Summer Vacation and the Three Questions
Roughly a year ago I wrote a piece titled The Value of Time Off. Immediately below is a condensed version of that piece (it bears repeating each year), and that is followed by a description of the three questions I’ll pose to our high school students at our closing assembly in a couple of weeks.
In The Value of Time Off, I mentioned that taking vacation time has been linked to increases in productivity and creativity, as well as positive health outcomes for adult workers. While our high school students are not yet in the workforce, the value of taking vacation time absolutely applies to them. We know that there is cultural and social pressure for them to “build their resumes” during the summer, and there’s some merit to that, but the value for them in taking time off, truly taking time off in the summer, cannot be overstated. Time off for them means at least many consecutive hours, if not consecutive days, without school work or other tasks that require sustained cognitive focus. For them, socializing is time off. Camp is time off. Hanging out with family is time off. Playing sports or walking outside is time off. Or laying in the grass, or daydreaming. Anything that shifts their experience from the intensive need for extended cognitive focus that is part and parcel of their school days.
Please know that I’m not arguing against summer classes, summer internships or other summer programs that require sustained cognitive focus. I recognize that some of our high school students are scheduled to engage in such activities in the coming months, and that engagement is likely to be beneficial for them. Even with those activities, the summer offers a different rhythm. In the afternoon or evening, when an activity is concluded for the day, there is an opportunity for time off. If there are days between the end of one activity and the start of another, there is an opportunity for time off. If a decision/commitment has yet to be made for a student to register for an additional activity, consider the value of not proceeding with it.
During the school year, when students’ schedules are tighter, breaks of minutes and hours are possible and needed, and some extended breaks and/or vacations are also feasible. With the transition to summer, the possibilities certainly expand. Recognizing that individual family and student circumstances play an important role in determining how students’ time is spent during the summer, let’s strive to help them find balance in the coming months and remember that they need to be restored and rejuvenated, just as we do.
Of course, with more free time in the summer, high schoolers are faced with additional opportunities to make wise choices. In this vein, at our closing assembly (for the third consecutive year) I’ll urge them to consider three questions before taking a specific action over the summer:
1. Is it safe?
2. Does it make sense?
3. Would you be willing to tell your grandmother you did it?
Families might choose to use these three questions, or a version of them, to talk with their high schoolers before school is out or shortly thereafter. In the event that is done by some or many, a bit of elaboration on the questions, here, may be helpful.
Safety is both physical (e.g., Is it safe to stand on a skateboard and hold onto the back of your friend’s car as your friend pulls out of a parking lot?) and psychological (e.g., Is it safe to spend an evening with another person who has been consistently mean or even hostile toward you in the past?).
When engaging in an action does not make sense, that is often the case because it is unsafe. But sometimes the safety of an action is debatable and high schoolers like to debate, especially when the topic is something they want to do or want to justify after the fact. For example, does it make sense to drive four hours to see the same music concert you have seen three times in the past year when you need to be up at 7am the following morning and the earliest you will get home is 1am?
After considering whether an action is safe and makes sense, why, exactly, should a high schooler picture telling her/his grandmother about it before doing it? Why not picture telling one’s parents? In my opinion, good parenting involves setting limits for children. It involves saying no, judiciously, and facing the upset and sometimes anger of the child. In the best scenario, over time, the child internalizes when the parents say no, when they say yes, and then makes wise choices independently. However, during the process of learning, the child may not always do exactly as the parents instruct. “Pushing back” against parents is not uncommon for high schoolers, and therefore, considering the parent’s perspective on a potential action may not give the high schooler pause. Differing from parents, grandparents are usually not “in the trenches” with their grandchildren. The grandparent/grandchild relationship tends to be less fraught with natural conflict or tension, and more exclusively about the grandparents loving and adoring the grandchild. Grandmothers, in particular, sometimes have especially unequivocal adoration for their grandchildren (this can, of course, be true for grandfathers too). Maybe, just maybe, in the mind of a high schooler, the thought of facing grandma, who gives me nothing but unconditional love, doesn’t “give me a hard time,” and “puts me on a pedestal” is enough to keep me from doing what is not in my best interest.
Thankfully, in the JDS community, there are ample examples of high schoolers who do make wise choices. There are high schoolers whose actions enliven and inspire. They are already on the path of making independent decisions that are healthful and enriching. I’ll be sure to mention this sentiment, too, at our closing assembly. Indeed, I have faith that our high schoolers will take the reins and soar, both during the coming summer and into the future.