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Let’s Go Outside!

It’s mid-summer. While this may be your child’s favorite time of the year, it can be difficult for parents. Our routines are thrown off, upset by late nights, summer sports, driving children around, and vacations. Keeping a positive attitude and the family running smoothly can be taxing.

Time to re-group, re-evaluate, and re-prioritize summer activities.

How do your teens spend their time?

Are they complaining of boredom or content with their daily routine?

Are you constantly scrambling to find something for them to do or are they self-starters?

Children need structure and guidance. Without it, they may fall back on what’s easy, like scrolling through social media or playing video games. They may hibernate in their rooms, choosing not to socialize face-to-face with family or friends. Or they may chase us around, coaxing us to engage with them all day long.

We, as parents, can gently guide them toward beneficial uses of their time. Children who are productive, physically active, and use their imagination are happier and healthier than those who don’t.

Let’s remind them to get up, get moving, and get outside.

Physical activity is great for mental and physical well-being. People who exercise and, in general, move more, are less likely to be depressed or anxious. But there’s another important reason to walk out the front door. We want to keep our Vitamin D levels in a healthy area.

“In the US alone, 42% of adults are Vitamin D deficient, while 50% of children aged between one and five and 70% of children aged between six and 11 have low vitamin D stores.”[i] Vitamin D is important for healthy bones and teeth, and a strong immune system. It may also help protect us from infections and diseases.[ii]

I recently read the following in a Wired Human newsletter, “Prioritize being outside. It’s essential to our health, especially because many of us lack Vitamin D. … Summer is the perfect time for a sunshine boost. … Experts say even just 15 to 20 minutes of sun per day will help get your Vitamin D levels up.” On most days, that’s doable.

So, how do we keep our teens engaged in productive activities, both inside and out, for the rest of the summer?

Be intentional. Plan ahead. Schedule.

As a family, brainstorm various indoor and outdoor activities and adventures you can participate in both individually and as a family. Outdoor pursuits may include: bike rides, going to the local park, water balloon fights, walks, playing basketball in the driveway, playing pickle ball or tennis, day camps, or going to the pool or beach.

My children frequently coordinate get-togethers. One weekend they invited their friends over for an afternoon of board games, dancing in the living room, and playing spike ball in the community area of our neighborhood. I love their ability to organize a big gathering, entertain themselves, participate in physical activities, and interact with their friends. When focusing on friendships and learning how to make plans, they stay busy, keep out of trouble, and cultivate healthy relationships.

Spending a few minutes Sunday afternoon looking at the family calendar for the upcoming week may be helpful. Add in chores and other obligations. Then fill in the empty spaces with possible outings or at-home activities. Look for part-time jobs for your preteens and teens. This is an excellent opportunity for them to fill in their downtime while learning responsibility and other life skills.

Depending on where you live, you may have to plan your outdoor endeavors during the cooler part of the day. In Florida, where I live, we try to stay inside between 11 am and 6 pm. I love going to the pool after supper. The sun isn’t as high, so there’s more shade. After being in the water for half an hour, I can sit in a lounge chair and read a book or listen to music while enjoying the breeze.

Exercising outdoors in the evening helps our children burn energy and improves their sleep.

Despite the extra effort and energy required, the advantages of planning activities for your teen to enjoy, both individually and with the family, outweigh the cost. My best memories are of our whole family participating in activities together, whether we were around the table playing a board game or driving across the country and stopping at tourist traps by day and different hotel rooms by night. Not only do these memories (and ongoing family get-togethers) bring me joy, they also teach my children how to develop social skills and appreciate life.

Barb Winters

Barb Winters is a Sexual Risk Avoidance Specialist, author of Sexpectations: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Healthy Relationships, and founder of Hopeful Mom.