How you can teach your teens time management skills

How you can teach your teens time management skills Cover Image

As kids grow older, their various commitments can become time-consuming and cause them to despair. An educator shares tips on time management that will help them overcome this battle.

Time management skills are the preserve of the super-organised folk. Ever heard this one before? More likely though, as a parent to a teen, you may be familiar with some of the statements below. Read through and let me know if you can relate.

Ma! I am tired now; please don’t tell me to clean my room.

But dad, I have been on the Net for only an hour! How can you say I have been on Facebook all day!

I have no time to chill. All I get to do is school, homework and tuitions. I hate it!

Am not hungry now, don’t want to eat anything. Just let me sleep!

Sound familiar? If yes, then go ahead, ask your teen the following questions, and match it with your own understanding of his/her stress levels. Mind it, don’t ask them all at the same time!

  • Do you get enough sleep every day?
  • Do you get time to hang out with friends over the week?
  • Are you tired/energised all day?
  • Do you get enough time to do your homework and projects?
  • Are you always rushing till the last minute preparing for tests and exams?
  • What is the current distribution of your day between studying, playing and leisure?
  • Are you satisfied with the time you get spend on the net/social media?
  • How do you feel about the list of things that you have to do and want to do?
  • Do you have daily/weekly/monthly goals for yourself?
  • What activities do you consider as non-negotiables for feeling good?

Discuss with your teens what they feel about the answers and what would they like help with. More often than not, it would be “I just need more time!” and the only sure way to get that is to be able to organise it better. For time as we all know, is finite and measurable. This attribute of time can be used to work for us instead of against.

As an educator, I have often discussed and counselled parents who are either concerned or frustrated with their teen’s time management habits. The list of top 5 non-negotiable expectations from their growing child that I have heard from them are listed below. You may want to list yours, chances are it would be some or all of the following:

  1. Eating healthy, sleeping enough and personal hygiene.
  2. School and homework.
  3. Sharing household responsibilities like laying the table for dinner, taking the dog for a walk, helping grandmother with her skype call.
  4. Spending time with family, especially on occasions that are significant like birthdays, rituals, outings.
  5. Working towards a defined goal – short and long term. For eg. A short term goal could be baking a cake for friend’s birthday party or planting in the garden patch and a longer one could be learning to play soccer for school team or learning to play the guitar.

While all of the above need time, there are some other essentials in your teen’s life which when overtake their day’s schedule, end up being the time guzzlers. I asked a few teens on what they want to do with their time and also share the ones they think make them waste time; they picked the following. You can help them manage these.

Taming your teen’s top time guzzlers

Television: Ask your teen to pick out specific shows that interest him and put them on record so that he does not have to watch them by appointment. He can schedule a specific amount of time during the day or week to catch up with that favourite show. A routine can also be made to watch it with the family or friends to combine hang out time and entertainment time.

Video games: if you see that gaming is taking up more time than your teen can afford in her schedule, use it as a reward time. For e.g. After finishing homework, you can turn on the play station or catch Pokémon for an hour.

Social media: Facebook updates, YouTube videos, Whatsapp and Instagram are part of our lives. Definitely that of your teen’s. Set aside time for that specifically. Allocating time, will stop any of the activity from overflowing into the rest of the schedule.

Sports and hobbies: These are necessary but sometimes they end up becoming time guzzlers. For example, there’s the phenomena of skate boarding/roller blading/wave-boarding among teens. This is a great one for outdoors and core-muscle building but can get out of hand with respect to time when coupled with Pokémon catching or for that matter just plain hanging out before and after.

The same goes for sports whether swimming, tennis or soccer. If it’s a club that your teen is part of, discuss with the parents of other children and sort out the logistics and time for practice, with due consideration to the activities that are already in the schedule that you have charted out with our teen already. Overall, time needs to be balanced and spread across the interest areas in discussion with your teen. Avoid over-scheduling. Keep breathers within the schedule.

Hanging out: There’s a thin line in understanding this one as it is as much a time guzzler as much being an actual emotional need for teenagers. They want to spend extended periods of time with their peers and any amount of hang out time feels less. You can combine one or all of the above to an overall chunk of time to be spent socialising – virtually and physically.

Help your teen break down the time and tasks

  • Scheduling is key : Discuss with your teen every week once on what would be the broad outline of the week. To begin with, you can share yours. Role modelling is the best way to teach (and preach!). You may consider a side by side list to be put up on a white board, soft board or on the refrigerator – which would include to do list in the categories of:
  • Definitely (just have to be done)
  • Should be ( can be partially done or pushed if ‘definitely’ is taking more time)
  • Love to ( leisure and feel good activities, include some short and some long duration to be able to fit in as the schedule permits)

Once this list is made, schedule them day wise. A to-do list remains a to-do if not scheduled. Allocation of dedicated time is critical to achieve success of a to-do list. You can use technology for this with apps and planners.

Model good time management habits yourself and share your challenges and successes with your teen. If you are asking your child to fill in the schedule, go ahead and fill in one yourself. Remember to schedule leisure!

As you discuss yours and your child’s schedule week on week, you would find yourself more understanding of your own and your child’s needs and priorities without nagging. You will find that routines would develop over time, of doing certain activities in a certain order like playing a game right after school or doing some specific chores at home right before or after dinner and so forth.

Setting rules and expectations clearly with consequences –  This works better than continuous reminders which in turn reduces the child’s responsibility and ownership for his/her schedule. Use this opportunity to instil a long term life skill of time management in your child.

This will go a long way for not only estimating the time that will take him/her to work on a project but to manage and work towards much complicated long term goals. And while at it, manage your own time as well which is at a premium, fraught with distractions and responsibilities. It’s alright to feel stressed at times – tell your teen to accept it when he/she feels stressed. Share with him/her what you do to relax when you are stressed.

Here are some suggestions for both parents and teens to try out

  • Make a list of immediate matters that are causing the stress and prioritise – helps in avoiding procrastinations.
  • Break a big task into modules – for eg. When I have to take a workshop, make a presentation or write an article, I write down the sub topics, sort out the research papers I would need to read, short list and book mark the sites I need to refer, list of people I  I would like to tackle; similarly, if you ask your child to clean their room, break it down further by listing smaller tasks within – as cleaning out drawers, sorting out cupboard, clearing the desk, arranging the shelves and so on so that one task at a time can be achieved.
  • Do something to clear your mind of stress and think clearly like go out for a walk, swim, run outdoors. If indoors, take a shower, do a couple of yoga poses, drink hot tea/chocolate.
  • Take a small break to read a short article or watch a TED talk.
  • Call a friend or family for a quick chat.
  • Seek help if you think someone in your network would be able to support you in it – same for your child – sometimes putting on music and cleaning one’s room with a friend becomes the most fun thing that teens can engage with turning a chore into a playdate.
  • Last but not the least – if you or your child has over-committed, do not hesitate to pull back from one or two of those.

As your teen starts enjoying the benefits of time management skills, it would become a virtuous cycle for attending any task of significance. The immediate benefits would be palpable, like:

  • Relative calm before projects are due or before school tests.
  • Sense of responsibility and independence.
  • Increased time for socialising with friends.
  • Guilt-free time for chilling out.
  • Over all better demeanour and better performance at school and home.

Recommended Video to watch: 

How to gain control of your free time: A TED talk by Laura Vanderkam

*A version of this post has also been published here.

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