As March turns to April in New England, one day we are watching the news anticipating a blizzard, and the next, the birds are chirping and the Red Sox start playing at Fenway Park. This seasonal change happens fast! Just as suddenly, summer will be here. Students look forward to their summer breaks, families prepare for beach vacations, and people start to fire up their outdoor barbecues. It’s a wonderful and fun time of year.
For some families, though, summer can be a time of worry. Parents of teenagers and young adults who have struggled in life and in school often do not share the same anticipation for the season. School may have provided a helpful structure for some. For others, if their child struggled during the year, they look ahead to summer and see the potential for that time away from school as a danger. If a child struggled during the school year with behavioral health challenges or a substance use disorder, and then faces the possibility of a summer with fewer responsibilities and more opportunity amongst their peer group to go to parties, parents often wonder what to do. They want to allow their young adult to experience fun and healthy social aspects of summer, but also, they do not want to see hard earned gains made during the school year thrown away.
We regularly work with families facing this challenge and can offer some suggestions based on these experiences.
First, OPG recognizes the accepted science that brain development continues into the mid-20s. Therefore, the dangers inherent in substance use for the developing brain are ever present. Some teens can be very persuasive that summer is their time to kick back with friends and that a few parties won’t hurt them. This can be a dangerous path and often lead to far more substance use than a teen may indicate. Summer is a time for families to be very vigilant about the potential for problematic substance use and to continue to do what they can to minimize use by teenagers and young adults.
Second, for young people that may need a supportive structure or a significant reset over the summer, OPG often recommends an extended stay at a wilderness program. Even teenagers who go to those programs unwillingly at the outset regularly find the experience beneficial and even transformative. While it is important to think carefully about how the young person will reintegrate following the program, summer is a perfect time to get a jump start or boost in recovery through such programs.
Finally, for those living at home, the structure and discipline of a summer job can be very useful. Doing entry level work in settings such as a retail or grocery store can empower a young person to stand on their own as a member of a team, learn the value and importance of showing up on time, and allow the person to play a part in contributing to the function of their community. It is now the time to tell your teenager or young adult that in exchange for living at home, you expect that they will spend the summer working.