Youth Culture Window

Summertime Habits

Dynamic ImageSummer has definitely arrived. Everybody’s getting a tan. Blockbusters are playing at the local theater. And the whole world is making their annual pilgrimage to Disney World.

But it will come to an end…and sooner than any teen wants. Will they be ready for what’s next?

Because summer is an animal unlike any other, parents and youth workers know it presents kids with great opportunities such as mission trips, summer camps, and increased times of recreation and fellowship, but they also realize that summer can be a time when personal disciplines easily fall by the wayside and driving becomes far more dangerous.

Most of my speaking engagements take place in the summer and I always ask students who attend the camps and conferences I’m leading how they plan to spend their summer break. It doesn’t matter where I am the answers are largely the same. Evidently, I’m not the only one interested in what teenagers do during this season. The research below reveals how millions of teens will spend their summer.

They’re Not Working Very Much
According to Bloomberg’s Ben Steverman, the majority of older teens aren’t working a summertime job like they have in years past. According to his research, only about 40% of kids are working during the summer these days, down from roughly 70% of kids in the 80s.

Now before anyone labels today’s generation lazy, it should be said that there are many reasons for this. Anytime there is a recession (like those we’ve had in recent years) jobs are lost in the economy. But, migratory/seasonal workers snag some of the opportunities from kids, too. Add in the fact that the 65-and-up crowd is now working at a record-breaking rate and it’s easy to see that today’s kids have more competition in the market.

Of course, some of them choose to volunteer during the summer because it looks good on a college application…and since college might cost them $10,000 to $35,000 per year, it makes more sense to earn scholarships than $8/hour.

But those aren’t the only reasons….

They’re Staring at a Screen
Last summer, Nielsen reported that teenagers watched 15 hours and 29 minutes of television content per week (or about 2.2 hours per day). But don’t think they have to sit on the couch in the living room to do so. When more than 70% of kids ages 8 to 18 have TVs in their bedrooms, they’re going to watch it…a lot of it. Furthermore, according to research by MediaCom, one third of teenagers now regularly view TV content on their smartphones.

It’s not hard to see how the hours build up. Take Netflix for example, that glorious invention that allows viewers to watch their favorite TV shows without the inconvenience of commercials. These days, Americans can binge watch their way through an entire TV season in just one week’s time. Obviously, adults are just as guilty of this as teens, but shows like The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, and Orange Is the New Black are very popular with young people. And with Netflix adding an interactive feature for kids that allows them to “choose-your-own-adventure,” it won’t be surprising if kids spend even more time on the site in the future.

Then there’s YouTube. According to their own metrics, viewers now watch 1 billion hours of video on their site…every single day. That is simply staggering! In case we’re tempted to dismiss the numbers due to their size, the 13-year-old girl who went to rehab for compulsive YouTube viewing puts a name and a face on the issue.

So yeah, just by looking at television and online content, we can see how entranced kids will be by screens this summer. (And we didn’t even talk about movies, video games, or other devices.) Screens aren’t just playing a role in kids’ summertime activities; they’re also playing a role in kids’ nighttime activities….

They’re Sleeping In…Way In
Teenagers need between 8 and 10 hours of sleep each night, but only about 15% of them get that on a regular basis. That’s why so many parents find their kids trying to catch up on sleep by snoozing so much on weekends. Unfortunately, that’s not a real effective strategy and usually just leads to an ongoing battle at bedtime.

Since many teenagers view summer as an uber long weekend in which they can catch up on sleep, it’s not uncommon for teens to wake up early…in the afternoon. Without a doubt, family schedules shift during the summer, but it shouldn’t shift too much. Dr. Sasha Carr of the Family Sleep Institute says, “Yes, loosen the schedule and allow everything to go later, but not crazy later. Not two a.m. in the morning.” (In this article, she gives several tips for managing teens’ sleeping behaviors in general, and during the summer in particular.)

The Halfway Point
As July approaches, so does the halfway point of summer. Kids are just a few weeks away from resuming their habits, schedules, and activities of the school year. Here are a couple ideas that might help teenagers capitalize on the remainder of their summer and ensure a smooth transition back into the real world.


  1. Have them set at least one meaningful goal…and then accomplish it. It doesn’t have to be anything grandiose; it could simply be something that boosts their confidence or helps them prepare for the future. For example, they might read a particular book, or complete a service project, or save a certain amount of money, or take a special trip. Sit down with them as soon as possible and pick something together. You might even choose to add an incentive of your own to aid in their accomplishment.
  2. Pick a date to resume the school schedule. HINT: Don’t let it be the night before school starts! Again, just sit down with your kids and talk about what they’ve done with their summer so far, outline what will be expected of them when school resumes, and then talk about what needs to happen for them to step into those responsibilities in an effective way. Maybe your kid needs to start making some big changes right away, but maybe they can get away with breaking summer habits a little later. When you talk with them, make sure to discuss things like bedtimes, cell phone usage and times, daily schedules, and anything else you think will help.

Summertime can be a ton of fun for families, but it will eventually end. The good news is, we can be proactive in preparing for the next season.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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