Summer Time and Play

Summer is here! I’m not sure about you guys, but my inner child leaps for joy. I worked in a school for years before entering private practice. While I didn’t receive summer breaks, I did do my happy dance the last week of school with the teachers and students. The energy was just so fun. Now that I am a parent, I still find myself smiling because of summer time.

Despite the joys of summer, many parents express feeling stress after a few weeks. I often hear statements of, “they complain of boredom,” “how much screen time is too much,” and “is it the fall yet?” If you fall in the latter category and aren’t dancing for joy with summer, that is okay! Here are some words of wisdom to get you through the summer months.

1.    Yes, summer should have limited screen time. While video games are not the cause to all child and adolescent’s problems, there are some negative impacts that parents should be aware of!  I want you to imagine your child playing soccer. Their body is active and moving. They are having fun and engaged in the game. Because of this, their heart rate increases by 40 percent, dopamine is being released activating pleasure circuits in the brain, and the bright sun lets them know that it is daytime and keeps them alert and not tired. Sounds pretty good, right? Now let’s imagine the same body arousal, but while your child is sedentary all day.

In this scenario, your child is sitting on the couch all day, isolated from their peers, and not moving while playing video games. The game they are playing is activating arousal levels in their body with their heart rate rising to 100 beats per minute at times, at the same time their blood pressure rises. Remember, your child is sitting and not moving.  Because of this arousal level, your child’s rational and decision making abilities are hindered. While it may be dark outside because your child has played all day, their brain is saying while looking at the bright screen, “It is bright out; it is not time for rest.” In this scenario, the body is actually entering fight or flight mode, and this chronic stress on the body is impacting thinking ability by redirecting blood flow from the frontal lobe (decision making, problem solving, and judgment area of the brain) and into the survival areas of the brain that are more primitive.

I just provided two scenarios. In the first scenario, the body arousal levels are activated from exercise. The child is benefiting in multiple ways during this time in regards to social skills, health, rule following, structure, discipline etc. In the second scenario, the arousal levels are activated while sitting and the body’s response is impacting your child’s judgment and rational thought. Video games are not all bad. In fact, several studies show some benefits to playing. However, when thinking of a summer schedule, keep in mind the second scenario. Video games should be like many other activities that require balance and moderation.  

2.    Let them be bored. Boredom helps promote problem solving skills, creativity, and independence. While a child will need activities during the summer, do not feel like you have to create a constant schedule. Especially for younger children, childhood is naturally a magical journey. Allow your child to have the freedom of independent play each day. While trips to museums, pools, and parks are fun and also beneficial, independent play is just as useful!

3.    When in doubt, bring back the basics and keep it simple. I’m a strong believer in not over complicating childhood. Family bike rides (okay in the morning before the heat), playing catch, time at the pool or a sprinkler, crafts or adult coloring for the older adolescents, reading books, family movie nights, and time spent with the family is all any youth really needs this summer.

No matter how you are feeling about summer, try to practice mindfulness. Be truly present in the moment. Try to unplug when possible and think of the things you are grateful for during this season of life. When all else fails, please remember the fall is just around the corner!

Written by Amy Rollo, M.A., LSSP, LPA, LPC-S

Amy Rollo is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor and owner of Heights Family Counseling. Amy has been practicing for fifteen years. She has doctoral level training in the areas of child and adolescent counseling, marriage and family therapy, and adult counseling. Amy Rollo provides counseling and evaluation services in the Houston Heights and surrounding areas. Amy’s goal in counseling is to journey with her clients in order to foster positive changes and growth in their lives. Read more about Amy's counseling style by visiting www.heightsfamilycounseling.com and read more about her services http://heightsfamilycounseling.com/services-1/