How Parents Can Prevent Isolation and Loneliness During Summer Break

When I was in high school, I remember the rush of anticipation I felt when summer break was approaching. Popular TV shows and movies often reinforce this sentiment, portraying summer as a time of freedom and fun with friends and family. For many, however, this is far from reality. The absence of the structure and support systems that schools provide can often result in feelings of sadness, isolation, and loneliness. And it wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned my older sister was one of the students who dreaded the time away from school. This is partly because it’s not always easy to spot when a child—particularly a teen—is having a hard time.  

According to a 2021 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 42% of high school students reported experiencing persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness to the point that it disrupted their normal activities. Even more alarming, this figure has increased by 14% since 2011, and it is expected to continue growing. And as we observe Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s important that we highlight these statistics because they are more than just numbers—they represent the lives of real children. 

Causes of Sadness, Loneliness, and Isolation in Children and Teens 

Summer break is almost here, and when students are away from the structure and support systems that schools provide, they can become more susceptible to increasing feelings of sadness, loneliness, and isolation. Some factors that can contribute to these intense negative feelings may include:  

  • Family issues, such as divorce, conflicts, or death of a loved one 
  • Hormonal changes 
  • Personal factors, such as chronic illness, low self-esteem, personality disorders, or bullying 
  • Increased awareness of world events, such as gun violence, natural disasters, political strife, or social issues 

Another major cause comes from increased use of social media. According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory, 95% of children aged 13 to 17 reported using a social media platform, with more than a third of this number claiming to use social media “almost constantly.” When polled, 46% said social media made them feel worse. A highly sensitive period of brain development occurs in adolescents from ages of 10 to 19, and during this time, mental health challenges such as depression can emerge as well as an increased susceptibility to peer opinions and comparisons. Which means, filling free time during summer break with TikTok, Snapchat, and other social media apps can only make matters worse.  

How to Give Purpose to Your Child’s Summer Break 

So, as parents, how do we incorporate meaningful activities and interactions during summer break to help prevent feelings of sadness, loneliness, and isolation? Here are some ideas that can give purpose to your child’s summer days: 

Attend Summer School 

Your child can explore a topic they are genuinely interested in, gain valuable skills, or work toward an early graduation or lighter class schedule in their senior year. Summer school can also help prevent summer learning loss.  

Many families turn to online schools, such as K12, for flexible summer programs that students can participate in from their own homes. In addition to offering summer courses, K12 provides a wide range of enrichment and socialization opportunities within a safe environment. For example, the K12 Zone is an interactive virtual campus, where K12 students can make friends, attend club meetings, and enjoy activities such as trivia nights. Students also have unlimited, free access to an extensive online library through Big Universe and educational gaming platforms, including Minecraft Education and Stride Skills Arcade. K12 also places a strong emphasis on the importance of students’ mental health by providing tips and resources on their mental health awareness hub. This wide range of resources can help students continue learning and engaging with their peers throughout the summer break. 

Get an Internship 

Students can gain experience in a business or industry they find interesting without having to work full-time. These opportunities look great on college and job applications and can give your child real-world experience in an exciting field.  

Work a Summer Job  

I am convinced that nothing forges stronger friendships than working together in a service industry, and to this day, I have remained friends with coworkers from my first job as a restaurant server. In addition to building lasting friendships, your child can earn money, gain experience, and learn the value of work ethic and perseverance in stressful situations. 

Be Career-Oriented 

Does your child have a career goal or a skill they’d like to build? Help them explore their interests! If they enjoy writing, encourage them to write an op-ed or a short story. Are they interested in working with children someday? Help them find volunteer opportunities at their local hospital or a summer camp. 

Work Outside 

Help your child plant their favorite flowers or vegetables in your own garden or encourage them to start a lawn mowing gig in your community. Being outside this summer will give them exercise and sunshine, while providing the opportunity to earn money or develop some gardening skills. 

Dive into Some Good Books 

Your child can get ahead on next year’s reading list or explore a genre they genuinely like. Visit the local library together and find some new options to dive into this summer. Or check out this list of book recommendations from K12 employees: 10 Timeless Stories to Inspire Your Reader 

How to Recognize Your Child May be Struggling 

These are just a few ways to help give your child structure to their summer break, while surrounding them with caring peers and trusted adults who can help keep them engaged and provide support, if needed. And while these activities can help prevent feelings of isolation and sadness, it’s essential that we stay aware of the signs that may indicate our children are experiencing a difficult time. Here are some common things to look for: 

  • Feeling or appearing sad, irritable, or tearful 
  • Spending less time with, or having conflict with, friends or family 
  • Loss of interest in, or enjoyment of, normal activities or hobbies 
  • Changes in sleep pattern and appetite 
  • Feeling tired or having less energy 
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering things, or making decisions 
  • Self-blame, self-criticism, guilt, or sensitivity to rejection or failure 
  • Feelings of hopelessness or emptiness 
  • Agitation or restlessness 
  • Outbursts or risky behavior 
  • Consistent complaints of headache or stomachache 
  • Unexplained crying spells 
  • Poor hygiene or self-care 
  • Self-harm or talk of suicide 

As parents, we may not always be aware when our children are feeling lonely or sad. And while we can do our best to recognize the signs and teach them how to cope with strong or negative emotions, it may not always be enough. By taking a proactive approach and engaging them in summer activities, like summer school, we can help them stay connected and maintain a support system. Most importantly, if your child is demonstrating any of these signs and you have concerns about their well-being and mental health, talk to them and contact their pediatrician or a mental health professional, if needed.  

To learn more about K12-powered online schools, go to  

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