Summer is almost here and while many of the changes that come with summer are positive for your child, there are also some challenges that may affect their safety. Safety, in this case, is related to a child’s sexual integrity. Here are some things to think about.
SOME CHALLENGES OF SUMMER
Summer usually means increased unstructured time. Children have always had a greater tendency to “get in trouble” in the months they were not involved in structured educational activities. This does not mean children should not have free time or get a break during summer. Children may need help knowing how to use free time well, however.
At first unstructured time feels freeing to a child when summer starts, but often that freedom turns to frustration. I remember laying on the floor as a kid during summer and complaining loudly, “Mom, I’m bored!” Kids sometimes get into trouble in their attempts to cure boredom.
Any form of sexual stimulation, including fantasy, is exciting. It is also easier and faster to look up excitement online than to find excitement in a more healthy way. Quick and easy is attractive when a kid is bored.
Some children may feel disconnected if they are used to seeing other children every day, or at least more often during non-summer months. Children, like everyone else, need interaction with peers. Isolation is not good for anyone, much less children.
Sexualized media can feel like being connected to others, which is compelling if there is a sudden decrease in interaction with friends. It is a lot easier to indulge in sexualized content than to go find friends to play positive games together with.
Filling the Void
Sexual temptation for a child is often just a desire to “fill the void.” The void may be boredom or isolation. During summer months, both boredom and isolation often happen more frequently to a child.
SOME SOLUTIONS FOR SUMMER
Kids do not naturally know how to emotionally regulate themselves. When a child feels upset they do not know how to calm down without help. When a child feels depressed they do not know how to lift their spirits on their own. Parents are a child’s emotional regulator until the child learns how to regulate themselves.
However, you can not always be there when your child needs to regulate emotions. This is why it is better to help your child learn to respond well to negative emotions rather than you always “fixing it” for them.
For example, if your child is bored, rather than come up with something for them to do, help them brainstorm their own solution. Then, the next time they say they are bored you can say, “I showed you how to think of fun things to do. Why don’t you try it on your own this time?” Or, perhaps a stepping stone in the right direction might be, “Why don’t you go make a list of possible things you can do, then come back and tell me what you came up with?”
The more unstructured time your child has the more often they will need to resolve emotions on their own. Don’t expect them to be able to do this very well at first. While you may need to help a lot at first, your goal can be to wean them off of always needing you to be directly involved in helping them find positive things to do.
Teach Time Management
It will help your children if you set some basic guidelines for time management. When are they allowed to use digital devices? When can they go play with their friends? When is reading time during the summer months? When is it time to do chores?
Set up schedules early in the summer, not day by day. It can feel quite unsettling to a kid to wake up during summer, excited to have a day off, then be surprised to learn they have to do a list of chores. It would be helpful if the child knew ahead of time about the chore instead of being surprised by it.
If your child is eight or older, it is good for them to have some days where you are not deciding their schedule. You may have a couple of hours of the day that you have planned for them, but they do need to learn how to structure their own time.
Know What Your Kids are Doing
Extra unstructured time also gives a lot more opportunities for your child to get into things that can be harmful to them. Harmful situations often occur in the digital world, such as phones, tablets, TV, YouTube, electronic games, and so on. However, I will not discuss that here.
You can learn about digital safety at home here: A Family Digital Safety Plan
The only thing I will add here is that summer is not a time for your child to suddenly increase his or her use of digital devices. Whatever limits you have in place for digital devices during the school year should remain in place all summer. The extra free time in summer is not for your kids to play more video games or watch more movies.
What parents sometimes forget, however, is that the Internet is not the only place kids are exposed to sexual scenarios. The second most common source children are introduced to sexual topics and situations are other kids. This includes siblings, relatives, and kids in the neighborhood.
The scenarios include hearing sexual jokes, sexual stories, learning sexual terms, sexual experimentation, and potentially sexual abuse. Children introduced inappropriate sexual ideas and situations to each other long before the Internet existed.
I do not want you to suddenly be afraid for your child to spend time with other kids. Isolation is not healthy for any child. However, it is good to know where your child is, who they are with, and what they are doing.
Here are some family rules to consider:
We don’t keep secrets in our family. That means we do not hide what we do from others in our family.
We do not play with other people behind closed doors. Always leave the door open when you are playing in a room with someone else. This includes your siblings and cousins. This includes being at someone else’s house. If you are at someone’s house and they want to shut the door, tell them you can’t play behind closed doors. Come tell me if they won’t listen.
We talk about what we experience. In our family, we share what we have been doing every day. We share what we have seen and heard others say and do. Mom and Dad set the example and share what we see, hear, and do during the day.
I did say it is important to teach children how to come up with things to fill time on their own. That does not mean you should not help now and then. Your kids should get to do something really fun a few times during summer. Sometimes kids need a little help expanding their thinking.
Help them invite some other kids over and have a water balloon fight.
Put the sprinkler on and let them play in it.
If you have a tent, put it in the yard and let your kid play in it for a couple of days.
Look for community classes or sports for kids to get involved in.
If your kid likes to write, help them set up a summer writer’s group for kids.
If your kid likes to read, help them set up a summer book club with other kids.
Take them somewhere they can ride a bike with no traffic to worry about.
Teach them to cook something if they want to learn to cook.
Go camping as a family.
Go on walks as a family more often, even just around your house.
Let them try to build a fort in the yard.
Make a Family Calendar
A family calendar is where you put all the ideas in this blog together in one place. I would highly suggest using a large desk calendar rather than a digital one. These have lots of space to write and kids can see an entire month at a time. This helps kids see when something exciting is coming up if it is more than a week away. Put the calendar somewhere that everyone sees frequently.
Get the entire family together and create the first month together. To get by in from the kids, start by writing in a few fun things they want to do instead of starting with chores. Let them see when they get to do things they are really looking forward to.
Here are some things you might add next:
Chores for each child. What days and exactly what the chore is. Spread these out instead of loading up a few days. Leave some days, at least one a week, where there are no chores for kids.
Reading time. This may be every day or just some days, but keep it consistent.
Sports, music lessons, community classes, theater. Is there anything like this your child could be a part of during the summer?
Times your kids get together with other kids. You as the parent might want to help set some of these up. I would suggest doing this once a week or more for the social development of your children.
Family walks & outings. Schedule these so they actually happen.
Free time. Let them know when free time is, so they can plan for it.
These are just a few ideas to get you started.
Your Child’s Free Time Schedule
You might have your child brainstorm a list of things they want to do during free time. If they want help, you can make a few suggestions, but try to help them come up with most of the ideas. Then, when free time comes have them get their free time list and pick something to do.
Help your child balance alone time with other children and even adults. Some children will gravitate toward time alone and others will want to always be with friends. Kids need some of both. If your child’s list is all alone activities or all group activities, challenge them to come up with some ideas on both sides.
This may sound overly structured, and it may be for some children, but it is a good place to start. If you see your child is doing well after a while you can ease off and see how they do on their own, without your reminders.
There will be Mistakes
No matter what you do, it is likely that your child will make mistakes during the summer. They might hear a sexual joke. They might see an inappropriate image. There is no reason to panic about this.
When something like this happens it is not because your child is a monster. Your child, like all other children, will sometimes make poor choices. When a child makes a poor choice it is an opportunity to teach them how to make better choices in the future.
Prepare for a Great Summer
Get started today!
Set up a calendar and plan for free play, chores, and digital media use.
Review family rules about appropriate behavior, including keeping doors open.
Include plans for some organized fun activities.
Teach your kids to brainstorm things to do on their own.
You are the right parent to do this with your kids. You can do this. Now is a great time to plan for a safer summer!