What Should My Kids Do This Summer?
Should we be pushing children and teens to make up for lost learning this summer? Or should we let them call the shots on how they spend their time? What really matters most? Dr. Lisa has advice that might seem counterintuitive for parents who feel ready to charge ahead. A mom writes in asking for advice on how to think about summer schedules for her three kids. Reena seeks guidance on managing social media and video games once school lets out. Dr. Lisa and Reena talk about what families should focus on when making summer plans. In this final episode of the season, Lisa and Reena also explain how to stay connected with the podcast this summer. Season Two starts August 24th.
June 8, 2021 | 31 min
Transcript | What Should My Kids Do This Summer?
Ask Lisa Podcast, Ep. 43: What Should My Kids Do This Summer?
The Ask Lisa Podcast does not constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for professional
mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being,
consult a physician or mental health professional.
REENA: So, I got to see my parents for the first time in Tampa this weekend.
LISA: Oh my goodness. How was it?
REENA: Yeah. It was great. You know my brother came up from Texas, and we went to a family wedding, and it was really small and intimate. As intimate as an Indian wedding can be.
REENA: Usually it’s like over 300. It was about 100 people.
LISA: Okay yeah. Small.
REENA: It was so fun. So great. And I have to say in Florida almost 50 percent of the population have had at least one vaccine.
LISA: That’s fantastic.
REENA: There are states where we’ve reached or surpassed 70 percent of adults having the vaccine. California, Maryland, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts. It’s really remarkable the progress we’ve made.
LISA: I’m so glad of it. I mean, and also, I mean I know in the U.S. we’re moving so fast and things are getting better. Not true everywhere but certainly true here.
REENA: Yeah it’s just, You feel the difference, but I have to tell you, when I came back I’m still very anxious. I made sure we all got COVID-tested even though there was no symptoms or anything like that. It just gave me a peace of mind. You can go to a CVS or Walgreens, they do it for free, you do a drive through, it just gave me a piece of mind, but we are returning to normal, but it’s like baby steps. Doesn’t it feel that way?
LISA: It does. I mean it’s good. It feels good, but there’s still the, baby steps is good because it feels wobbly.
REENA: Yeah. That’s a great way to say it.
LISA: Kind of unsure. Unsure, but I also was just thinking about, you know, maybe in the fall with the interval of the summer, we’ll all kind of figure out the new rhythms and it won’t feel so wobbly then. I hope.
REENA: Yeah, yeah, but meanwhile I’m excited. It feels like summer is upon us, and we got this great letter asking about this summer. It says: ‘Hi Dr. Lisa. I’m struggling with plans for the summer for my three daughters. It’s hard to know how much to push versus how much to let them lead. I want to be sensitive to what other kids have gone through in the last year and a half, but I don’t want them spending the summer staring at their phones. I’m also hearing other parents talking about what their kids are doing this summer and feeling like I’m doing it wrong. I have twins who will start high school in the fall and a third will be a high school senior. The girls have gone to camp for many years where they’re unplugged for a month. We usually try to travel somewhere near or far. That also limits the device time. This summer there’s no camp and we will not be traveling. They want to stay home and hang out with their friends. Can you speak about how to know if we’re pushing too much or not enough? Thank you for your insight.’ What do you think his mom should do?
LISA: Well, I think this mom is truly, like so many parents have this question of you know negotiating with their kids about how busy to be or not be, and it’s a tough call. It’s a really tough call, and I think there are a lot of forces impinging on this. You know I think there’s what his mom describes so beautifully of like what they’ve been through. You know this awareness that kids are wiped out, absolutely wiped out, and there’s also the sense of lost time, you know, I think there’s a lot of families that feel like this past year was really stripped down, you know, maybe the development hasn’t been as, you know, steady as one would expect in a normal year, so maybe this is a catch up summer. So there’s a lot of, I guess I would say there’s a lot of people at the table. A lot of opinions at the table about what teenagers should do and what kids should do, and of course also at that table is the kid, is the teenager with their own opinions about what to do. So, it’s not that we can say, here’s what they should do, but I think what we can say is, here’s how to think about it. That’s always my preferred approach in parenting, like here’s how to think about it, and I wrote an article. My most recent column for The Times was basically like how to think about the summer for kids and teenagers, and the way we want to think about it, Reena, is the endgame here is resilience, right? Everybody’s been talking about resilience. I actually was joking with some kids the other day. I’m like, I’m sure it feels like the R-word at this point. Like you’re so sick of everybody being like, oh you’re going to be so resilient from all this, and I do think they will. I really do. I mean we know this, Reena, that when people go through hard things they are more durable down the line, but the way I want people to think about the summer is resilience happens. Emotional strength happens, this is something I lay out in the column and we’ll put in the show notes. In the same way the physical strength is gained, that first you work out, then you rest and allow those muscles that work so hard physically to repair and strengthen, and then the upshot is to be stronger. So, if we think about that psychologically, okay they have just had the psychological work out of a lifetime, getting through this pandemic. They need to restore themselves this summer if we’re going to see the kind of resilience we are hoping for come fall.
REENA: That article you’re talking about that you wrote it’s called “Why Teens Need a Break This Summer,” and I love how you use that word psychological work out of their lives. I think is how you say it in the article. You know you’re saying you’ve got to give teens this time to sort of process, but you’ve also got to be open to negotiating what they need to do when it comes to technology and devices. I remember at the start of the season, to your point of, you like to show parents sort of here’s how you should maybe try to think about it. You know here’s a way of looking at it. You made me rethink video games with my son because it was a way of them sort of interacting. You were saying that the kids, boys largely, that’s their social hang out. That’s what they did before. That’s what they do now. How do we think about technology as we go into the summer?
LISA: Man that is the million dollar question, right? Because it has been so bathing for us. I mean kids have had nothing but tech. We’ve had nothing but tech, and parents, I think rightly, have questions about where tech should fit into the summer. So again, let’s just think about it together. So, one thing I learned when reporting, researching that article, and it didn’t get into the article, is kids have their own opinions about how they want to have a relationship with screens this summer, and a lot of the young people I talked to when I said, you know what do you think? Where is tech going to be in all this? They said, I want less of it. I am sick of it. I am going to limit and reduce my social media use. I just want to see my friends. So, starting with the sort of social media use piece and then moving to the video games, what I would say for kids and teens who have access to social media, ask them where they’re at with it. Ask them what their plans are for the summer in terms of social media versus seeing people in real life, and I think a lot of kids are going to say, no I don’t want to be on social media so much, like help me see my friends, and then you help them see their friends if they need your kind help for that thing. If they’re like, nope that’s good I really like, you know, I don’t like people in 3-D, I’ll just take the 2-D version, then you can say, no, no, no, no, no. You’ve got to get back out in the world. But start the conversation from where they are, and partner with them in what I am finding many kids wish is to have a reduced interaction on social media. Okay, video games. Here, again, you might start with where the kid’s at and what they’re thinking. I would not start from the position of banning them altogether. I think most kids won’t need that. One of the young people I talked to from my article, a very bright 17-year-old, he was like you know what? Every once in awhile a little video game, it’s just a nice way to, you know, entertain myself, get some, you know, change my mental gears, and it was very clear this guy’s got a busy summer and he’s going to do a lot of things, but even at 17, a little time of video games is enjoyable for him and he’s looking forward to it this summer. If that’s your kid, if the video games or the social media are one of many, many things they are doing, I wouldn’t worry about it too much.
REENA: So, at what point do you need to worry?
LISA: So, the part where you worry is where it starts to crowd out variety in a person’s life. You know, that one went missing developmentally around kids is growth is fostered by spending time doing a wide range of things. So, even something like if your kid only ever reads, if they’re reading 10 hours a day, that’s not actually ideal. You know the reading is really great, and I think a lot of people prefer it over video games, but they should be physical. They should be social. They should be doing other things. So, the way to walk up, especially the video games and or social media, is if this becomes their world or really a dominant force in their world, it’s as much about the fact that they’re on screens, which we don’t love, as it is about the fact that they’re not doing other things. So, I would worry about social media or video games if it feels like that takes on that kind of addictive quality, and, Reena, we use the word addictive carefully because it you know has a lot of implications, but I would worry if there’s sort of a can’t stop feeling, like they can’t pull themselves away, and if you have a kid, let’s say this video games because they can be very compelling, who you say, you can do it for half an hour, an hour a day, so many hours a week, and that’s the limit and they can’t stop. They are sneaking it. You are in battles about it. Then I would say, all right, kiddo, you’ve got to go cold turkey until you get past this can’t stop feeling, and then we will have the conversation again.
REENA: You know what’s interesting? There’s a time where you can put on Xbox it just shuts it down after an hour. Like that’s it. It’s over, even if you’re in the middle of the game, and it drove my son nuts, so he said, mom, give me an opportunity to prove myself. Like I won’t go over my time, and it really helped him self-regulate because he knew if he went over his time the next day, he’d have it taken away, and you know that was just the penalty.
LISA: Brilliant. Brilliant. I love that.
REENA: It really helped to learn to self-regulate in a way that I wouldn’t have given him that room to sort of grow and prove to me he could do it.
LISA: Well and it showed you that he could, and then it solved the problem, and so that’s a perfect experiment where you say, look, we’re gonna put this limit on it. If you can regulate it yourself then you get to regulate yourself. If you can’t regulate it, I’m going to regulate it, and if this turns into a battle, we’re not going to be doing this.
LISA: That’s totally fair if you give them, especially, the warning in advance that that’s how it’s going to go down.
REENA: You know the thing is Lisa? That video games, TV, Netflix, I need a break myself. Like I’m working from home. They’re here. How do we, as parents, be good to ourselves this summer? Because I think we all need to recharge. We all need to go away to camp for a month to be away from everybody. My camp is like a spa of some sort.
LISA: No this is so funny. I actually wasn’t another mom yesterday and we were talking about some kids going to camp, and we were like, we want to go to camp. I was like, I want to go to spa camp. That’s exactly what I said. Okay, so how do we create spa camp at home? I think we take the same lesson that’s in the article that I wrote about kids and teens. It is also true for adults that this has been brutal, Reena, and I don’t use that word lightly, like this has been a brutal year, and kind of wonderfully there’s this alignment in the timing of things where the school year is ending, the weather is improving, and the pandemic is waning, and it’s all happening at once. So, what I would say to parents is if there is any way you can really slow down the summer or really create time and space for yourself this summer and do what restores you, whatever that is, and it might be TV and it might be books, it might be spending time with people you haven’t gotten to see, but do this for yourself. You need to recoup some of that energy and process what we’ve all been through so that we can grow on it and come out of this feeling like we understand something new about ourselves and new about our kids that we can make use of going forward.
REENA: You know one of the things I found in this pandemic is so many of us, we did it before, but so many of us parents are just comparing ourselves with other parents. What are they doing? Who’s better? Who’s more isolated than the other? Doing COVID better than the other? How do we deal with the comparison that, oh my god am I doing it wrong?
LISA: Yeah, and this month asks about this in this letter, and you know like she’s looking at other parents and it seems like they’ve got like the right plans for their kids this summer and she can’t figure out if she’s got the right plans. Again, how to think about it. The goal here is restoration, and where this gets interesting is what’s restorative is very unique to the individual, and so I actually, I’m going to give a normal times school year example because it applies here and it will also carry us into the fall as we think about, you know, what comes after all this. What looks like restoration differs very much child to child. So, there are kids who can do a very demanding school day, and going to sports practice actually helps them reset. That being out running around, you know, just give them what they need and then coming off sports practice they can sit down and actually do their homework effectively because they got a reset at sports. Okay, that’s that kid. There are other kids who the day wears them out and they need to come home and trip around for 45 minutes and then they need to think about things for another 45 minutes, and then they can kind of march up to their homework, and another thing the factors into this is actually how fast kids transition. Some kids need a long transition between different parts of their day. Other kids can move very quickly transition to transition, and so as you’re building your kid’s summer schedule and school year schedule what we have to ask ourselves over and over again is, what restores my kid? And if you’re looking at other people’s kids, you’re going to get it wrong because other kids are restored in different ways, and so I would say the same. You know, don’t worry about what other people’s kids are doing. Some of your kids will be restored this summer by getting a job. Some of your kids will be restored this summer by reading a lot just for leisure and fun. Some of your kids are going to be restored by hanging out with their friends as much as is absolutely possible, and there’s going to be a mix of all of these things, but your question to be asking is, does this put gas in my kid’s tank? My kid is on fumes right now as the school year is ending. Are the choices we are making, are the negotiations we’re having as a family, getting us to activities that will restore them so they can go back to school in the fall with a full tank of gas?
REENA: That’s so good. That’s so good. So, Lisa, when you’re looking sort of collectively at the summer, for both parents and kids, what do you think is really the most important thing that we’ve got to keep in mind this summer?
LISA: That this has been really hard. That this has been really hard. I know there can be pressure. Like there’s some narratives out there of like, oh the pandemic’s ending, like let’s burst out into our new glorious, you know, fabulous lives and we’ve got so much energy and this is so exciting and we can’t wait to all be together again. I see some narratives like that in the media, and I’m like, nos wait a minute. Wait a minute. This has been incredibly hard. It’s been an emotional marathon. What do you do after an emotional marathon? You rest, right? You know after a real marathon you rest. You just take time and you put yourself back together and that’s, I think, how we want to think about it. That that would not at this filled up moment. It’s a moment full of promise, but we ourselves and our kids are pretty cooked,and I will tell you, Reena, I did a program with some teenagers and these were great kids, and somebody I asked, I was so grateful for this, I asked, like what do you need from adults right now? And this kid, I mean this wonderful, she was, I think, a junior, really thoughtful, she goes, I don’t even know.
REENA: Oh wow.
LISA: And I was like, whoa, wow. I mean, again, as honest as teenagers are and she couldn’t even tackle the question.
REENA: Wow. That’s really powerful.
LISA: I was really moved by it, and so that’s they’re at and we got to be there, and they get to be there, and so mostly, I would just say, take the pressure off. Like we seem to have gotten through this thing. I hope most people feel like they are now in a safe place. So, let it ride. Create room to see what you want to do, how you’re feeling, your kids are feeling, and what I would say, and this to me feels so important, trust yourself. Trust your kids. That humans are oriented towards health. We are oriented towards growth. We will feel what we need to do. Our kids will tell us what works for them and doesn’t work for them. Trust that there’s knowledge inside of your kid and knowledge inside of you about what you need right now. Crowd out the noise telling you what you’re supposed to be doing and what your kids are supposed to be doing. Your gut, their gut, is your best friend right now.
REENA: Wow. I think so often we’re thinking like 18 steps ahead as parents, especially when kids are at certain levels at school, and your mind’s racing. What a great point that this high school junior made. I don’t even know what I need. I think parents, sometimes we just don’t even know what we need at this moment that’ll help us get through this. But what do you worry about most? I know we’ve talked about this so many times when it comes to development, right? I think so many of us are second guessing that gut feeling because we’re like, well what really matters in development? This is their junior year. We’re going to start looking at colleges. I mean when you look at the big picture, whether you have an elementary or toddler or middle school or high school or college, what matters as you are trying to emerge out of where we have been this past sort of year and a half?
LISA: Well what worries me you know and what matters is that we don’t continue to push on kids in ways that wear them down further. I know that there are some parents who are like, oh I feel like my kids lost, you know, learning this year or lost, you know, gains this year. Unless your school is telling you that there’s remedial work that needs to be done this summer, I would say do not ask your kid to do extra schoolwork, and if you have a kid, and I know kids like this who become very anxious that they’re behind or they’ve missed out or they’ve lost out, and they start to craft a brutal program for themselves this summer.
LISA: I wouldn’t really call the question and say look, is this going to fill you up or is this going to drain you further? My number one worry about the summer, Reena, is that in an anxious moment of a parent or a child or a parent and child collaborating together could create a summer plan that actually sends the kid back to school in worse shape than they left.
LISA: And that is something we don’t want to have happen. I really trust schools. Most schools, they’re going to meet your kids where they are. They’re going to figure out what your kid needs. They’re going to help. I mean everybody’s a little bit wonky coming into the fall. Schools know this. They’re going to help everybody get back to where they need to be, I really believe most schools will be able to do that. Not all schools in areas where the resources aren’t there, and that was a problem before the pandemic. It’s worse now. We need to address that. But for most of our listeners I do think they can count on their schools, and the compact I think between school and parents this summer is the school will meet your kid where they are in the fall. The parent will send a kid back to school energized and ready to go and not wiped out by whatever happened this summer.
REENA: Boy, that is so good. Can I tell you when? We took a week off to go to Tampa, right? And I bought these tickets in January and assumed we’d still be in remote learning but COVID vaccination rates are at 70 percent. They did away with remote learning like two months ago, which is awesome.
REENA: So I beg the teachers in an email, can you please send us some school work? And their responses back to me was, they’re being reunited with their grandparents. Throw those books out the window.
REENA: And to hear you also say that is really great because I feel like we need to hear that again, the tiger moms or the non-tiger moms, everybody needs to know that this is about healing and being restorative, right?
LISA: Healing. Healing.
REENA: I will there’s this quote in your article. I can’t recommend how much everyone needs to go and read it. It’s in our show notes. It says: ‘COVID was a lot of doing nothing’ is what this 14-year-old said. I think we feel guilty because, wait, were we kind of doing nothing? Like we were all at home, and that resonated with me, that 14-year-old’s quote.
LISA: Well that’s my other worry actually, Reena, is that we do what I would call the right thing, which is we let people you know kind of trust their instincts, follow their gut, relax in ways that work for them to restore themselves in ways that work for them, and I worry that both parents and children with then feel guilty about it, right? That they’ll think look, oh I should have done more or look at that family they’re doing more, or that kid seems to be, you know, doing something special that my own kid isn’t doing. The guilt’s a problem. Like if you’re going to take the rest, take the rest. Don’t sour with guilt.
LISA: Because then it’s ruined. Then there’s no point at all. So, believe in yourself. Believe in your kid. Like do what you need to do for yourself. Have your eye on the fall and coming back strong. Whatever that means to you, that’s what it means to you, and then enjoy it all the way, and let your kids enjoy it all the way. Don’t ruin it for anyone by feeling like you’re not doing it right.
REENA: Wow. I didn’t know how much I needed to hear that. Take the pressure off. Take the pressure off, everyone.
LISA: This has been a lot and we get to rest and our kids get to rest.
REENA: So, speaking of rest, episode 43 here. This is going to be our last one for the season. We are of course coming back in a few weeks, but we thought we’d take the summer off, and I have to say some of the top performing episodes were topics that you said, you know, Reena, I think we should do this, and I said, what? Really? Episode 31, which was ‘My Kid Looked at Porn. What should I do?’ There was another one, Episode 29, which is ‘My Kids and I Have Hit a Wall. How do we keep going?’ And the third top one was ‘My Child is Turning into a Teenager. How do I Handle It?’ These are all topics that you pushed into the forefront. You said, we’ve got to talk openly about it.
LISA: Yeah and I’m hoping, you know, as we take a little rest this summer, you know, that we’ve got 43 episodes available, that parents will feel, you know, if they’re missing us that they can go back and listen or re-listen to some of the earlier ones from the season. Some of them are very pegged to pandemic experiences. Many of them are ongoing parenting challenges that we know are part of family life with or without a global pandemic.
REENA: Yeah, no it’s so true, I’m so grateful for your advice. We’ve gotten so many emails from around the world, which was the biggest surprise for me starting this podcast is hearing from people around the world and how your advice has really helped them. But we’re going to stay connected, right, Lisa? So we’re going to stay connected to everyone. There’s a way.
LISA: Yeah, so here’s our plan. because we miss you too when we don’t get to connect with our listeners. So we’ve been doing these Instagram lives on Friday afternoons, and they’re really fun. Both Reena and I are there and we take your questions and we just keep talking and connect, and we’ve typically done them at three o’clock Eastern Daylight Time on Fridays, and so we’ll keep a rhythm of those going this summer and what people should do is follow the Ask Lisa Podcast Instagram. We will continue to put up content all summer and we’ll keep you posted about when we’re having get togethers on Instagram or elsewhere. We want to stay with you this summer. We want to hear how your summers are going. We want to keep answering your questions in that slightly less formal way, and then we’ll be back. August 24th will be our first episode of the fall season, and we have been getting questions about, you know, now that the pandemic is closing down will you continue the podcast? And absolutely because we started it to address the extraordinary challenges of pandemic parenting, but even without a pandemic parenting is not for the weak and not for the, you know, the unsupported, and so we are thrilled that come fall I’m hoping, i’m counting on, we can just keep answering your everyday questions about parenting because it’s hard and we want to be here for you.
REENA: Yeah. And we’re still gonna be addressing your letters and your emails so don’t forget to hit us up on email asklisa(at)drlisadamour(dot)(com), even if it’s something you think we should take up in the fall. We love hearing from you. We love our inbox being full, so send us your questions or concerns and we might even address them on Instagram this summer as well or in our lives, but be on the lookout for that. So, I know you talk about the importance of what to do this summer and to take the pressure off, but you’ve also got some resources to help parents stick to keep things going and stay off devices.
LISA: Yeah, so I looked online and spent some time looking for stuff I thought was really good, and I happened to find two different articles. One is “100 Things to do With Your Kids This Summer,” sort of parent-child activities, and the other is “100 Things For Teenagers to do THis Summer.”
LISA: And they’re great lists. They’re just fun and inspiring. So, those will be in the show notes alongside the article we were talking about, my most recent column.
REENA: That’s great. I look forward to seeing what they have on that list. And so for our season ender, Lisa, would you have for us for parenting to go?
LISA: For parenting to go, what I want for us to remember all the time is it stress equals growth, and we have all been through an extraordinarily stressful time. Stressful at historical scale, us and our children, and when you’re in it, it’s hard to feel the growth happening, but when we can step back from it and our kids can step back from it, that growth can start to come, and so what I want parents to know, what I want them to know about themselves and their kids is that we’re mostly through it, and here comes the strength that you have gained, and the way to get there for yourself and your kids is to let yourselves rest.
REENA: It’s one of the hardest lessons of COVID is learning to take the pressure off.
LISA: Absolutely. Enjoy yourselves this summer, everyone. We cannot wait to be back in the fall and we’ll see you on Instagram this summer.
REENA: Thanks so much.