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Written by Nicole Bolf

Time Management for teens might be a topic that is causing adults and teens to butt heads right now, but one commonality between the two groups is the desire for more down time.

The start of a new school year always adds an abundance of things to a teen’s to-do list, which seems to only get longer throughout the academic year.

The recent challenges of navigating  distance learning and trying to effectively manage everyone’s time has likely evoked feelings of stress and anxiety causing the whole family to feel like they have no time for themselves.

It is important for adults and teens alike to feel that they have adequate down time. The only way to get the most out of your down time is to take control of your schedule and actually pencil it in. This concept may seem silly, but without actually scheduling designated down time, people often don’t use the time for what it’s intended for: reduced activity or inactivity.

The activity below is a simple first step in helping your teen identify holes in their schedule to make room for some much needed and deserved down time.

Teaching Teens To Use Their Schedule in an Advantageous Way

Sit down with your teen and have them write down their daily schedule for each hour of every day for a week (it’s ok to estimate timing and not get too specific with every single detail).

Sample Daily Schedule

Not every day will be the same, so mapping out a week is helpful. For example, a teen’s Monday schedule might look like this:

♦     7am: wake up

♦     7-8am: shower, get dressed, eat breakfast

♦     8am-3pm: school

♦     3-4pm: soccer practice

♦     4-5pm: homework

♦     5-6pm: tv

♦     6-7pm: family dinner and dishes

♦     7- 10pm: finish homework, watch tv, text friends

♦     10pm: sleep

End of Week Evaluation

Once they have their seven days in a week recorded, have them mark each item:

♦     a letter “M” for mandatory activities such as school, sleeping, or sport commitments

♦     an “E” for any extracurricular “optional” activity such as friends, TV, computer time, etc.

Beware, you might have some disagreements on what should be classified as mandatory or extra. Your teen might consider sleeping until noon mandatory. Try and let them take the lead with this!

Family Discussion

Take some time to reflect on the following question as a family: 

There are 24 hours in each day. How many hours do you have control over?

Lightly, and I repeat lightly, help your teen identify activities that could be alternated to create bigger gaps of “free” time. For instance, if your teen spends 1.5 hours in the shower, point out this is potentially something that can be shortened. This is a good and safe opportunity to help your teen visualize how they are using their time.

Definition of Downtime

You may have noticed that nowhere on the example schedule does it actually say “downtime.” From 5-6pm it lists TV time, which to some might imply down time, but the creator of the schedule might not feel the same way!

How many times have you sat down to watch a tv show and suddenly you’re 30 minutes into the episode with no idea what’s happened? There are varying explanations as to why this happens.

Maybe you received a dramatic text message from a friend that you absolutely had to respond to without even thinking to pause the show and therefore you stop focusing on the plot altogether.

Perhaps you’re stressed about how messy your house is and are mentally cleaning it instead of paying attention to what is happening on the show. Your brain is not using the act of watching television as actual downtime. The same type of thing that happens to teenagers.

A teen watches TV while thinking about his school assignment.

Even though your teen may have completed some homework prior to turning on the tv, chances are high they are still stressed and overwhelmed about a specific assignment they are planning to complete (or not complete) later in the night.

While their body might be physically plopped in front of a television with mounds of snacks, their minds are elsewhere. They’re likely over thinking an assignment or dreading doing one, thus making an activity that seems to be down time the opposite of relaxing.

Visualize Your Downtime

To assure your teen is doing things that are actually meaningful to help them relax, help them make another list that clearly names things they consider free-time or downtime. Some examples are:

  • Going for a walk or jog
  • Watching a movie
  • Taking a reasonably lengthed nap
  • Playing video games
  • Doing yoga
  • Playing an instrument
  • Cleaning the house (just kidding, this is clearly wishful thinking)

Once you’ve helped your teen with their down time list, help them find the best place to insert each activity into their daily schedules. Hint hint, you deserve to make your own list and insert it into your day too!

Time Management Tutoring Now

Remember, even prior to the Covid Crisis, teens have always struggled with time management. While you have them at home, there are some strategies you can essentially tutor them on that will help them manage their time now and in the future when school goes back to “normal”.  Here are some basic tips:

Test Preparation

  • Start studying early, not the night before
  • Use a study buddy (someone you will actually study with and who can hold you accountable)
  • Use flashcards or some other structured way to access information
  • Quiz yourself
  • Explain the material to someone else
  • Every 50 minutes take a 10 minute break (just 10 minutes!)
  • Get a good night’s sleep before the test

Projects or Homework

  • Start early
  • Break large items into small pieces- if you have an assignment you know will take several hours, do about 30 minutes a time
  • Do difficult parts first so you don’t spend time dreading them

Test Taking (knowing these tips might help ease test anxiety, which also causes students to put-off studying altogether)

  • Read directions carefully
  • Do not spend too much time on any one problem
  • Focus on the questions that are worth the most points
  • Mark the questions you do not know or want to go back and check
  • T/F questions

♦     Trust your instincts

♦     Read carefully, if any part of the statement is false the answer is false