A doldrum is really a region of an ocean that is noted for dead calm and sparse winds. Sailors speak of those areas with much trepidation, since doldrums can cause low spirits, sluggishness and dangerous lethargy.

Children can get doldrums during the summer. Let's call it a disease - the "doldrum fever." Although it's never fatal, this disease can slow a child's mental processes and prevent him from reaching his full potential.

Summer is a great time for kids. They love playing outside, sleeping late, and taking a break from school work. Family vacations are usually arranged during the summer months and are typically recreational in nature: camping, seashore, amusement parks, and even visits to relatives.

The cause of summer doldrums is simple - having three months of not having to think too much. Symptoms include a dull stare (from eyes fixed on TV), sore fingers (from constant video game-playing), bloodshot eyes (from staying up later than normal) and frequent use of the word "Huh?" (a sure sign of brain deterioration caused by not having to think of a better word).

How can you prevent the summer doldrums from affecting your child? Here are a few suggestions that might help.

1. Insist that your child spend at least 30 minutes per day reading something. Get him a library card.

2. Arrange some meaningful activities - cooking with a recipe, planting a garden, cleaning his room.

3. Let him find a job - pet sitting, yard work, grocery shopping, cleaning the attic, weed-pulling.

4. Have him keep a journal that chronicles daily activities, trips taken, people visited, movies watched.

5. Be sure that here are some educational video games available in your home and require that they be given equal time.

6. Get your child interested in the daily news. Have him converse with you about it.

7. Send your child to summer school, a camp, or the library summer programs.

8. Teach your child a new sport - golf, tennis, fishing, croquet, biking, volleyball - an, most important - swimming. Every child should know how to swim.

9. Take a walking tour of some nearby historical sites. Have your child follow a map and lead the way.

10. Set up a weather station - thermometer, barometer, rain gauge, and windsock. Have your child serve as family weatherman. Nightly reports can be issued at dinner.

Certainly, summer is a time for play. But, all play and no work make your child a prime candidate for the "summer doldrum disease." This affliction will never have a telethon to help find a cure. Parents need to do that all on their own.

Contact Dr. Smith at: jsmith1313@cfl.rr.com or in care of this newspaper.