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Laurier researcher studies summer parenting advice
Jun 25/14| For Immediate Release
Linda Quirke, Assistant Professor
Lori Chalmers Morrison, Acting Director
WATERLOO – For parents, summer can feel like anything but a vacation.
According to a recent study by Laurier professor Linda Quirke, parents can be placed in an almost impossible situation during the summer. After investigating parenting magazine articles about the summertime, Quirke found that parents are told to rigorously structure their children’s days during their time off school, ensuring that they have a productive summer and don’t fall behind academically. Meanwhile, they must also “make the most” out of the two months of warm weather with fun activities to keep their children happy and create the same fond summertime memories parents have from their own childhoods.
“Advice magazines present a typical summer as one where parents — typically mothers — invest a great deal of effort and plan for every possible outcome months in advance,” said Quirke. “Parents are prompted to protect children from insidious elements like sun and water, keep them amused, manage new routines, children’s resistance and emotions — all the while ferrying them from location to location, all summer long.”
For her study, “How You Should Spend Your Summer Vacation: Parenting Advice Regarding Children’s Time in Summer, 1985-2013,” Quirke analyzed 144 Today’s Parent magazine articles published between 1985 and 2013 that touched on the topic of summer.
Fear was a strong theme in the parental advice about the summer. Parents are faced with the fear of letting their children slip academically and be at a disadvantage when the school year starts; the fear of not giving their kids the most enjoyable summer experience and the fear of allowing their children to be harmed in the great outdoors.
The articles Quirke studied painted the summertime in a contradictory light. On one hand, summer is portrayed as a relaxing time for children, but on the other, parents were reminded they have a responsibility to make sure their kids are doing more than watching TV for two months. The articles also stress the importance of enjoying the outdoors while the weather is warm; however, parents are also told being outside exposes children to a multitude of risks, so they should always have sunscreen and bug spray handy.
Quirke also found that advice was overwhelmingly targeted towards mothers, with fathers being mentioned in very limited contexts such as barbecuing and camping. While the articles did present options for families with two working parents and single-income households, the advice was generally geared to middle-class heterosexual families with the assumption that mothers take on the brunt of the parenting responsibilities.
“Parents are encouraged to apply principles of intensive parenting to the planning and orchestration of an idealized summer experience for children: some relaxation, but mostly organized activities that promote academic pursuits, while mitigating the inherent riskiness of summer,” said Quirke.