How to stop your teenager doing too little, or too much, these holidays

It's important for teenagers to have a mix of relaxation time and productive time during the holidays.
It's important for teenagers to have a mix of relaxation time and productive time during the holidays. Photo: Getty Images

School is out and the long stretch of summer holidays has started for many Australian teenagers. Steady routines of study, sport and other activities are about to be shaken up or completely abandoned.

Some parents will be glad to see their teenager get a break from hectic schedules and school pressures. Others will be grappling at how to let them enjoy more screen time, socialising and general mooching about, without seeing them descend into walking zombies by late January.

Yet contemporary life can easily bend us out of shape towards an excessively indulgent lifestyle, says clinical psychologist Chris Skellett in his book, When happiness is not enough: Balancing pleasure and achievement in your life.

"For teenagers, who surge along with their hormones and senses on maximum revs, there's a natural tendency to indulge in life's pleasures at the expense of personal achievement," Skellett says.

"While the summer holidays are a good time to ensure teenagers enjoy some of life's 'in the moment' pleasures, these indulgences should be tempered with working towards longer-term goals — be them academic, creative, sports-based or financial — that will eventually bring them greater fulfilment."

However, Skellett notes that at the other end of the scale, there are some teenagers who are so focused on achievements that they struggle to relax. "The constant pursuit of goals can be equally counterproductive for a teenager," he says. "All of us need to find a healthy balance of pleasure and achievement."

So how do some parents help their teenagers strike this balance over summer?

Vanessa, mother of four, including Ebony, 14, and Ben, 15, is happy for her teenagers to start the holidays with "a bit more freedom" than usual. "In the first week or so, if they want to stay up until 11pm and wake up at 11am, they can," she says.

"As long as it doesn't interrupt mine or my family's schedule. And they still have to make their beds, feed the animals and do the dishes."


After the first week, Vanessa still lets them stay up late, but ensures they understand that breakfast finishes at 9:30am. "Otherwise they wait until lunch to eat. I don't operate an all-day buffet!"

When it comes to achievement, her teenagers will continue working their part-time jobs over the holidays and experience the satisfaction of earning and spending their own money.

However, Vanessa says Ben has become almost too driven when it comes to saving.  "I used to make him save half of his wage," she explains. "But now he's saves the majority of it and has even talked about saving for a house."

"It's great that he's planning ahead, but I want him to know he should also enjoy some of his money now as his reward for working hard."

Meanwhile, Angela agrees that her daughter Chloe, 16, needs to start the holidays enjoying some "occasional" indulgences. "She likes to sleep a lot! And when she gets up, she likes to go on her devices."

Yet despite the relaxed start on sleep and screen time, Angela says the summer holidays are also a prime time for Chloe to continue working at her part-time job and towards her long-term goal of saving enough money to buy a car.

She'll also get to achieve some shorter-term goals through activities run by the local youth group holiday program. "There's a class where they learn to make Barista-style coffee and a full-day digital photography session," Angela says.

Skellett says there's some easy ways to help pleasure–oriented teenagers swap indulgent tendencies for achievement-based activities. "Get them to spend time with friends or family who are working towards a goal, or make sure they do a useful activity before they relax."

"You can start by getting them focused on smaller goals, such as cleaning out their cupboard or the year's school work and stationary, so they understand the satisfaction of committing to and completing a task."

"If they work hard at it, praise them for what they have achieved, and encourage a sense of pride in their accomplishments, however small."

What about the driven teenager who needs to live in the moment more?

"Arrange for them to see friends who can relax and laugh, or specifically set aside time during the day for them to relax with something they really enjoy – perhaps a favourite movie or TV show, or music they love," Skellett advises.

"Keeping a diary can help because it will appeal to their need to achieve something. Just make sure they use it to reflect in a positive way, rather than just for planning ahead or setting new goals."

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