With the school year coming to a close and summer break drawing near, many parents are wondering how to structure their summer. Kids lives are highly structured during the school year so they are definitely due for some down time. However, with recent reports on summer "brain drain" more and more parents are filling schedules with summer school, music lessons and various other learning opportunities.
While we are all for growth and learning, its important to remember the importance of down time to "let kids be kids." Even as adults, we tend to approach summertime from a more relaxed perspective. For example, David and I try to avoid Friday afternoon appointments so we can head to the golf course or go for a bike ride. There's just something about summer that cries out, "Play!"
The benefits of down time are numerous. Downtime helps relieve stress and tension, (which can reduce impulsivity and improve memory. Down time improves immunity and reduces susceptibility to depression (yes kids get depressed too)! Downtime can also improved self-soothing skills and employee the use of imagination.
Down time consists of responsibility free time, with no expectations imposed by others. Down time should be self-focused, meaning it should be focused on the interests of the child and directed by the child. Of course, we all need boundaries and restrictions for down time and as a parent, it is your responsibility to communicate and enforce these. One especially important boundary is in regard to screen (television, computer, ipad...) time. Our daily limit recommendation for screen time is no more than two hours per day - even in the summer!
Too much screen time has been associated with weight gain (2010 study the American Journal of Epidemiology), increased aggression, and decreased sympathy, sleep and cognitive performance (Iowa State University study), as well as moodiness, emotional outbursts, and decreased focus. In fact, video games especially can train the brain to crave stimuli. The brain can actually become addicted to the stimuli presented through video games and then when its not present, guess what...the brain craves it. This makes it difficult to focus in a non-video environment!
It can be difficult for families to find balance during the summer months. It can be challenging to find the best mix for your child and family. Whatever your solution may be, please remember to set limits on screen time. It will help both you and your child in the long run!
by Trish Carter, LIMHP, LPC, BCN