Summer Activities for Teens and Tweens that Promote Mental Wellness

For many children and young people, summer is one of the most anticipated times of the year. School is out and schedules are much more free and open. However, this unstructured time isn’t always easy, and may be especially challenging this summer.

Many children are coming off a year filled with upheaval as they moved between in-school education and remote learning. Symptoms of mental health concerns among young people rose precipitously, with the U.S. Surgeon General describing the state of children’s mental health as an “urgent public health crisis”, leading to a series of published recommendations for systematic change. For many children, going back to school was a welcome opportunity to see their friends after weeks and months of isolation. It also gave them much needed support from teachers and school staff. Now that classes are finished for the year, that advocacy and camaraderie may be more challenging to find.

The Importance of Friendships During the Teen and Tween Years  

The bond between friends during the turbulent tween and teen years is critical. Friendship has many benefits not only for a child’s mental and physical health, but also for their development.

During adolescence, children’s friends and peers provide emotional and informational support and help them solve problems and work through issues. Having a network of friends has also been linked to:

  • Fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Greater life satisfaction
  • Fewer behavioral problems
  • Better academic outcomes

As they mature, children’s teenage friendships have been shown to provide ongoing benefits. In one long-term study published in Child Development, researchers found that children who had strong relationships as teens reported less depression and anxiety, and higher levels of self-worth, well into their adult lives.

Summer Activities to Promote Mental Wellness

One of the best ways to encourage children to socialize and engage with others is to participate in fun activities during the summer months. This allows them to make new friends who may have similar interests, or connect on a deeper level with existing friends or peers from their school group.

Some of the best summer activities can also help children decompress from a stressful school year, which can help improve troubling mental health symptoms, including:

  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in mood or personality
  • Persistent sadness

As social distancing measures are now relaxed, and more activities become available, children may need some encouragement to step outside of their comfort zone and get more engaged in a world that may still feel overwhelming. You should be ready to listen to their concerns and work with them to find activities that feel both fun and safe.

It’s also likely that a child’s activities will vary depending on their current hobbies and interests. They should be encouraged to indulge in activities they enjoy while making an effort to try new things.

Here are some ideas of fun and engaging activities tweens and teens can try this summer:

  • Host friends for an outdoor hangout. If kids miss their school friends who don’t live nearby, encourage them to host an outdoor hangout. In terms of COVID-19 risk factors, this is safer than having kids indoors together for hours and helps them to spend more time outside. If they aren’t thrilled about having to stay outdoors, encourage them to think of fun activities they can do like making s’mores, playing sports, or doing crafts.
  • Journal. If children are encouraged to make a habit of journaling regularly, it can help them become more adept at recognizing and regulating their own emotions. This also helps reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Children don’t need to spend a lot of time on this to reap the benefits — even 10 to 15 minutes a day can help them start a positive habit that will last for the rest of their life.
  • Write a story. If the child is a budding storyteller, encourage them to take the long, hot days of summer to write creatively. With no homework, their brains are free from the order and structure of school, which may make it easier to fashion a story of their own making.
  • Take a hike. Depending on the child’s age, you could encourage them to hike with friends or make it a family outing. This is an excellent opportunity for them to spend time in nature, get some physical exercise, and explore your area. This physical activity and time outdoors has huge benefits for their mental health as they are separated from screens and given more opportunities to bond with family and friends.
  • Create a list of movies they want to see. Too much screen time isn’t good for children, but having access to movies on demand can create meaningful opportunities for connection. Encourage any child in your care to make a list of movies they want to watch, then ask them to share it with their parents and family so they can watch them together.
  • Join a summer reading club. Summer learning loss (a backsliding in academic achievement) is a real problem for many children. Encourage children to stay engaged in reading by joining a summer reading or book club. Local libraries are a great place to start, but you can find some other options here.
  • Learn a new skill with family or friends. Another way to help children keep their brains engaged and active during the summer is by learning a new skill. Whether their interests are technology, sports, crafting, or educational, there are many options available for online tutorials. To help them keep connections with friends and family strong, encourage them to find a partner and learn with others.
  • Teach them how to cook their favorite food. If your young client has a favorite dish they love, encourage them to stretch their muscles in the kitchen by learning how to make it themselves. This is an excellent opportunity for them to gain some essential kitchen knowledge, which can help them make better food choices in the future as well as feel more self-reliant.
  • Plant a garden. Encourage kids to train their green thumb by planting their own garden. They can either go with you to purchase plants from a nursery or start from seeds or scraps they find in the kitchen. Some plants that are easy to re-grow from kitchen cuttings include celery, scallions, onions, lettuce, and potatoes. Being outdoors has been shown to help reduce stress and boost mood.

Not to be forgotten are those rainy days when kids are stuck in the house. To help them avoid too much screen time, which has been proven to have a negative impact on an adolescent’s mental health, here are some great ideas to keep them busy.

Whether they love to play sports or are more comfortable tucked into a hammock with a book, we should all be encouraging children to spend more time outdoors and with friends and family, rather than whiling away their day inside staring at a screen. Spending more time with friends, being active, and breathing in the fresh air are all great for our children’s mental health.

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