Current/Recent Reading List

25 June 2009

Summer Vacation Angst - Who Knew?

There are a couple of good essays over at Front Porch Republic, first by Mark Mitchell and then by Jeffrey Pollet regarding the current crop of young'uns we are raising and their senses of gratitude, as opposed to their senses of entitlement.

It's interesting that the spark for both authors is how either their kids, or their friends' kids, are spending time during summer break. Though they are mostly writing about adolescents or college kids, we've been doing a lot of thinking along these lines at our house in relation to our seven year-old. Unlike many we know, we do have choices. He has the luxury/curse of having me around as "House-Dad" all summer. But for about half of the summers over the last three years we still sent him off to YMCA day camp, just so he could have some interaction with other kids, and have some structure to his day. But this year he's been adamant about not wanting to go to camp, and listening to his reasoning, I think I basically get his point: hanging out with other kids is fun for him (except for the bully types), but he finds the activities and structure at camp dull, and he has little control over how he gets to spend his time.

Yes, I could mention to him times not-so-long-ago when he might have been spending his summer working with his parents in the mill, but nonetheless I can sympathize. I loved my wide-open summers as a kid, even as a teenager, and wanted minimum interference. Yes, we belonged to a pool we could go to any day, though I often found that boring after an hour or two. Being home was mostly what I wanted, and like dear old Dad, the boy is probably a bit of a home body.

The problem, of course, is that if he could, he would choose to spend all his free time at home watching Johnny Test or other cartoons, and/or playing video games. The other problem is that I am not a "hey, here are eight fun, structured activities for us to participate in today, son!" kind of Dad. And truth be told, Johnny Test is kind of mesmerizingly funny...

So, what we've worked out thus far is this: he's going to attend an evening Vacation Bible School with a few of his buddies one week, and evening basketball camp for two weeks after that. He's also in the midst of splitting a week at both sets of grandparents' homes. When he's home with me, he has mandatory reading time 2-3 times a day, and he has to do a little writing once a day (The Horror! The Horror! - we've already had a couple of knock-down drag-outs on those latter activities), plus do some minimal chores. Other than this, he can go to friends' houses, or they can come to his. That's about it right now.

What I want to avoid is encouraging the sense of entitlement and sloth mentioned in the essays above, but also forcing the kid into too many activities he doesn't want to (and doesn't have to) participate in. I guess my aim is, to paraphrase Polonius, "Neither a spoiled couch potato nor an organization kid be."


Belle said...

Sorry I'm just now catching up on your always-good posts. This one is great and of course I can relate. We want our two to have down time...mainly so they can play together, but also because we believe that is where imagination flourishes and the brain recharges. Their time is fairly (though not overly) structured during the school year. I think mine would happily watch or play around 3 - 4 hours of tv or computer or video games each day. That said, they spend the remainder of their time playing outside and reading. So I'm calling it a wash and just gently reminding them when there has been a lot of screen time. Your idea of mandatory reading/writing time would probably be welcome here.

We also made a list of a few things to do this summer - driving range, play every game in our game shelf, and learn how to do laundry (guess who added that one?) are on the list. Also - count allowance and use it to buy things like movie and pool snacks.

For the future, is it wrong I want my children to have jobs??? instead of going to high-priced academic enrichment camps? Or is that going to make them less competitive in the global economy?? Off to read your links!

School Master P said...

Belle - I do go back and forth on the job question, which fortunately is down the road a bit for all of us. I think the hours and the type of work environment are key, but at least some limited work for teenagers would seem a nice entry into the ways of the working world. Of course, many of my girl students baby-sit (don't know of any boy students who do unless it is a required "watch the little brother or sister" gig). I also know a rising senior who owns his own skate shop (his parents helped him get the loan, naturally, but he does all the rest and is both boss and sole employee). One of my yearbook editors for the coming year helps her family grow tobacco and care for the farm animals. Some do camp counseling, and many kids do things to help parents or other relatives at the office.

Overall it seems to me that most summer jobs for teens are good, but work during the school year is much trickier. Some students actually work in a trade area they want to eventually go into, like being a mechanic at Dad's shop. But there are many who carry on the pretense that they are bound for a good college, all the while using "I had to work late" as an excuse to be sleepy and unengaged in class all day. And I had a whiny yearbooker last year who couldn't photograph many sporting events because of her work schedule. She was from a split family, and I sympathize if she needed the money, but it hurt us for work to be her first priority.