We’re all anticipating the good times ahead that summer brings. It’s filled with vacations, camping, swimming, sports, and plenty of downtime. Even though there’s a lot of fun to be had, many parents want to continue to nurture responsible habits and teach their children the fundamentals to be prepared for life.

However, too often, we wait until late adolescence to start teaching this. We then realize that our teen has no intention of taking on responsibility, especially during the summer. They believe, and have often been taught, that summers are for fun only and that they shouldn’t do any real ‘work.’

The ‘making it easy’ approach to summer

Many children face the summer with multiple vacations, hanging at the pool, and an endless array of sleepovers and day trips to entertain them. They won’t crack a book, pick up a rake or make a bed. Mom or Dad is not only planning what seems like an endless array of entertainment, but they are also responding to ongoing requests for sleepovers, pool parties, and sudden get-togethers. For others, sports practice and playing emerge as the primary activity, and family fun seems to hinge around these events.

All things considered, the focus is on making sure children get to do (mostly) what they want. The ‘making it easy’ approach is filled with ease and fun, and little responsibility. Parents seem to serve more like taxi drivers, day trip planners, and ‘boredom fixers.’

So, what’s the problem, you may ask? Isn’t this what everyone else is doing?

Seeking balance: Easy vs. hard?

Somehow, in the middle of this overloaded world of opinions and social media, our sense of being reasonable has failed us and we have lost our compass.

We seem to want our kids to have only ease and fun, not realizing that this will come with consequences. Perhaps more problematic, we too easily seem to follow the lead of our children’s wants and desires. It’s almost as if the more we give our children what they want, the more we seem to think this is good for them. We see this trend growing, as six-year-olds carry IPhones and a Starbucks cup.

Children do not know what they need. They confuse what they need…with what we want (and we do too!).

Until a solid, responsible maturity is reached, children will tend to want what is easy, what is enjoyable, and what relieves any pressure or sense of anxiety. They will incessantly argue and fight for that easy path. (Some adults take this path as well, of course.)

Notice, if you walk this path with your kids, your children seem to get almost everything they want, while putting forth little effort. In today’s world, this translates to a very abundant life for your children, without any investment on their part.

Such choices come with two consequences, which many of you already experience. First, there is usually very little sincere gratitude for all your efforts. What happened yesterday is irrelevant. It’s now, “What will YOU do for me today, Mom?” This is often quite poignant during the summer months, as week after week of effort on your part is met with minimal gratitude from your children.

Secondly, there is an inevitable building of a sense of entitlement. Kids often feel they have a ‘right to an abundant life without any effort or investment. We have trained them for this and may do so again this summer.

The bottom line is this: If we make things too easy for our kids, life will be harder later.

The solution: Balance responsibility with fun

When we review the research on life success and satisfaction, the common-sense formula is that hard work and effort must be balanced with some time to rejuvenate and enjoy. It is also a clear requisite for continued optimal functioning and good mental health.

When too much demand or responsibility is required, life is drudgery, for adults as well as children. We have no sense of ease and no opportunity to re-energize.

We also see that muscle that we fail to use begins to atrophy. This is true for ‘brain muscle’ as well. When we learn a skill and then ignore it for months, our skills decline. Academically, children consistently lose between two and three months of their academic skills. Why? Because we put no demand on those skills during the summer.

No surprises here: Preparation comes from preparation!

I know that sounds redundant, but let me explain. If we want our kids to be well prepared for the school year this fall, we prepare them. If we want our children to be well prepared to take responsibility in life, we give them responsibility.

Honestly, there is no secret psychological formula. Our children will benefit from working the ‘muscle’ of responsibility and effort this summer.

The balance is simple: requires some work and effort each day. Not a lot, just enough to keep the academic muscle strong. And don’t hesitate to require daily chores around the house before the friends come over or the fun begins. Even if you start small, the benefits are large.

You will be thankful as the years progress because your child will learn lessons from life that your words will fail to teach. Offer them these lessons, while still enjoying an awesome summer. Remember to follow me on Facebook and Twitter for great tips this summer.