The right balance for summer

Work vs. play

Why summer balance is needed now – not later! Most of us understand that summer is a time to relax, enjoy and share good times. 

We all know that both adults and children need the down time to rejuvenate. There is no argument to that. Let’s all feel free to enjoy this time. Summer is filled with fun times – vacations, camping, swimming, sports and plenty of down time. We all need and anticipate the warm, lazy days of summer. And yet, most parents want to continue to nurture responsible habits and teach our children the fundamentals to be prepared for life. 

However, too often we wait till late adolescence to realize that our children have no intention to take on responsibility, especially during the summer. They believe, and have often been taught, that summers are for fun only and that they shouldn’t do any real ‘work’. 

Many parents in my private practice report this attitude of entitlement. And as we survey the literature on adolescents and young adults, we discover that this perspective is becoming somewhat of an epidemic. And this is where balance has been lost. It’s like saying that we all deserve some delicious dessert now and then. We do! But if we eat yummy desserts every day, negative consequences will inevitably show up. 

So somehow, in the middle of this overloaded world of opinions, marketing messages and exploding data, our sense of reasonableness has failed us. We have lost our compass along the way!

It appears that we too easily seem to follow the lead of our children’s wants and desires, while abandoning our deep sense of what our children need. This is a dangerous formula because we know, with relative certainty, where this will lead. Entitlement leads to expecting life to give us abundance while giving little. 

It’s really that simple, and at the same time…quite disastrous.

The solution: Balance responsibility with play

When we review the literature on success and satisfaction in life, we find examples where the balance of responsibility with fun times is essential for life satisfaction.

When too much demand or responsibility is required, life is drudgery. We have no sense of ease and no opportunity to rejuvenate and re-group. This is true for adults and children.

On the other hand, when it’s all play, there is no preparation for the realities of life. Too much play gives the wrong message to children. They understand life to be, "You can have all the play time, all the goodies, and all the fun and no responsibility is required."

This is the toxic result of overdosing children on a summer filled with only play. With such choices, there is no opportunity for children to connect the relationship between effort and the rewards that come from effort outside of academics. 

Life preparation evolves from life preparation!

I know that sounds redundant, but let me explain. Too often we expect our teenager to be ready to take on responsibility when we ask. And yet, for 16 years, we did not prepare them for this moment. If they resist, and most will, we might not know how to handle this and we skip it for another year. Another year is now lost.

With each year that passes, there is no reality-based preparation. There is no understanding gained by your child about the connection between taking responsibility and enjoying the real world benefits of a responsible life.

Thus, it becomes essential to start now. Give your children some responsibilities to do this summer, as well as opportunities to enjoy their play. Don’t hesitate to require daily efforts around the house before the friends come over or the games begin. It’s easy to start small, and yet the benefits are large.

You will be thankful as the years progress, because your child learns that choice comes with consequences, not just at school, but in the real world of life as well. Have an awesome summer!

Dr. Randy Cale offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns. For more information visit


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