When the lazy days of summer are too lazy: how to get your teen off the couch and off devices

Summer is here and if you’re like most parents of teens with ADHD, you are already wishing that school was back in session. Although school days have their own stress and worries, at least the kids were occupied during the day instead of home, laying around, being lazy, making messes, fighting with each other and eating you out of house and home!

When my son with ADHD was a teen, I worked full time and there were many days during the summer when I’d get home from work and he’d be in exactly the same spot on the couch wearing exactly the same thing as when I left that morning…well, except for all the food wrappers decorating the coffee table and couch. Like most teens with ADHD, if it were up to him, he would have stayed connected to a video console or glued to one kind of screen or another all day, every day, all summer long.

Lucky for me, he had a younger brother so before too much time passed during summer vacation, I found a college age girl to come over to “babysit” my younger son– although her primary job was to keep an eye on the younger one, (and keep the two of them from killing each other), her most important undercover job was to keep both of them occupied and unplugged as much as possible and to make sure my house stayed in one piece.

I know that not all parents have this option available so here are some ideas to get your teen off the couch and off the devices for at least part of each day for the rest of the summer.

  1. Decide on “Allowable Device Hours”: Set some limits for how much screen time is “reasonable” each day. Include your teen in the discussion by saying, “Obviously, due to your brain and physical health it’s not a good idea to stay “connected” all day every day; let’s decide together how much time per day is reasonable.” (Often when you ask for their input, they come up with much more strict guidelines than you would have come up with! And since it’s their “idea”, they are much more likely to stick to it than if you just lower the boom and state how much time that will be.) The end goal for this part of the discussion is to have a consensus on what hours of the day devices are allowed: “The allowable device hours for Monday through Friday are: _____.”
  2. Talk together about what things are to be done when it’s NOT device time, including household chores (who does what and when) as well as fun activities. Many times kids resort to screen time because they just don’t know what to do instead. So it’s a good idea to make a list ahead of time that they can just choose from instead of leaving it up to them to think of something in the moment.

Work first, then fun: Before you start brainstorming all the fun things they can do during “device-free” time, first discuss how during the school year school is their primary “job”, but during the summer, pitching in to keep the home nice is their primary “job”. In a brainstorming fashion (where you go around the table and have everyone suggest something; no ideas are off limits; and then you go back and narrow down the list), have everyone come up with some of the jobs that must be done to keep the home nice. (Sometimes it’s helpful to take one room at a time, i.e., “let’s talk about the upstairs bathroom; what things need to be done to keep the bathroom nice and clean?”)

After you narrow down the list to a few things per room, decide who will be responsible for which job (or decide how you will rotate).

Once you have the list, you can create a checklist to post in the appropriate room so whoever is responsible for that room will be able to look at the list and know exactly what needs to be done. (Remember, that when kids have ADHD, it’s best to be very descriptive and very specific, i.e. instead of saying “clean up the kitchen,” you may need to say, “Unload the dishes in the dishwasher and then put dirty dishes from the sink into the dishwasher.”

Now for the fun: In the same way you brainstormed chore ideas together, go around the table and have everyone suggest something to go onto the “summer bucket list” –things they can choose from when it’s “device disconnection” time. Keep going around until everyone is out of ideas. Then, narrow down the list to at least 20.

Here are some things that were on my sons’ summer list:

  1. Go for a day hike.
  2. Be a tourist in your own town: Visit the zoo or a museum or go see another “famous” site.
  3. Make your own crafts, soaps or other homemade products and sell them on Etsy or at your local Farmer’s market.
  4. Start a lawn mowing business.
  5. Draw on the sidewalk with chalk; then “clean” it up with squirt guns.
  6. Make dinner for the family.
  7. Have a picnic lunch with a friend.
  8. Hold a car wash to raise money for a local charity.
  9. Volunteer at your local animal shelter.
  10. Volunteer at a nursing home. Offer to read books or paint their nails.
  11. Go on a long bike ride.
  12. Go to the local library (many of them offer free summer activities for kids).
  13. Learn to play an instrument.
  14. Create and bury a time capsule to be opened when you turn 25 (or even 50!)
  15. Write some ghost stories to tell later around a campfire.
  16. Plant and tend to a garden.
  17. Start a 1000 piece puzzle.
  18. Read a book.
  19. Rearrange/redecorate your room.
  20. Make a tie dyed shirt.
  21. Build a model airplane or car.
  22. Play with legos.
  23. Do a random act of kindness for a neighbor.
  24. Write a play and act it out with homemade puppets.
  25. Create/build an invention

One idea is to put all the ideas in a box or a big jar and at bedtime, draw out one or two out for the next day so everyone has something to look forward to, for after chores are done.

The fact is that summers should be relaxing and fun, but “relaxing and fun” doesn’t have to mean teens staying on the couch playing video games, watching movies and basically turning into “vampires” (staying up all night/sleeping all day).

It’s part of our job as parents to set limits, but when you get creative and include your teens in the discussion, the limits won’t feel so limiting and everyone wins!

Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear from you! Just comment below.

And if you need some one on one help, let’s talk!


(This post originally appeared in Additude Magazine)