Time management for teens

Last night I did a Facebook Live chat with the Grown and Flown community. This is a group for parents of teens and college students. We talked about teaching children time management skills. While my oldest is 12, I’ve gotten to know a lot of other young people through various channels, so I shared my ideas for helping kids learn these skills that will help them succeed through the rest of life.

(Because, let’s face it, few adults are exactly perfect in this area either!)

Teens, just like adults, have various commitments and obligations, and things they’d like to do with their time. Like adults, they also have 24 hours in a day. This is complicated by all of us having human bodies that need to sleep, be fed, cleaned, and moved on occasion to function at our best. I’d say that teens are still figuring themselves out, and may be developing the skills of self-discipline, but again — a lot of adults haven’t quite figured this out. Everyone is on a continuum.

So what skills matter?

Get it out of your head. Smart kids may have been able to deal with whatever was right in front of them in elementary and middle school, and probably teachers (and parents!) reminded them of a lot of things too. By high school, this is less the case. Anything that will require time — tests, projects and papers, college applications, rehearsals and performances, big family events — needs to be captured somewhere, like a calendar or planner.

Learn to check in. Good time managers think through their weeks before they’re in them. Kids, just like adults, can learn to set a regular time to look at the upcoming weeks, see what’s happening, set priorities, and schedule these priorities in. Long time readers know I like Friday afternoons. Most people aren’t starting anything new then, so it’s a good time for it. Kids with intense Friday afternoon/evening activities (football?) probably need a different time, but figure out what it is, and help them get in a habit, which you do when you….

Model it yourself. Very few people enjoy being nagged. It’s at least somewhat easier to enforce things like no screens at dinner, or a reasonable bedtime, if adults in a household do these things too. You could ask to see a child’s planner/calendar, but it might be just as helpful to show her yours and ask for suggestions about how you should deal with various big projects and potential conflicts coming up. It’s the same skill but doesn’t involve you judging her. Similarly, teens (like adults) need to exercise, and it’s easy to let this slide when life gets busy. But it’s more effective to simply build in physical activity to required family events (e.g. we’re all going to bike on Saturday and go walk by the river on Sunday) than to harangue someone. A few people liked the suggestion of having a teen be the gym buddy of the parent who does less of the primary caregiving. It’s a good way to build in extra time together.

Break big projects down and build in space. One of the reasons teens get stressed is that they feel they have so much to do, and too little time. So the “good students” stay up late, or skip fun social events, which just exacerbates the cycle. But few big projects come completely out of the blue. If a teacher gives a syllabus, you can write the major projects down. You can start reading a book before it’s officially discussed if you have some extra time earlier in the semester (wow!) When you start a paper two weeks before it’s due, you’re just in the polishing stage by the night before it’s due, which means that if your track team does better than expected and you’re now in an extra meet, it’s all good.

Know the numbers. I think it’s helpful for anyone to track time. You can track time and have your kids track time for a week or two as well. (Although waving a spreadsheet around at your kids probably won’t win you any cool points…) One of the key reasons to do this, though, can also be arrived at just by simple time budgeting. A high school student might spend 35 hours (7 per school day) traveling to/from and being at school. A highly studious child might (maybe) spend 15 hours a week on extra school work. An incredibly involved child might (maybe) spend 10 hours a week on activities. If the child sleeps 9 hours/day (63 per week), this still leaves us with 45 hours per week to play around with. That doesn’t mean seizing those hours for downtime or fun will be easy (it isn’t for busy adults either). But such budgeting at least helps us change the conversation with ourselves to one of logistics from one of existential angst.

I’d love to hear what’s worked with your older children! And please give the Facebook Live chat a watch/listen as well.

In other news: Jasper (my 12-year-old) is taking a short break from movie reviews to focus on box office predictions. For this upcoming weekend (Friday, Saturday, Sunday), he has a few he wants to share…

The Lion King will open at $200 million (domestic). Spiderman will clock in at $22.5 million, a 50 percent drop from the week before. Toy Story 4 will take in $13.37 million, a 36 percent drop from the week before. Crawl (that hurricane and alligator movie!) will take in $6 million, a 50 percent drop from the week before. Aladdin is holding strong many weeks after release, bringing in $5.5 million, about an 11 percent drop from last week.

And Avengers Endgame, which appears to still be around? It will bring in $1.35 million, bringing its total to $854 million domestic, which is just a tiny bit off previous top-earner Avatar. Will it pass Avatar? This is a very exciting question in our house… (Jasper notes that Avatar also had a re-release, so Avengers Endgame isn’t cheating in this regard.)

10 thoughts on “Time management for teens

  1. Thanks for talking about teens! So much about parenting focuses on little kids but parents of teens need help too. As the mother of a new middle schooler who struggles with executive function, your timing couldn’t be better!

  2. > A high school student might spend 35 hours (7 per school day) traveling to/from and being at school.
    That would be nice. Reality at our high school is 40 hours at school per week + travel = 45 hours in year one of four. Of course it only gets worse. Add part-time work (most high schoolers work by their fourth year even during the school year) and you’re at about 15 hours of free time max per week.
    Looking back it explains how I learned to sleep during my commutes and lunch breaks in my third year…

  3. I LOVE the idea of asking the kid to help problem solve a scheduling conflict that’s not theirs. Such a great way to model the skill without the judgment, as you say! I bet this could work for all sorts of stuff 🙂

  4. Laura, I love the back-to-basics tips! I am not a teen nor the parent of a teen, but I find them helpful. Would enjoy seeing more content like this from you on the blog. (Also it took me until my thirties to learn the lesson on breaking big projects down, and now I am much happier for it. Some people can work in sprints before the deadline, but I can’t.)

    1. @Kersti – thanks! I probably should revisit some topics on the blog. I’ve been writing here for a decade or so, but much of the early stuff wouldn’t come up easily. Probably many of us — and I include myself here — could use a refresher 🙂

  5. Thank you. I’ll add that beginning when high school starts it’s often when children need to prune the amount of activities they engage in. Choices have to be made and no one can do it all at the same time.

    1. @Patricia – I’m a big fan of choosing activities well. Stuff that is energizing and meaningful, awesome. The tangential stuff — not so much, for kids or adults.

  6. We definitely worked with our boys on looking ahead and planning out large tasks and projects. My oldest realized in college that he needed to change and still struggles but is finding his way. He is a rebel so fights himself a lot. My youngest learned it much earlier. I am a planner and he is very much like me. Giving them the skills is great but recognize they will do it in their own time.

    My kids were gone from 730-6 most days for HS. Luckily, as boys they could get up and ready in under 30 minutes. Two nights a week were non school extra curricular sand weekends depend on when football games, shows, or camping trips were. They figured out how to budget their time. There school was not big on lots of busy work as homework and most projects, papers and the like were spelled out in the syllabus so could be planned for. They definitely were short on sleep during the week but largely could make up for it on the weekend.

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