Like many of you, I have been hearing a chorus of “I’m bored” from my school-aged clients recently. Without the structure of a typical school schedule, many teenagers get out of the routine of doing anything at all during the summer. Often they will say that the days all run together because there’s nothing going on and nothing to look forward to.
While a routine can be difficult for anyone to implement, it can be especially hard for adolescents to self-manage to the level of creating and maintaining their own routines. It often feels better in the moment to sleep in until 2pm and then lay around in bed all day on your phone, but this lack of structure rarely contributes to the fulfillment and enjoyment of life that can be beneficial to mental health.
Often creating the routine can be the most challenging part for adolescents. I like to emphasize that a routine can be composed of ordinary, everyday activities and that even when nothing particularly exciting is planned, this sense of routine still gives our brains something to look forward to. For instance, I will often suggest choosing one activity a day to put on the calendar. These can be as simple as going for a walk, watching a new movie, trying a new meal, reading a book outside, or other typical summer activities. I recommend limiting screen time if possible, as screen time is a mindless activity rather than a mindful one and we rarely walk away from it feeling fulfilled.
In order to reduce the overwhelm associated with making a decision, your teen can use a jar to put activity ideas in, as many as they can think of. Then, when they’re feeling particularly bored, they can simply pull an activity from the jar. Learning to create their own structure and routine is a useful skill for teenagers to learn as they move into young adulthood, so resist the urge to step in and rescue them every time they feel bored. Instead it may be helpful to sit down and discuss with them what their summer routine may look like or include, and remind them to engage in it during the times of boredom.
It is also important to recognize that frequent feelings of boredom or lethargy can sometimes indicate that your teen may be struggling with deeper mental health concerns. If you feel your teen could benefit from the support of a therapist, the summer is an excellent time to begin that routine as well.
Consistency through the summer months helps adolescents have a healthy, enjoyable summer break and sets them up for a seamless transition back to school in the fall!