For most youth summertime and the long break from school mean, freedom and fun. But for some, the down time and lack of structure can make summer break a real struggle. Summer is often when mental health symptoms from depression, anxiety or ADHD can increase so youth that suffer from these issues need more support than ever. Teens that have underlying mental health issues may see an increase in symptoms when faced with boredom and less consistency in their routine.
Youth that are prescribed medication for things like ADHD to help them focus in school may decide to take a break from the medication when school is not in session, or they may be less regular in taking medications, resulting in worsening or additional symptoms. Anxiety and depression issues may come up if teens feel bored or lonely due to less day to day contact with friends they are used to seeing consistently at school.
To a teenager, the increase in free time may seem like the perfect opportunity to endlessly scroll through social media. But too much screen time can result in kids being exposed to cyberbullying, a fear of missing out, unrealistic expectations and social pressures to keep up with peers. Placing too much value on digital communications can leave youth feeling even more lonely, isolated and depressed, especially in the summer months.
Youth can also fall victim to seasonal affective disorder or (SAD). More commonly seen in the winter, SAD can also become a factor in the summer. Characterized by depressive episodes that take place certain times of the year, symptoms of SAD may include, weight loss, a change in appetite, anxiety, mood swings, irritability or trouble sleeping.
To help combat the negative influences of boredom, a lack of structure and an overuse of social media, it’s important to keep the mind occupied. Communication is also key. Make sure to check in with your youth and have open dialogue about how they are feeling. At the start of summer set goals and expectations so he or she has something to work towards and look forward to. A vision board can be a fun, creative way for teens to clarify values and goals.
Help your teen spend plenty of time outdoors. Limit social media and screen time and opt instead for family hikes, bike rides, trips to the beach or camping. The exercise, fresh air and sunshine can work against symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Get involved! A part time job or some volunteer work can help youth feel like they are part of something and help them feel less lonely and restless. For extra motivation, match half of your teen’s paycheck. Help them plan and budget for a fun summer trip or end of the season shopping splurge. If job hunting isn’t successful, encourage your teen to become an entrepreneur. Creating a summer business like mowing lawns or babysitting can foster feelings of self-worth and confidence.
Encourage your teen to take healthy risks. With no homework or hectic schedules, summer is a perfect time for your teen to step outside their comfort zone and spend time practicing and developing a new skill. Help them research a class or activity that will challenge them. Check local parks and recreation schedules, community centers or community colleges for unique classes or groups.
While summer time can be a wonderful break filled with relaxation and down time, it’s important to help teens avoid becoming overwhelmed by boredom or isolation. Even a small amount of structure, communication and planning can help youth stay ahead of symptoms caused by depression and anxiety. Small goals, the right activities and awareness can set your teen up for a successful summer where they can recharge and be ready for the school year ahead.