DON’T keep the kids so busy

Sweet Summertime is here! The kids are out of school, and we can finally take a breath, clear our calendars, and relax, right??

Well, that’s what I was thinking until, while scrolling through social media last week, I saw an article titled “How to Keep Your Kids Busy All Summer” (or something like that). The article proceeded to list a plethora of things to do with kids during the summer months from sidewalk chalk to zoo trips to pool memberships.

Just reading it made me tired and I simply thought, “Why?” Why do we need to keep the kids busy all summer? Aren’t they busy enough all during the school year? Don’t they deserve a little time to rest and relax, too?


The guilt & the pressure

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been there – kids at home whining about being bored; parents who have to work; long days of feeling guilty because the kids had way too much screen time; the pressure of #makingmemories! I understand – really, I do.

However, I also know that our kids are more stressed out now than they have ever been – and not just the teenagers. I recently read Blessed Youth: Breaking The Silence About Mental Illness with Children and Teens by Sarah Griffin Lund. In it, she cites research that reveals some disturbing trends. According to a study published in July 2021:

  • Youth ages 12-17 are experiencing a 100% higher rate of major depression than they were a decade ago.
  • In 2019, the most significant burden of disease for young people ages 5 to 19 in the U.S. was mental illness and self-harm at 23.1%. (The next closest was asthma at 6.5%.)
  • The average at which at which youth are dying by suicide is getting younger and the number of deaths by suicide among youth increased by 30% between 2014 and 2017, which was obviously even before the pandemic.
  • Children’s emergency department visits related to self-harm increased 329% between 2007 and 2016. From March to October 2020, children’s visits to the emergency department for mental health conditions increase 31% among ages 12-17 and 24% among ages 5-11.


Read that last one again. Ages 5-11.

Sobering statistics.

In my potentially unpopular opinion, kids and families are overscheduled and overstressed. It’s not the kids creating the schedules and filling the calendars, though. It’s us — the adults.

It all got me thinking about the spiritual practice of sabbath and how (or IF) we practice this with our children. These days, we hear a lot about self-care and mental health breaks for adults, but what about the children? What would it look like if we gave our kids – and by extension, ourselves – the gift of Sabbath time this summer?

Sabbath is an ancient spiritual practice that, traditionally, consists of a day set aside for rest. In the familiar story of creation, scripture tells us: “And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:2-3)

Then, when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments in Exodus, He said, “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work — you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.” (Exodus 20:8-11)

Somewhere along the way, we have stopped honoring this Sabbath practice and gone in the opposite direction, filing our schedules until they are simply bursting at the seams.


Try this instead

How can we practice sabbath this summer? Well, here are some thoughts and ideas to get you started.

UN-schedule time: Ironically, in order to create UN-scheduled time, we have to schedule it! We all know that gaps in our calendar easily get filled in with meetings, playdates, and errands. To practice sabbath, we need to be intentional about creating space for it and not letting other things interfere.

Start small: It does not have to be a whole day. Pencil in an hour each week – or even just thirty minutes to start with. As you get in the habit, you can increase the time and/or frequency.

Practice: It’s called a spiritual PRACTICE – you cannot do it just once. Like any skill you want to improve, you have to do it over and over.

Set some parameters: In her book, Sabbath in the Suburbs: A Family’s Experiment with Holy Time, Maryann McKibben Dana says that, in the Jewish Orthodox tradition, there are 39 categories of work that are not allowed on the Sabbath including everything from cooking to tending a fire to tying knots. However, in our context, it’s not quite that cut-and-dried. She says you should set your own boundaries before you begin including timeframe and what exactly will – and will not – be allowed during Sabbath time. (For example, no screens.)

REST: Finally, Sabbath time is meant to help you draw close to God; to rest so you can be renewed in order to continue doing God’s work. The purpose is not simply to sit and twiddle your thumbs. A website called Minno Kids suggests the acronym of R.E.S.T.

Reflect on the week (or day) that has passed and the week (or day) ahead.
Experience God’s goodness by noticing creation, giving thanks, or reading scripture.
Spend time together, engaging with one another without distraction.
Talk to God through prayer, music, journaling – whatever works for your family or for you as individuals.

It’s been a crazy year. As we move into the different rhythms of summer, know that you don’t have to “Keep the Kids Busy All Summer” despite what some articles or social media might try to persuade you of. It’s okay and even healthy to be bored sometimes. If you have a calendar gap to fill, I hope you will give yourself permission to breathe and consider writing in SABBATH in with a Sharpie.


Lisa Witherspoon is Director of Children’s Ministries at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Greensboro, NC. If someone in your household is experiencing mental health concerns and you need help, please reach out. We are happy to listen and have many resources to offer. You are loved and we are here to offer support. 💗