Summer House Rules For The Teens
I don’t consider myself a terribly sentimental person. I’m constantly joking with my husband that he’s the wife in our relationship, because he’s the one who remembers important dates and is romantic and sentimental. I am… not. (And yes, this is not a male/female thing, but I really like to cement my role as curmudgeon by teasing him about it.) I see people fretting over their kids being “so big” or the time going “so fast” and I’ll be honest, it sometimes makes me roll my eyes. Kids grow. Time passes. Maybe it’s because my kids have had more than the usual helping of challenges, but I don’t long for their younger days. I am amazed and gratified by the young adults they’re becoming, and while it sometimes catches me off guard—like: hello, kid who is taller than me and also desperately needs a shave!—for the most part I am good at making peace with the current moment.
This leaves me suspecting that my approach to summer is perhaps a bit eclectic. I am neither strumming “Sunrise, Sunset” in the corner nor leaving my teens to their own devices. I try to lay down some basic rules, and to my surprise, some of them have changed over the years, others haven’t, and now that my kids are 15 and 17, I have a weird little niggling in the back of my brain. Our days together really are numbered. For both of them, but especially my eldest, childhood is drawing to a close. That’s weird. Have I really taken the time to ponder the right summer structure to foster and nurture everything I hope the kids will get out of this time? Yeah… no. (Who has time for that?) I do what feels like it makes sense, and adjust when necessary. And I cross my fingers and hope they look back and feel like it was okay. And so I present to you our Summer House Rules….
Summer House Rules
No sleeping all day
All teens will be upright and functional by 9:00am on weekdays. You may sleep later on the weekends, but 9:00 is still plenty late. Get up.
On bedtimes and alone time
Unless you are out of the house somewhere or we’re engaging in a whole-family activity, you are to be upstairs and in the general vicinity of your bedroom by 9:30pm on weeknights. Hey, you don’t have to go to sleep. Knock yourself out—stay up as late as you like!—but the adults would like a little teen-free time in the evenings. Thanks. (And if you’re failing to be up by 9am, we’ll have another conversation about what time you’re actually going to bed, but so far so good.)
You may have one stay-in-your-pajamas-and-do-nothing-all-day day per week, provided you have nothing else on your schedule. You don’t even have to brush your hair. Maybe brush your teeth, though. After you’ve enjoyed your pajama day, please shower and rejoin polite society the next morning.
Working for actual money
You are now old enough to get a job, if you so desire. You don’t have to, but if you want to, let’s discuss.
[Side note: My daughter applied for, and ultimately didn’t get, admission into a rigorous 6-week program wherein she would’ve been working 30 hours in a university lab each week. That’s about the maximum I would’ve felt comfortable allowing her to do, but I’m not sorry she didn’t get it. The job she ended up taking is just a few hours a week in an office and about 10 additional hours of working from home, plus she babysits, which has been perfect. She’s making money and gaining experience, but she has the rest of her life to work full-time.]
If you assist me with above-and-beyond household projects out of the goodness of your heart, chances are excellent I will pay you for your service.
Yes, you may have friends over. You’re now old enough to have them over even if I’m not here! Sure, it’s a courtesy to check with us before you invite, but feel free. Hang out. Be kids. Have sleepovers! Go swim! Just give me a heads up so I can make sure we have snacks.
Sure, summer is a great time to glue yourself to the television or computer for hours on end. Unlike when you were little, I’m not going to limit your screen time for fear of you ending up stunted. That said, do your binging on your sloth days and don’t expect to spend multiple consecutive days in front of the set. If I notice you haven’t moved for a while, chances are good I’m going to ask you to get up and do something productive.
We’ll go to the library every week. Bring a bag. A large bag. Part of the magic of summer is time to read whatever you want for as long as you like. If you promise to fill the bag I promise not to comment on your book selections, save for sometimes asking if I can borrow a book when you’re done.
Snacks and meals
During the school year, dinner is provided for you at least 6 nights/week and we eat together at the table. During the summer, there’s no such schedule. I’ll cook sometimes; we’ll eat together sometimes, but not always. We can eat in the family room while watching TV, sometimes. You are expected to consume three reasonable meals per day. (Note: A cheese stick is not a meal.) If I am not placing food in front of you, you still need to eat. You’re smart—figure it out. You want to bake a cake? Go for it. Just clean up when you’re done. (Note: Cake isn’t a meal, either.)
There will be a variety of frozen dairy confections in the freezer at all times, all summer long. On any day where the thermometer crests 100 degrees, you may invoke the “Ice Cream Rule” and we all go out for ice cream. (True, this rule was developed back in New England, years ago, when 1 or 2 days per summer, max, were that hot. While living in the south has made this more expensive, I still believe a creamy frozen treat on a day that hot is an inalienable family right.)
Trips and special requests
This is the time to ask for things out of the ordinary. We can’t always say yes, but we’ll say yes as much as we can. Yes, let’s go to the movies. Yes, let’s go visit colleges. Yes, let’s rearrange your room if you want. Yes, we can check out that tourist attraction we never had time for during the year. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Go ahead and ask. Now’s the time!
If you’re not enjoying your summer, you’re doing it wrong. Talk to me and let’s fix it. We’ll all be back to the grind soon enough—take this time to relax and do something different. But you can still do your chores and be a pleasant human while enjoying your summer, I promise.