Samantha: Spring break has sprung here in Lawrence. Teens and parents, if you want to make your vacation feel like vacation, (whether you’re relaxing at home or whisking off to an exotic locale) consider how you interact with your family during the time off. With more time together, it’s easy to pick at flaws or get frustrated. Instead, be aware, and think before you speak. I think these few tips will go a long way:
• Take “me time.” This goes for teens and parents alike. Cooped up for extended periods of time, you’re bound to need space. Remember that family time doesn’t have to be all the time. When you feel yourself starting to get frustrated, go for a walk, call a friend, read a book or magazine, or take a nap. Working out is also a great way to be alone and get those magical endorphins to your brain. If you’re stuck in the car, turn on some music to lighten the mood.
• Be a good roommate. If you’re on a trip, pretend you’re staying with a friend. Teens: Would you leave your dirty clothes all over your friends’ side of the room? Parents: Would you yell at a friend for leaving her toothbrush out? Cut each other a little slack. Work out a schedule for the bathroom so conflict doesn’t ensue. Teens, if you’re home over break, try to help out more around the house with your extra time. This is something I’m really trying to work on this week. Parents, notice your teen’s efforts to help out, and reward them for it.
• Find common ground. There’s always something to bond over; you just have to be on the lookout for it. You can share positive things like a love for music or swimming, but you can also share dislikes for, say, an annoying relative or a gross continental breakfast at a hotel.
• Embrace the moment. Remember that free time with your family doesn’t come often. Whether you’re exploring ancient ruins in Greece, relaxing on the beach in Hawaii or simply sitting at coffee shop with your family here in Lawrence, try to find something positive about the experience. Put away your phone or PDA, and show interest in what your family members have to say. Seniors: This may be one of your last big moments to spend with your family before college. Savor it.
Wes: Here’s my list:
• Double down on rest. I know Samantha mentioned it, but I want to push the idea that break is by definition “a time to rest and recuperate.” I’ve warned ever since the beginning of this column that we’re pushing kids really hard these days. I have no clue where the president and nearly everyone else are coming up with this idea that schools just aren’t challenging kids with enough hard classes. Obviously some schools are subpar. But painting schools and students with such a broad brush ignores the larger facts. So now is the time to just sleep and relax and forget about school and college choices and standardized testing. Parents, do all you can to just drop the studying. If kids need Spring Break to get caught up, then something was pretty darn wrong with the first half of the semester.
• Do something different. I know I just said to take a big rest, but if you instead spend your school year vegging out and partying and playing video games, I suggest doing the opposite. Grab the friends or family and go on a daytrip. Families do well to take along a trusted friend so their teen has someone to hang with. Maybe even check out a college town or two. Most of those schools are open over spring break, but the students are gone. It’s a great time for juniors or even sophomores to get a quieter version of how life is in a college town. If you have relatives in other towns, kids may create their own road trip and stay overnight along the way. This cuts costs and provides some reasonable supervision. Besides, unescorted kids under 18 can’t rent rooms. Parents, before signing off on a solo journey, be sure your kids can handle the responsibility. Some can. Some can’t.
• Hang with the old people. Doesn’t sound like fun? Maybe you should give it a shot. I’ve recently seen more teens and young adults who’ve just lost a grandparent. Many feel badly now, grieving the loss and wondering why they didn’t know that relative better. You can’t go back in time, so while you’ve got a couple of days free, drop in and give them a visit. You may be surprised at how rewarding it can be. Some grandmas and grandpas are amazing cooks, storytellers and companions. Get to know them.
• Plan the summer. Next break will be the long one. For some this will be the last summer before college. For most it will be the last step toward the next year in high school or junior high. Now is the time to make those summer plans. You can definitely transfer some of this advice. Based on lots of experience, summer can be a great time to enhance your life — or a giant trap of trouble waiting to suck you in. Parents and teens might want to spend a day or two over spring break thinking ahead on what to do to get more of the former and less of the latter.
— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Samantha Schwartz is a senior at Lawrence High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.