Inside: Time management for teens can be tricky to teach, especially with so many distractions and their desire to spend time with peers. Here’s a few tips that may help.
It’s 6:30 am on a Monday morning, and I hear my high school son’s alarm going off, but he’s not moving.
He likes to set a few alarms every five minutes before he actually gets out of bed. Apparently, he’s created this little wake-up routine that works for him.
But it’s getting late, so I go into his room, where he rolls over and mumbles how he wished he didn’t have to go to school.
Thankfully, my son usually gets up and ready on his own but on this particular morning, he was justifiably exhausted. Unfortunately, it was because of his poor choices in managing his time, so I said, “Oh honey, I’m sure you’re so tired!! I’m sorry about that, but you’re going to school.” #naturalconsequences
Time management is an important life skill for teenagers
The weekend was packed with a ton of activities, some that were planned and others that transpired impulsively. And it’s those random decisions he made that resulted in him being more exhausted than necessary.
He stayed out too late on Saturday night when he should have been home getting things done and getting some much-needed rest. Sunday was a big day where he drove two hours each way to an amusement park with three of his best friends, and he came home exhausted.
He made some judgment calls, and now he’s paying the price.
I understand that his friends are really important right now, and he would much rather hang with them than do most things. But he needs to learn he can’t always do what he wants to do to follow through on his responsibilities and meet his goals.
He’s also a chronic procrastinator who waits until the last minute to get things done, which results in some late-night study sessions and frantic last-minute preparations.
His lack of time management adds a lot of stress for him, so I keep hoping at some point, he’ll manage his time better, so this doesn’t happen as often. I’ve been trying to help him organize his time more effectively so he doesn’t feel overwhelmed with balancing everything.
But clearly, we have some more work to do during his last few years of high school.
The benefits of time management are clear
What is time management?
It’s not surprising that people who manage their time well are more productive, less stressed, and have more time to focus on things that matter to them.
Some other benefits include:
- Stronger decision-making skills
- Ability to focus better
- Decreased anxiety
- Feeling of greater control over your life
- Increased energy
- Better self-esteem
- Improved work-life balance
- More opportunities to achieve life and career goals
Time management is something that is learned over time
Time management is a soft skill that must be taught and practiced. We’ve been working on his time management skills since I found a blank weekly reading log that was due back when he was in grade school. I’ll never forget sitting him down and telling him this is his responsibility and now his consequence. I ensured him that I believed he was smart and mature enough to handle his schoolwork on his own, although I would gladly give him reminders and support along the way.
During his high school years, his schedule became busier. In addition to a more challenging academic schedule, he plays sports, holds a job, and has an active social life. Soon, he will need to make time for college planning, adding another huge component to his packed schedule.
It’s a lot to balance successfully for a teen with a developing brain. It’s a juggling act that is even hard for us old people, so I try to give him grace and direction and a lot of reminders when needed.
Three tips to help your teen develop their time management skills
While every child is unique, there are a few techniques that I have found work in our home. We’re not there yet, but I feel confident he will get there.
Every kid matures in their own way regarding making daily decisions and being responsible with their time. What has helped my kid may not be helpful for others, but I think it’s safe to say we all want our teens to be prepared for what lies ahead when they will be on their own someday. I’m still figuring out what works best for my teen, and he still has a long way to go. But so far, I’ve found the following parenting techniques to be useful in teaching him how to manage his time more productively.
Have your teen use a calendar when planning his/her schedule. (Either a family calendar or a personal one or BOTH is ideal. (Note:The Parenting Teens and Tweens editorial team loves the Echo Show to manage our families’ busy schedules.)
I always make sure my teen adds all of his sports practices and games, along with his work schedule and any other activities he plans, to our family calendar.
It’s tedious, and he hates doing it, so I have to remind him often. But I think the task helps him practice responsibility and communication while developing organizational skills.
If he wants my support and help with anything in his plans, I need to know about it. Also, it helps us have a better relationship because there is less nagging or follow-up conversations because it’s all on the calendar hanging on the fridge.
I know there are several great scheduling apps people use that are very useful too, but I like having a tangible and visible reference guide in the center of our home. We all add our schedules to it, so everyone knows each other’s plans.
Since my kid has NEVER been one to use his own personal assignment notebook, much to my dismay, this family calendar has been our method of operation. My teen has told me he uses “notes on his phone” to keep things organized, but at this point, he takes his own personal calendar with him wherever he goes.
I believe he is succumbing to this reality and has agreed to use the most recent planner I’ve bought him (out of many). Another idea I suggested is using his phone’s calendar or an app, which might be easier for him. Like most kids, he can navigate his device easily, so this might be what works best for him. (We’ll see…)
I told him if he needs help with managing his schedule, I would be happy to help him. Logging all his activities and responsibilities has always overwhelmed him, which is why he procrastinated. While my daughter was diligent in using her assignment notebook and personal calendar, for my son, this has been a challenge.
I know once he gets the hang of it, he will be grateful to have a method of balancing his life more efficiently. He thinks it’s just extra work, but we all know that writing things down is always a good way to stay organized.
Counsel your teen on how to map out their days, but don’t do it for them
I’ve spent years guiding my kid through daily decisions to help him make the best use of his time. Each evening, I ask what is on his schedule for the following day and what he needs to accomplish. This helps him focus on the details a bit more, and if he hasn’t already, he can map out his agenda and think through the tasks he needs to get done.
During this process, I might suggest some ideas on how he can better balance it all, but ultimately, I let him decide and then try to let go.
Sometimes I will notice he isn’t doing what he planned out, so I’ll casually mention it to him. He will respond with his explanation of the modification or thank me for the reminder because he got off track with some distractions.
Then there are times he changes his plans dramatically with impulsive decisions. It’s usually to go out with friends, or he gets sucked into a movie during his snack break from doing his homework. I will often warn him that he will reap the consequences if he doesn’t get back on task, and he usually has lots of explanations and justifications to which I’ll say, “Okay. It’s in your hands.”
And I let him suffer the natural consequences.
It’s hard to know how much we should step in at this age and how much we should let our kids learn through their own mistakes. Some kids need strict structured rules, while others might need to learn through tough life lessons.
I tend to fall somewhere in the middle of the road, sometimes saying no to his requests and other times giving him the opportunity to figure things out on his own and pay the price if he makes poor choices.
The older our kids get, the more we want to let them navigate making these decisions more independently. But we all know our kid’s needs, and the goal is for them to succeed with whatever works best for them.
Let teens decide what works best for them. It may not be exactly your way, and that’s okay.
It’s so hard not to tell our kids what to do, but we must allow some room for them to learn how to manage their time on their own. Sometimes that means they reap the results with some hard consequences, but other times I’ve learned they have found a different way to do things that works better for them than what you suggested.
For example, my son always procrastinated doing his chores on the weekends until the last minute on late Sunday night. I reminded him repeatedly to get his chores done, and it was a constant battle.
I would lecture him on managing his time better on the weekend so he could get his chores done sooner — to no avail. So finally, I set a new rule that he must get his chores done on Saturday mornings before he could do anything else.
I told him this was to help him learn how to manage his time better and not go through the overwhelm every single weekend of the late-night Sunday debacle.
This backfired immediately.
He explained that Saturday is his “let down” day, and with his sports and work and school, he is usually exhausted from the busy week and wants to sleep in, spend time with his friends, and not do any work. He asked if we could adjust this expectation to Sunday night because “Sundays are my days to get everything done.”
I agreed because I realized he was telling me what works best for him, and I wanted to respect that, but only under one condition: it couldn’t be a late night deadline. I set a new day and time for him to have all his chores done Sunday at 9:00 pm. (Not 11:00 or 12:00 pm, ahem.)
Some other basic time management tips for teens include:
- Goal setting. Talk to your teen about personal goals, and then what they need to do to achieve them. Encourage them to include working towards these goals daily or weekly. Write them down and estimate how much time is needed to reach your goal.
- Develop routines. When we have a routine, we’re much more likely to follow through with a task. Encourage your teen to do their laundry on a certain day or make their lunch at night. Eventually these habits will help them be more productive with their time.
- Teach your teen how to prioritize. Label activities as 1, 2, or 3. Ones are high priority and need to come before everything else (i.e., school work, scholarship deadlines or employment), and a 3 is a nice-to-do (hanging with friends, video games, movies.) Teach your teen how to have a mixture each day to balance their commitments. Seeing it on paper can help a teen understand what their life looks like.
- Set flexible boundaries on tech use. Teens need to learn how to put down their devices, but putting some limits in place can help. We all know how easy it is to get lost on our phones, so encourage your teen to set timers when scrolling or watching videos so they don’t waste hours on a mindless activity.
It can be frustrating watching your teen manage their time ineffectively
There are always fluctuations on this precarious path of parenting our teens, depending on their strengths and weaknesses and the circumstances they’re in. Thankfully, we have their own natural consequences to teach our kids how to manage their time as they grow up and reap either the reward of good decisions or bear the burden of poor choices.
As they get older and wiser, they will learn that being intentional with their time helps makes all the overwhelming details of their busy life easier to manage.
Are you in the thick of raising your tweens and teens? You may like this book by Whitney Fleming, the co-owner of Parenting Teens & Tweens: Loving Hard When They’re Hard to Love: Essays about Raising Teens in Today’s Complex, Chaotic World.
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