Article By: Martha Durham
Contributing Writer

Greenville County Schools now start and end earlier, so summer is suddenly upon us!  If you
have not registered for camps or other summer activities, you best get cracking!  Seriously
though, summer is a tricky time for many families.  For working parents, to ensure that spots are
available for their kids, securing the right camps and activities means planning usually starts at
the first of the year.
Planning the best summer activities can also be stressful and challenging for parents who are
home with kids.  So, what should you prepare for your kids this summer?  Should kids have
primarily structured or unstructured time?  Is extra screen time okay since school is out?  How
much screen time is okay?  Should you plan some academic or instructional time to ensure your
kids are ready for the next school year?

What Should You Plan for Your Kids this Summer?

Honestly, some of this depends on your kids’ personalities and needs. Some extra planning is
necessary for kids with emotional/behavioral, developmental, or academic challenges.
Challenges such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder
(ASD), Anxiety, Depression, or Learning Disabilities can lead to stressful times for kids and
families when the structure of school shifts to unstructured summertime. Camps, experiences,
and therapeutic activities can help.
For all kids, with and without challenges, plan some structured activities that complement their
strengths and others that introduce new skills and activities. It would help if you also planned
some unstructured time (with limits I’ll discuss below) that allows your kids to socialize, problem-
solve, and take initiative.  You should let them get bored and learn how to seek out what they

Structured Versus Unstructured Time   

While structured time is essential and has its place, children need unstructured time to mature
and grow.  During unstructured time, children are in charge, which allows them to be creative,
make decisions, explore, solve problems, and socialize independently.  Those annoying
comments about boredom mean you are on the right track with unstructured time. Boredom
motivates children to explore their interests.
If you work and cannot supervise the summer’s unstructured time, seek camps, activities, or
childcare that encourages plenty of it.  Your kids should have equal or more unstructured time,
than structured time, if possible.  Remember that unstructured time does not mean
unsupervised time. Unless your child is older and mature, a parent should be close enough to
monitor the safety of your child and other children. South Carolina has no explicit law about
what age a child can safely be left alone, but I hesitate to leave a middle school child
unsupervised.  I know some parents have 12- to 14-year-olds who are very mature and
responsible and can be left alone for a brief amount of time.  That’s okay by me but be sure to
understand that middle school kids are uniquely confused with the hormones and social
changes they are experiencing.  They need scaffolding during these years. 
What About Screen Time in the Summer?

There is one significant caveat to unstructured time.  Screen time is NOT healthy unstructured
time, and for neuroatypical kids (ADHD and ASD), it can make symptoms worse.  There is a
debate about using screen time as a bargaining chip.  I tend to think it is okay if used in
moderation.  Teaching kids to work for and earn things they want is important.  They will need to
do this in advanced academics and later in life when working toward their goals in jobs and life! 
All this to say, limit screen time and understand if the time you give your kids is for you or them. 
If you use screen time as a babysitter, look for other ways to engage your kids, such as reading,
crafts, puzzles, etc. 
 The downside of screen time for kids includes delayed learning, delayed or inhibited social
skills, strain on the body and eyes, obesity, overstimulation, and addiction. I wish that parents
would limit screen time to 30 minutes a day.  Unfortunately, as schools and businesses adopt
more online applications, it is unrealistic to keep all screen time that low. Limiting gaming and
social media for older, more mature students to 30 minutes is a good rule of thumb. In my home,
my children were not allowed any gaming, YouTube, etc, during the week; but were allowed
some time on the weekends.

Should We Have Any Academic or Instructional Time in the Summer?
While it may not be the most popular suggestion, it is always a good idea to help retain what
your kids learned during the past academic year and prepare for the following year.  Some
week-long summer camps are designed to give kids a jumpstart on the next school year. 
Parents can also try to do an academic boot camp themselves, but you are better than me if you
can make that work!  My kids are never eager to have me teach them, and I would rather have
fun with them when we are all together in the summer.  I let the expert teachers and tutors help
with academics, so I can spend quality time with my family!
Whatever you choose to do this summer, I hope you have a wonderful time with your family. 
Happy Summer Y’all!

By Published On: May 31, 2024Categories: Cover Showcase

About the Author: Dr. Martha Durham

Dr. Martha Durham is a licensed psychologist (SC#981) in Greenville, SC. Dr. Durham is a past President of The SC Psychological Association, a former member of the SC Board of Examiners in Psychology and The National Alliance on Mental Illness (Greenville). She is also a contributing expert on local news segments, in newspaper and journal articles and has a recurring appearance on WSPA-TV, Your Carolina, Kid’s Corner.

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