Modern summer for children and adolescents: A message of encouragement from a clinician

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Modern summer for children and adolescents: A message of encouragement from a clinician

With summer upon us, our minds drift from academics on to leisure activities. The temptations of long days outside by the pool are long-lost on the current generation of grade school children. The typical teen does not go out all day to return muddied, scraped, and bruised after spending time with his or her friends having adventures or long days at the beach or local pool.

No, the modern grade school aged child is one who is connected to the internet and disconnected from the outside world. Over summer children are given a free rein over what they do with their time rather than the daily structure that is provided by academia. What do they do with this time? Unless they're engaged in summer camp or utilizing the beach bus or some other time intensive summer activity, you will most likely find them at their computer or in front of the TV engaged in some form of video games. This may be in your household or your neighbor's household where the teenagers are glued to a 5-hour session playing League of Legends or a Steam game.

Now this is not speaking to all children, but it is emphasized for the ones whom experience this as their reality; those who really will spend 10+ hours a day engaged and online activities. It may not be gaming but rather over involvement with social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or Instagram. YouTube is another forum in which children will spend an increased amount of their time.

Teens and adults alike are compulsively checking their cell phones much more than they realize. Many teams will tell you that they do this for fear of missing out. Their lives revolve on an internet platform with endless scrolling. The amount of likes and reactions that they get on their posts are translated as a reflection of their popularity and social acceptance. It is important that today's youth learns that their self-worth is not best measured in this manner.

While complete digital detox over summer may be extreme for most, it could yield quite an interesting change in children and their face-to-face relationships. However, if their go-to activity is removed, it is vitally important that it be replaced with something else. If you take away gaming you must replace it with an activity such as going to the beach, enrolling them in summer camp, or some other organized structure activity. If someone took away your car and told you to get to work and deal with it how would you react? Now this does not apply to those who do not have a car or do not take one to work or even work from home, but hopefully you catch my drift. If you take away the primary tool that children use to survive their daily lives they must be given an alternative one.

One common issue that I see come across my office every day is that children today seemed lonelier than any other generation preceding them. Many of them lack basic social interaction skills and rely heavily on technology. This is not to say that they don't know how to do it because they probably did learn basic social interaction skills throughout their involvement in grade school, but rather that they have devolved their social communication skills to consist through digital means where spelling and grammar have been replaced with abbreviations and Emojis. Don't get me wrong, I love my Emojis. They are hilarious. They also allow everyone to convey some aspect of emotion with their text. So, in a way we are evolving our digital means of communication. But this still is not as effective as face-to-face communication.

There are many youth groups and other activities that children can engage in where technology is secondary. Think back to your youth. What were some of the more memorable activities that you did? Are they still around today? For me it was my involvement in B'nai B'rith Youth Organization. Organizations like this are fantastic for teaching leadership skills and fostering friendships that can last a lifetime.

As the owner of Conejo Valley tutoring I must also encourage some form of continual education over the summer. This can be either review of last year or preview of the year to come. The students I work with and that have come through our tutoring services perform at a much higher level when they've had ongoing learning throughout the summer. This doesn't necessarily have to be professional tutoring, but just some form of education to keep their brain stimulated. Think about going to the gym. If you go 5 times a week for 40 weeks, you'll probably be in very good shape. That is how children are at the end of the school year. Now imagine that you stopped going to the gym for 3 months and all you do is in front of your TV and computer and veg out. Chances are the majority of your efforts will have dwindled away and you will have to start from scratch. Fortunately, our brains aren’t quite as drastic. However, we do lose that mental sharpness after we've been out of education for some time. This is why keeping our brains active, continually learning, and staying mentally stimulated have been shown to delay the onset of dementia and Alzheimer's.

Another way to think of our brains’ maintenance is by relating our neurons to weeds. Think of the dendrites, which are the information-receiving branches at the end of a neuron, as these weeds. As time goes on they grow and eventually can become tangled. When they get tangled they don't receive signals as well; which can lead to misfires. As we use our brains, the dendrites undergo a process called pruning. This is just how it sounds. The dendrites get pruned, making them neater and smoother just as you would see if you were to prune your weeds. With the clutter removed, the neurons are able to communicate much more rapidly and efficiently.

Now, let's talk about the resistance you can expect to come, especially from teenagers. You may see threats, tantrums, physical violence, and other maladaptive behaviors. It is vital that you do not react to these. It is so easy to give in but you would be doing your child an injustice. I would recommend talking with them before taking things away and encouraging them to come up with their own solutions first. This should be done when everyone is in an even state of mind. It can be brought up as it a discussion for what they can do over summer without mention of taking away their precious leisure activities. Find out what they would like to do or what they've done in the past that they would like to do again. Kids can be quite creative if you just listen.

If they're struggling throughout summer, then individual therapy might be another effective resource. They may have a lot of unresolved issues such as loneliness, depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem. Individual therapy can help greatly with all these issues and much more. Family therapy is another option that can yield positive results for the whole family system. Now is the time to take action. It is never too late to change course and make improvements. Today's young minds need stimulation, but not always the overstimulation they received from technology.

Dr. Dustin Weissman is the owner of Conejo Valley Tutoring, which provides in-home academic tutoring services in Conejo Valley, Simi Valley, and West San Fernando Valley. He also has a private practice in Westlake Village as a psychological assistant under the supervision of Dr. Michael Pariser, where he works with clients and their families who struggle with internet addiction and other related issues. He can be reached via email at Weissmanpsychology@gmail.com or by calling his office, 805-601-7098.

Dustin Weissman, PsyD is a therapist who recognizes and treats all forms of internet and gaming addictions in Calabasas, CA. He is a psychological assistant working under the supervision of Dr. Jonine Biesman, PsyD.