School will be starting soon. This means an end to summer relaxation, sleeping in until noon, and having nothing to do all day. For teens, getting back into a routine can be a big challenge. Going back to school means having to manage their time.
I know as an adult, I feel like I rarely have time for myself. I’m constantly balancing work, social life, marriage, parenting with the need to eat regularly, exercise, and take care of my own health. Even though teens don’t have the same demands, that doesn’t mean that they have fewer people asking for their time. I wanted to take a couple of posts to highlight some issues that come up with returning to school. This post is meant to remind parents of the many demands teens have on their time and provide some tips on how to manage those demands. It is definitely not an all encompassing list! We’ll focus on time management today and talk about sports and extracurricular activities in the next post.
Screen time: In this day and age, we are constantly in front of a screen. TV, computers, tablets, smart phones, etc all count as screens. While these can be convenient (my life is organized using my outlook calendar) too much time in front of a screen can distract from homework or lead to decreased physical activity. Ask your teen how much time they think they spend in front of a screen each day and the answer may surprise you. Most children and teens are having up to 6 hours of screen time each day! This is the equal to a full time job. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting screen time to 2 hours daily (not including computer time for homework).
Homework: Homework has always been a challenging thing to add to a day. I know that personally, once I’m home from work, the last thing I want to do is go home to yet more work. For teens, it’s just not possible to separate home and school and as teens get older, their classes become more challenging and homework increases. If they don’t already have good study habits, , tackling a plan for completing homework before the school year starts is a good idea. Talk to your teen about timing for homework. Does having a couple of hours free right after school work best for them, or is it easiest if they stay after school to finish the homework, then head home. Along with getting the homework done, have a plan for turning it in. Encourage them to keep their notebooks fairly organized, they may have a separate folder for completed assignments or a system that prompts them to turn in completed work. Try not to use late night cramming as a way to complete assignments.
Social life/relationships/social media: Encourage your teen to nurture their relationships. These come in all different forms! Developmentally, the early teen years are the peak for conforming with peers. This means that your 14 year old may only want to spend time with friends and will be dressing like them, talking like them, and have similar interests to their friends. As teens get older, romantic relationships become the focus of social relationships (though not for all teens). Talk to your teen about what behaviors are appropriate in a relationship. If they feel threatened, coerced, or isolated due to a relationship those are big red flags that things are not ok. Nowadays most teens are connecting to friends they have both virtually and in real life via social media. This can be great, but also comes with challenges. Cyberbullying can be a real concern and for teens, it is often extremely hard to be able to just ‘unfriend’ someone or cancel their social media page. See our previous posts on social media and bullying for more tips and information on this topic.
Family: Your teen is not the only person in the household with a busy schedule! In most of the families I know, everyone is racing from place to place and event to event each day, taking little time to check in as a family unit. Try to carve out some time as a family each week. This doesn’t need to be elaborate or take hours, but just having a few moments to connect can make a huge difference. Research shows that parents who communicate with their teens have kids who delay sex, are less likely to be involved with drugs and alcohol, and have better self-esteem. Having 7 meals a week as a family is associated with children who are less likely to be obese. Establish a routine check in now, before the school year, complete with soccer games, band concerts, and PTA meetings, is in full swing. One of my friends told me their family check in time was the 10 minutes before everyone left in the morning. She asked each of her kids to tell her one thing they looked forward to that day as they were grabbing a quick breakfast.
Work/volunteer: Many teens seek out jobs during the summer and keep some hours during the school year. It can be hard to stay on top of school assignments and fit in social time if a teen is working too much, but our posts on why it’s a good idea to get a job highlight some of the reasons why it’s a good idea for teens to work or volunteer. Having this responsibility teaches them how to get along with managers, act in a professional setting, manage money, and balance work with other activities in life. Even if your teen doesn’t want to work, many high schools have a requirement for volunteer hours so ask what they might be interested in pursuing.
Exercise and Eating: Taking care of our bodies often takes a backseat to all of the other activities packed into the day, but for teens having good nutrition and regular physical activity not only impacts their physical well being, but their cognitive and emotional well being too. Teens should aim to get 1 hour of activity 5 days a week. This can include walking, biking, skating, dancing. It doesn’t matter if your teen dislikes organized sports or has always been terrible at dribbling a basketball. They don’t need to go to the gym either. Taking the family dog for a walk each afternoon (great for the dog too!) or dancing on the wii are fun and easy ways to fit in exercise. It should be fun, and it’s nice if they have someone to exercise with as well. Eating regularly is also very important. Teens have bodies that are rapidly changing and brains that are developing. This take a tremendous amount of energy. Encourage your teen to have 3 meals a day with snacks (a mid morning and after school snack) so they get enough nourishment. Eating regularly also helps decrease the cycle of over eating at dinner which can lead to binging and obesity. Try to have foods from all the food groups available so they avoid fast food and limit sugary and caffeinated drinks.
Spirituality: Adolescence is a time where it’s very normal to question the beliefs we were raised in, so your teen may start to question spirituality more. For many teens, their belief in a higher power helps shape how they act in circumstances and how they treat other people. Regardless of whether or not you describe yourself as atheist, Christian, agnostic, or Muslim, your teen is likely starting to develop their own personal spiritual life. Be open to having conversations about beliefs and listening to their thoughts. Scheduling worship, volunteer, and youth group activities will need to be balanced into your teen’s already busy schedule, but this can be an important step in building a foundation for how they will nourish their spiritual life into adulthood.
Alone time: Each individual has a different personality. Many people divide personality types into extroverts and introverts. Extroverts tend to thrive and be rejuvenated by social activities and introverts are also social, but often prefer to spend time alone or with a close friend to rejuvenate after a long day. Regardless of your teen’s personality type, they’ll want some time to themselves. I encourage parents to be consistent with communicating which activities are non-negotiable and require their teens to spend time with others (such as family dinner) and when the time can be spent alone. But every teen should take some time to be on their own and work on whatever goals they are trying to accomplish. Alone time can provide valuable insights on determining what we truly want out of life and figuring out who we really want to be (without peer pressure, relationship demands, or media influence).
What are some of the other activities teens are faced with balancing? What tips to readers have for other parents?