or in charge of younger siblings.  Usually they’re restricted to the house for their own safety and security, and boredom quickly sets in.  If they’re being paid to babysit the siblings, they’re not free to accept invitations to friends’ houses or to the lake for a swim.

For some teens, imagining a summer full of unscheduled time is a cause of stress.  Not knowing how to fill their hours can make them tense.  Even the anticipation of empty days stretching into the future might make them edgy.

Teens and pre-teens alike might be facing big changes as they look ahead to the new school year.  The transitions from elementary to middle school, or from middle school to high school, mean not only new locations and new people, but higher expectations and tougher assignments.  Anxiety about moving on can also color the end of the year.

I refer to this time of year as “Drama Season.”  Some teens resort to “bridge burning” activities, either because they know they won’t have to face their classmates again, or else to cover the pain of having to say good-bye.   Some get overly sensitive or extremely moody.  Some just quit doing schoolwork altogether, quite willing to face the consequences because “it’s almost over.”

If you find yourself in the middle of more outbursts than usual, consider the possibility that it’s caused by all those end-of-the-year feelings.  You can try helping your teen to verbalize his feelings, but it can be a tough task.  He’s likely to deny it’s his fault at all, placing the blame on you or on school or on being too overwhelmed by homework.  You’ll need all your best empathy skills.  Or maybe you’ll just need to give her some space and ride it out.  Keep in mind that teens don’t have much control over what happens once school’s out, so involve them in any decisions that you can.  Feeling like they have even a small amount of choice can help lessen the stress.

Summer’s coming!  Time to stock up on sunscreen, finalize those vacation plans – and ride out the storms that may come your way as the school year winds down.

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3 Comments

  1. so any brilliant advice for mom’s who find themselves working this summer? this will be the first summer i will be working (part-time) outside the home. i have had friends exclaim ‘wow, now that he’s thirteen he can stay home by himself!’. these parents apparently never had teenage boys! he’s old enough to stay home and uh, surf porn, play xbox live for hours unsupervised, get arrested for shooting the neighbor’s dog with his air-soft gun, the possibilities go on. of course, he knows these things are allowed, but i won’t be there, and teenage boys don’t generally have the best decision making skills. i do have him super involved with grandparents and church, camping and such…but any ideas for those hours home alone?

    • Marce,
      Some of it depends on how many hours and when they are. If, for example, you’ll be working from 8-noon, chances are he’ll be asleep most of those hours. But if you’ll be gone a full day, that changes things.

      I’m not sure a 13-year-old boy is old enough to stay home alone. If he had younger siblings, there would at least be someone he’d be responsible for (as well someone to rat on him). An older sibling, of course, would be responsible for him.
      But if you have no choice but to leave him home alone for hours, I have the following suggestions:

      1. Invest in software that will allow you to see, in real-time, what your home computer is doing. Some parents don’t tell their kids that this has been installed, but I think it is better to tell them. This not only serves as a deterrent for them, but it also lets them know you respect them enough to be honest. You can find out more at http://www.netsmartz411.org. You can also activate parental controls on your computer and/or on your internet time. For example, I used to block all internet use between midnight and 7 a.m. on our home computer.

      2. Post a schedule for what is to be accomplished while you’re gone. Include deadlines for things such as when to wake up by, when to shower by, and when to have chores done by. Use humor by including scheduled time for playing video games (in my house such a schedule would say, “When you’ve finished all of the above, feel free to play video games until the momma returns”).

      3. Take the more drastic measure of disabling the internet while you’re gone. It’s just a matter of removing the power cord or the ethernet cable from the modem. (You might want to save this step as a consequence of discovering he’s been behaving inappropriately or using Xbox Live when he’s not supposed to, unless you already have reason to believe this will definitely happen.)

      4. As for the airsoft pistol (or any other worrisome weapon), it simply goes to work in your car with you every day.

      If you find he’s still getting into trouble while you’re gone, hire someone to babysit – and let him pay for it, even if the babysitter turns out to be Grandma. Hittting a teenaged boy in the wallet (not on the wallet; I’m not advocating corporal punishment) is usually a very effective deterrent!

      You know where to find me if you need more advice or just moral support!

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