Why do schools have a Spring Break? This is a long-standing tradition in education whose 17th century American roots are tied to the holiday of Easter. Then, professors and teachers would pause the curriculum to allow college students enough time to travel to be home for the holiday and younger students would have time off to be with their families. The break almost always was the week preceding Easter which is known as Holy Week in the Christian tradition.
Today the week off is commonly known as Spring Break and the intent of the break has expanded beyond its religious and historical roots. Nowadays schools usually schedule it somewhere between March 1st and April 30th and many families /college students use it as an opportunity to unwind, usher in Spring, and, travel to warmer climes. Unlike summer vacation, community programs for kids are not as plentiful during Spring Break; leaving parents who are not traveling with limited options.
What’s a Parent To Do?
A high school has supervised structured programming for teens five days a week, 8-9 hours per day. Your high-schooler’s day is occupied with trigonometry, Socrates, and chemical equations. Your teen is connecting athletically and socially in sports, clubs, and activities all under adult supervision. So what does a parent do when the school pauses its programming for a week-long break?
The U.S. Department of Education and the Afterschool Alliance have compiled research over decades that demonstrate how vulnerable kids are (regardless of age), when left alone. The Department of Justice (D.O.J.), has compiled statistics on juvenile crime and criminal activity. The research and stats indicate that teens fare better when they have structured time (see the D.O.J. link and the Afterschool Alliance link below about the most dangerous time of the day for teens).
Keep the following ideas in mind for more peace of mind during Spring Break.
1. Adolescents Need Supervision: They may pretend like they know everything, but adolescents are still learning a great deal about the world and just like a juvenile at any age, they are very curious. The world is new to them and with the introduction of each new concept, idea, practice, or trend, they will make many decisions. Unfortunately, sometimes teen decision-making can be replete with misjudgments and misconceptions. This is why they need adult guidance. You know your kid best. Parents can best determine how that supervision looks for their adolescent. It may be as simple as checking in with a few text messages while you’re away at work, or as extensive as taking the week off to stay home and supervise your teen.
2. Adolescents Need Structured Time:
a. Does your son or daughter have a weekend job? Maybe he or she can take on more hours during Spring Break.
c. Make a reasonable daily chore list for your teen; extra tasks around the house & yard. As an incentive pay them for giving their energy and effort above & beyond their normal chores.
d. If family travel is out of the question because of your job or finances, see if you can arrange for your teen to travel with the family of one of their close friends whom you trust. Of course offer to pay the parents for any costs they will incur by taking your teen. If all parties agree, this turns out to be a win-win-win situation, your work doesn’t suffer, your kid is occupied with structured productive things over the break, and teens love having friends along for family trips.
e. Have your teen make a reading list or a list of homework that should be completed over the break. Monitor the list and check off completed items. Maybe include a trip to the library a couple of times over the break.
f. Take a day off near the beginning of the break and commence a spring cleaning project. Organizing the garage, or basement, or that spare bedroom. Enlist your kid’s help and have them continue the project throughout the week.
g. Have your teen shadow you and other friends and family members during the break.
h. Visit with your teen or have your teen visit local, private and state colleges during the break.
Of course there is an endless list of other productive structured things that you can do to keep your teen occupied during the break. Feel free to add other things that you have done with your child during school breaks.
Keep Them Safe:
The idea is not to give them something to do for the sake of something to do. The idea is to keep them safe by providing them with structured, supervised activities. Indeed, teens are busy enough so we must be sure to allow adequate time for frequent and restful breaks through the day where they have time for some leisure. It comes down to this. If their time is occupied they will use the windows of down time to relax. If their time is not occupied they will use the vast amounts of down time to, ____________________________________well, you fill in the blank.
Some time ago I was having a conversation related to this topic with a parent and she told me, “We’ll they’re teenagers, they’re not stupid.” To which I responded, “Truth is stranger than fiction, you can never put anything past an adolescent”. Over the past 16 years, I can’t count how many of my students have made impulsive or ill-informed decisions about everything from academic behavior to sexual behavior. And I cannot count how many times I’ve heard a parent ask their kid, “What were you thinking?”
I enjoy working with adolescents. The energy, vitality, and enthusiasm they bring to every situation is invigorating. Many teens I know and have known have better leadership and judgement abilities than some adults I know. However at the end of the day, they are still youths trying to find their way; looking for a some guidance from you.
D.O.J. statistics on arrests, criminal activity, link: most dangerous time of day for teens
Afterschool Alliance research on unsupervised time among children. http://www.afterschoolalliance.org/research.cfm