Preparing for the Summer: For Parents, Teens, and Young Adults

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Preparing for the Summer: For Parents, Teens, and Young Adults

Often, summer is here before we know it, and there may be nothing planned! One might have a few activities and camps lined up, but it is a long time before September.  While being out of school for the summer may be a welcoming refresher with better weather and less obligations, it can also fuel some mental health challenges. Without the daily routine of high school or college, we may not have the social connections or expectations needed to keep us motivated with a sense of fulfillment through the long, hot summer months.

It is important to maintain an appropriate amount of structure over the summer, especially as a teenager and young adult. For those with an underlying mental health condition such as ADHD, anxiety, or autism spectrum disorder, a lack of structure can be particularly challenging. Keeping a good summer structure fosters continuity of a healthy, productive lifestyle and simulates real-world expectations for adult life– including having year-round employment, having to pay bills, and taking care of ourselves. Many parents wonder how they should adjust their expectations for young adult children, now that they may no longer be living at home or maybe are just out of classes for the summer.

Summer time experiences can have a big impact on youth development! (Shaping Summer Time Experiences, Hutton, R and Sepúlveda, M, 2019, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK552659/). While there may be less mental health emergency department visits over the summer for most youth, academic learning and enrichment tend to decrease during this season. Less structure and routine can also affect social and emotional skills development. Substance use may also increase – First-time experimentation with alcohol, cannabis, tobacco, and hallucinogens peaks in June and July according to a National Survey on Drug Use and Health. (https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH080/NSDUH080/SR080InitiationSubstanceUse2012.htm).

A potential decline in mental health could be triggered by a number of factors over the summer – less structure and routine, more sedentary behavior,  boredom leading to substance use,  increased screen time (phones/tablets, TV, video games), and increased isolation.

Without structure, young adults may be more at risk for relapse of depression and failure-to-launch syndromes. We saw the mental health effects of being isolated during the pandemic; it is important not to allow similar patterns to develop during the summer months. Maladaptive summer habits can also make it harder to transition back to the regular day-to-day expectations of high school and college. Parents can help by encouraging the following:

  • Maintain appropriate sleep-wake cycles – It is easy to fall into a pattern of staying up late and sleeping throughout the day due to lack of morning obligations. While summer can be an opportunity to get a few hours of additional sleep, maintaining a regular morning routine is instrumental to mental health
  • Follow a healthy diet with regular physical exercise – While we all think we will be more active during the summer months, studies have shown that we can often become more sedentary. Without regularly scheduled exercise and meal times, it is easy to devolve into late-night take-out food and revert to simple deliveries from Uber Eats, Grub Hub and Door Dash. Be proactive about meal preparation and getting some regular physical activity, such as by joining a summer sports league, a fitness center, or just taking the family dog for regular walks.
  • Continue appropriate mental health treatment, including regular counseling and medication management – Many may feel that summer is a time to disengage from their treatment, however, it is more important to maintain this structure and attention to mental health and wellness. Nearly all students experience a change in schedule and a disruption to their day-to-day lives, and a loss of regular check-ins with teachers, peers, and advisors.
  • Continue to stay in touch with friends and family members – Take trips and vacations where you can with family and friends. Busy schedules during the year can make it difficult to connect with our loved ones, and it is important to maintain quality contact. Make an effort to re-connect.
  • Find a part-time job or internship – Earning some money while also building important executive functioning skills through a structured job is great! Internships can also be more in line with long-term career goals. Working during the summer provides important life experience.
  • Volunteer for a local organization – If you are passionate about a particular social or political cause, you can partner with people in your community to make a difference. Working with animals can also be quite relaxing.
  • Take a summer course – There are all kinds of different classes including at local community colleges and Parks and Rec organizations. This could range from cooking and gardening to computer programming/coding, and building foreign language skills.

In summary, if we stay engaged and maintain important structure over the summer with healthy routines, it can be a wonderful time for rest and productivity! We can make the most out of it and enjoy this beautiful season.

by Stephen Tourjee, MD

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