For most parents who work full time, the kids’ summer vacation presents an annual challenge. When the kids are younger, it may mean securing a spot in a day care or a series of camps to cover the weeks when the kids aren’t in school. It can be crazy expensive to cover programs that provide full-day care, and when they don’t there’s always the logistics of setting up carpools or getting off work early enough to pick up the little campers.
Then suddenly — or so it seems — the dynamic shifts. Kids are old enough to be at home alone for at least part of the day, and maybe they no longer want to go to camp, or only go for a week or two all summer. And then, they start to drive …
That freedom of summertime fun is intoxicating to kids as they head enter preteen and teen years, but it brings new worries and headaches for parents who can’t always be around to veto poor decisions. The trick is to let kids start becoming independent and accountable while you remain aware of their movements and available as a resource.
Consider these six ways to keep tabs on your kids without making them feel like they’re under house arrest.
1. Require scheduled check-ins
Now that almost every kid has a cellphone, it’s not difficult to text, email or telephone to check in. Schedule times your kids should call or text you, and insist they keep those appointments. What if your child doesn’t have a cellphone? Buy a no-contract, pre-paid cellphone specifically so they can contact you. You can find them on Amazon or Big Box discount stores.
2. Set up boundaries
Certainly kids will want some freedom in summer, but it’s up to parents to draw the line. Tell your kids what is acceptable behavior and what is not. For example, you may allow your child to invite friends to spend time with him outside in your yard. Or you may allow your teen to drive to her summer job and back. If your child wants to invite friends into the house to eat lunch or play music, you may require them to get your permission first. Same goes with the teen who wants to drive friends to a store or movie theater.
3. Rely on trusted neighbors
You certainly don’t want to impose on your neighbors’ good nature, but you can create an informal, kid-friendly “Neighborhood Watch,” akin to the program of the National Crime Prevention Council. “Neighborhood Watch” relies mainly on residents paying close attention to the activities around area homes. If they see something amiss, they alert authorities. Ask your neighbors to do just that if they suspect your kids may be courting trouble. Offer the neighbors an easy way to notify you if they see anything that raises concerns, such as groups of kids going into your home.
4. Use technology to your advantage
There are a host of reasonably priced GPS trackers that allow you to check the location of your child at any given time. One of the most well-publicized is “Amber Alert,” which allows two-way voice communication, signals safety alerts and allows GPS location tracking. The technology review site “Tom’s Guide” has rated a host of GPS trackers especially for kids.
5. See if you can work from home occasionally
Working remotely isn’t possible for all jobs, of course, but some employers do allow telework especially in the summer. Even if you can only work from home occasionally, it’s a great idea. It not only allows you to enjoy some extra time with your kids, but it also enables you to see how they structure their days.
6. Help secure volunteer work, part-time jobs, internships for kids
Help your kids locate volunteer opportunities for some of their summer days. Parks, community gardens, food banks and many other nonprofits often can use extra helpers in the summer. Alternatively, see if there are kid-friendly opportunities at your company or others nearby. Help them start a yard-work or pet-sitting business in the neighborhood. At age 15 or 16, kids can often get part-time jobs at the local ice cream stand, grocery store or fast-food chain. Not only will these activities help keep your kids busy with healthy activities, they will help instill a work ethic and maybe even help them save a bit for college.
What do you think are the best ideas for keeping kids safe, productive and out of trouble in the summers? What was your experience as a kid? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.