Boredom. It’s one of the most dreaded words ever to run across the lips of anyone using it to describe a current mindset. To be bored or having no passion, excitement, care or interest in the moment is a debilitating existence. Boredom can ruin a relationship. It will bring disdain into a long-sought goal. It will also be the leading force into driving us to do things we normally wouldn’t consider—until we’re bored. When thinking about the coming summer, parents can count on hearing “I’m bored,” from their teenagers. As annoying and consistent an utterance it will be, there’s a larger area of concern that necessitates some focus. Teens are at higher risk for drug abuse during the summer months but while boredom can be the culprit, it’s deeper than that.

 

Where Parental Expectations Meet Coping Skills

“Beliefs become thoughts, thoughts become words, words become actions, actions become habits, habits become values, values become destiny.”

Mahatma Gandhi (above paraphrase from original quote)

Gandhi’s message is powerful but true. And it’s life-altering when it comes to our children. Parents have a lot of fear when it comes to their sons and daughters. Fear of what they will do and what they won’t do. Fear in what they will achieve and what they’ll far short of. Even well-meaning mothers and fathers

will do more damage to their teens when they allow personal fears to dictate their perceptions of them. Negativity breeds negativity. When parents believe their child will make poor decisions, such as drug use, those feelings are revealed in their expectations and often, the teenager delivers.

 

Not What You Say But What You Do

As adults, we too look for spare time in our lives to be able to enjoy doing other activities aside from work and raising families. How we choose to fill our spare time will also affect the choices our teens make in how they will fill their idle time. If Mom or Dad spends Sunday afternoons on the couch sipping on a six-pack, this subconsciously sends a message to children as being acceptable behavior. More than likely, when the child is put in a situation where they can choose to behave in the same way, he or she will.

 

Open Communication Is the Tipping Point

Parenting styles have changed over the years and some to the benefit of our kids. Generations before Y and Z, adults ruled the households with “Children are meant to be seen, not heard.” Today, many families actively practice an open dialogue amongst all members of the home. It fosters a healthy balance of conversation, query and negotiation. Topics like alcohol and drug use can be discussed through positions of education and information, rather than guilt and judgement. With this family forum, teenagers who are struggling with thoughts of first-time marijuana use, for example, can have an honest talk about it without fear (or at least the fear is minimized). In addition, if there is drug use and with it, teens are put in harm’s way at a party, this open dialogue allows teens comfort in knowing they can call their parents for help.

 

Idle Time Opens the Door to Peer Influence

Having extra time to contemplate life, friendships and recreational activities isn’t the problem for adolescents. It’s what young people choose to do that gets them into trouble. But according to science, it comes by them honestly.

 

The Adolescent Brain Has Underdeveloped Decision-Making Ability

Researchers have monitored brain function in teenagers, compared to adult counterparts, and learned that there are marked differences in the area that engages decision-making and problem solving. Because this part of the brain is not yet fully developed, adolescents are naturally drawn to unfortunate choices and miscommunications. Think of it as clumsiness of the mind. In addition, the same area of brain development still to come is the very part that is damaged by drug or alcohol use. In fact, the earlier a teenager begins drug or alcohol use, the more harmful it is to their long-term health.

 

Why Belonging Brings a Winning Sense of Purpose

Teenage volunteers clearing trash in parkNow that you have a better understanding of how spare time in the summer can lead to trouble for teenagers, let’s examine possible alternatives in behavior that can lead to better outcomes. It simply comes down to positive socialization.

Because adolescents are in that awkward tween stage, not quite children and not quite adults, self- confidence is easily swayed, and for the most part, based on their peers. Peer influence and fear of public humiliation is the single reason why teens are at higher risk for substance use. But multiple research studies in Finland and an American Psychology Professor, Harvey Milkman, thought there was a connection between idle time in teenagers, how time is spent and family dynamics that was worth a look and pursuing a different way of life across an entire country.

 

Case Study in Finland, Drastically Drops Teen Drug Use

For decades, Finland was known for its high drug and alcohol use in teenagers. And when the schools let out for the summer, locals wouldn’t dare head into town because the streets would be overrun with students who were drunk, stoned and engaging in behavior that put themselves and others at risk. It all changed when Finland adopted a country-wide social program that surveyed the levels of stress that its teens were facing and associated drug and alcohol use.

Large commercial facilities were built and existing ones repurposed to house sports, arts and music programs for the younger population. With them, teenagers had a place to go and a purpose to be there. Instead of the focus being on what they shouldn’t be doing with their time, their days were all about what they are actively doing. In turn, their family structure strengthened and communities came together in positive ways.

Researchers reissued the questionnaires to teenagers and the numbers showed the programs are working in their favor. In teens that were surveyed in 1998 about being drunk within the past 30 days, the rate in 15-to-16-year-olds was 42 percent. When the same survey was conducted in 2016, that number dropped dramatically to 5 percent.

 

It Takes a Community to Sway the Masses

Subsequently to the program in Iceland, the country also modified its laws about the legal age for drinking, purchasing tobacco and under age curfew. Other countries in Europe are using this case study as a model to their own communities. And Harvey Milkman? His program in Denver, Colorado – Project Discovery – applied the benefits of what was going on in Iceland to young people in the U.S. He used recreational activities to get in front of teens and provide learning tools and coping mechanisms to deal with life stresses in a positive and sustainable manner.

 

Keep Teens Busy This Summer with Activities that Build Confidence and Character

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