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Picking Your Battles in the Fight Against Summer Sloth

  Every kid who starts off summer break full-throttle hits a point of complete sloth. The teen who was so fired up about making money discovers that all the jobs he’s old enough for were gone back in February. The tween with social calendar to rival the Royal Family’s finds herself the only kid left in town when all her friends have gone on vacation. Then there’s that pesky summer reading list. Given the option, kids will roll out of bed around 3pm, creep out to the television, grabbing a box of cereal on their way, and remain on the couch until something makes them move. How do you combat summer sloth to a level that will bring you peace of mind? You can micromanage every spare moment of summer vacation. However, this gives you zero peace of mind and they become so resentful that they’ll intentionally turn their brains off not just for the summer, but well into October, just to prove a point. Better to pick your battles. I always start by lowering my standards. What’s the goal here, really? Well, yes, ultimately to produce viable young adults capable of contributing to the world at large, who remain self-sufficient and never return to live in your basement, but what is your goal this summer? My goal is a little peace and quiet, and for my children’s brains to not turn into guacamole. Since I enacted my three-part plan to combat summer sloth I feel ten years younger. 1). Set a wakeup time that is appalling to both of you. 10am is good. You have the benefit of a few hours of solitude before the grumpy ones awake, and the bonus of annoying your kid when she first opens her eyes. 2). Commit to the idea that the only response to “I’m bored!” is the assignment of chores. Your to-do list will disappear like a popsicle in the sun. 3). Put in place a screen ban during daylight hours—say, 11am-5pm. I’m not normally a screen regulator, much to my chagrin. I’m a stepmom whose kids regularly do their homework in front of the television while carrying on four text conversations and playing a video game. I only intervene sometimes, because when they’re bringing home A’s, I don’t really mind. But the summer screen ban is different. The purpose of this ban is to force your kids to use their brains. Remember that making them think was the battle you picked. Not get them interested in world peace, have them qualify for the Olympic soccer team, or read the Brontë sisters’ collected works, but just to get them to use their brains enough to not entirely atrophy. The fact that they are going to be using their brains to get around the screen ban is irrelevant. Observe: Your kid has to devise a reliable driveway monitoring system to know when you’re back from the store so the TV can be shut off and she’s in place reading her book before you ask her to help unload the groceries. Your son discovers how to slide into his room in absolute silence so as not to draw attention to the fact that you didn’t confiscate the iPods today. Your daughter rallies her internet friends during approved screen hours to find out how to work around the parental controls. At times, your kids will find that the simplest way of getting around the screen ban is to leave the house. They set out indignantly, riding their bikes to the house of the nearest friend without a screen ban… but along the way they get distracted by the park. They encounter a friend who’s going fishing, going to build a fort, going swimming, going for frozen yogurt, on their way to sell bracelets they made at the coffee shop. They call you on their “I’ll-make-an-exception-to-the-screen-ban-so-you-can-call-me” non-smart cell phone and ask if they can change their plans. There’s a certain satisfaction in tricking your kids into using their brains to outwit you. It’s the same kind of feeling you get when you make them do recipe math to get pancakes for seven, or when they go running for a textbook to prove that you’re wrong about something. Just remember when they leave the house, always reset your parental controls. —JM Randolph JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand, and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at