As the summer days fly by, it’s important to help teens make the most of their free time. While their bedrooms may be their safe havens, it’s crucial to encourage them to venture outside their rooms and engage in activities.

It is natural for teens to want to utilize their bedrooms for multiple purposes, including eating, sleeping, socializing and hobbies because their bedrooms are convenient, private spaces. However, when teens isolate themselves, it can lead to difficulties with sleep and impact their physical and mental health.

For example, behavioral associations with their beds can make it difficult for them to fall asleep and stay asleep. Napping or unstructured sleep schedules can lead to circadian shifts that make it difficult for teens to fall asleep at night, resulting in daytime fatigue.

Bedroom isolation can also impact teen mental health through loss of social support, as well as repetitive negative thoughts that go uninterrupted. Additionally, they’re more likely to be less physically active and that increases the risk of weight gain and other health problems.

Tyish Hall Brown, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist, and director of Behavioral Sleep Medicine at Children’s National Hospital, offers guidance on how caretakers can support teens during the summer break.

Encourage outdoor exercise

Spending time outside in the sun is vital to the mental health of teens. Sunlight provides vitamin D, which is essential for regulation of circadian rhythms and their overall well-being. Low levels of vitamin D can lead to feelings similar to depression. Participation in outdoor activities and exercise are key factors toward reducing the risk of teen anxiety and depression, while improving sleep. Encourage your teen to participate in regular activities, such as sports, jumping rope, dancing or family walks. Think of activities that will raise their heart rates for 30–60 minutes a day.

Plan excursions and activities

If we expect teens to change their behaviors, it is important to replace the undesired behavior with something equally enticing. Planning enjoyable family trips or day outings not only creates memorable moments but also gives teens something to look forward to. Discuss various options as a family and plan the outings with your teen in mind. Allowing them to invite friends may make the activity more appealing. Encourage them to spend time with their friends by helping to coordinate meetups or “hang outs.” Balancing family time and social interactions is important to optimizing their summer break.

Find a compromise

While it’s important for teens to spend time with family and friends, they also need time to themselves. When they feel the need to retreat to their bedrooms, provide some guidance. Encourage them to keep their bedrooms tidy and clutter-free, as a messy space can make it hard to relax and sleep well. Simple actions like cleaning up, removing trash and opening a window for fresh air can make a difference.

Parents should be mindful of how they interact with their teens when they venture outside of their bedrooms. It is not uncommon for parents to release a barrage of questions, criticisms, unnecessary comments/jokes or requests to complete household chores. However, bombarding your teen like this can reinforce their desire to stay in their room, out of sight, out of mind. Be sure to purposefully encourage positive interactions to balance out the more negative conversations that you need to have.

This blog post originally appeared in Northern Virginia Magazine online.

ABOUT THE EXPERT

Tyish Hall Brown Tyish Hall Brown, PhD, is an associate professor and the director of Behavioral Sleep Medicine within the Division of Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine.

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