Now Is the Right Time!
As a parent, you play an essential role in your teen’s success. There are intentional ways to grow a healthy parent-teen relationship, and daily routines provide a perfect opportunity. Routines not only help your family move through the day smoothly and on time, they can have a significant impact on your teen’s success.
Research, for example, shows that consistency with a bedtime routine ensures teens are getting the sleep they are required to maximize their learning the next day at school.1 Though our teens may desire more independence and flexibility with their daily routines, the structure and predictability in the morning, after school, at dinnertime, and at bedtime can promote healthy habits and offer a foundation of stability during the many changes they are undergoing. Teens and emerging young adults ages 15-19 are paying attention to more nuances of your life decisions and examining your career, friends, and leisure time with a whole new perspective as they formulate their own sense of identity and independence.
Yet, there are challenges. “Seriously Mom, a routine for bedtime?” might be a phrase you’ve heard uttered. Whether it’s going to bed at night or getting ready for school in the morning, our teens may engage us in power struggles when they have other goals in mind like – how can I assert my independence by staying up longer? We may regularly feel frustrated with our lack of or changing influence as our teens assert control over their lives. Make no mistake, your influence is quite powerful.
The key to many parenting challenges, like establishing routines, is finding ways to communicate so that both your needs and your teen’s needs are met. The steps below include specific, practical strategies along with effective conversation starters to prepare you.
Whether it’s engaging in a battle with your sixteen-year-old over staggering bathroom times in the morning when everyone is getting ready for the day or your eighteen-year-old struggling to get out the door on time in the morning, establishing regular routines can help your family get through the day cooperatively while building vital skills in your teens.
Today, in the short term, routines can create:
- greater cooperation as we go about our daily tasks;
- greater opportunities for connection and enjoyment as we each implement our respective roles and feel set up for success;
- trust in each other that we have the competence to complete our responsibilities with practice and care; and
- parents’ daily peace of mind.
Tomorrow. in the long term, your teen:
- builds skills in collaboration and cooperative goal-setting;
- builds skills in responsible decision making, hard work, and persistence;
- develops independence, life skills competence, and self-sufficiency; and
- deepens family trust and intimacy.
This five-step process helps you and your teen establish routines. It also builds important skills in your teen. The same process can be used to address other parenting issues as well (learn more about the process).
These steps are best done when you and your/teen are not tired or in a rush.
Step 1. Get Your Teen Thinking by Getting Their Input
You can get your teen thinking about establishing routines by asking them open-ended questions. You’ll help prompt their thinking. You’ll also begin to better understand their thoughts, feelings, and challenges related to your daily routines so that you can address them. Seeking a teen’s input and offering authentic choices in designing a plan from the start can offer multiple benefits. In gaining input, your teen:
- has the opportunity to think through the routine and problem solve through any challenges they may encounter ahead of time;
- has a greater stake in anything they’ve designed themselves (and with that sense of ownership also comes a greater responsibility for implementing the routine);
- has more motivation to work together and cooperate because of their sense of ownership;
- will be working in collaboration with you on making informed decisions (understanding the reasons behind those decisions) about critical aspects of their day; and
- will grow problem-solving skills.
- Ask questions to invite your teen into a dialogue with you. You might just start by asking:
- “How much sleep do you need to be successful?”
- “When and how does homework typically get accomplished each night?”
- “When and how do we prepare for and eat family dinner together?”
- “What do we do after we wake up to prepare for the school day?”
Did you know that doctors and medical professionals use checklists as the easiest, best way to keep track of daily processes they have to go through to serve patients?2
- As your teen transitions to a young adult, they may feel they are now independently managing their lives and do not need family check in. Consider, however, that living in a community with a group of adults requires cooperation and contribution to daily routines. Be sure you acknowledge that your young adult is not a child anymore, and you want to coordinate with their schedule at their new young adult level. Perhaps, all adults including your young adult write down their morning routine (or other daily routine) simply on a whiteboard or chalkboard for your reference (to know what they are up to without asking all the time) and also for their reference.
Because teens are asserting their independence, you may want to work alongside them creating your own adult morning checklist modeling while also empowering them to design their own.
Be sure you create your plan at a calm time. Don’t create your plan when you are either in the routine itself, are hungry or tired, or have time pressures.
- Discuss challenges. As you talk about the progression of your morning routine, talk about times that are typically challenging. For example, your teen may go back to sleep when the alarm goes off in the morning – pressing the snooze button a few times – requiring you to eventually wake them up.
- Ask, “Seems like getting up on time is challenging. How can we address that to make getting up easier and so that you can do it independently?”
- Brainstorm ideas to solve the problem, i.e., “Are you getting enough sleep at night? Do you need a different ring on your alarm?“
Make sure your teen knows the facts about required sleep at various ages. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 14-17-year-olds require between 8-10 hours of sleep per night, and 18-25-year-olds require between 7-9 hours per night.1
To avoid battles about getting enough sleep, take a weekend and agree upon a reasonable bedtime to test needed sleep. Make sure it’s not a particularly stressful day for your teen since sleep can be altered by stress. Allow your teen to wake up naturally. Then, count the hours. How long did they sleep? That’s likely the exact amount of hours they require each night.
- Write your plan. Make sure your teen is the one who is writing down the checklist or plan (It doesn’t have to be perfect). Go for simple. Post your plan in a visible location. Refer to it as a reminder during the morning routine, i.e., “What’s next on our plan?”
Step 2. Teach New Skills by Interactive Modeling
As parents, it’s easy to forget that teens are learning to perform everyday typical tasks with greater independence each year of their lives. A helpful way to identify what kinds of tasks teens can take on to demonstrate greater responsibility is to learn about what developmental milestones they’re working on whether physical, cognitive, social, or emotional. Here are some examples:
- Fifteen-year-olds show an increase in demonstrating independence while also respecting rules. You can make the connection between greater privileges and their ability to show responsibility. They will have greater self-control than younger teens.
- Sixteen-year-olds may fight chores, routines, and contributing to your household with more vigor as they grow in their confidence and identity and feel they should have the freedom to do more on their own without the ties to your household. They desire risk taking. Part-time jobs and getting a driver’s license can become healthy ways to fulfill that need.
- Seventeen-year-olds have completed puberty, and thus are fully inhabiting their adult bodies, yet their adult brains have not fully formed. These young adults are beginning to envision their future outside of your home. Some may be terrified while others will embrace and be excited by the future possibilities. They are more independent still and are taking less risks as they view their uncertain adult future.
- Eighteen-year-olds will be more comfortable with adult responsibilities and returning to you for advice again. They don’t feel they need to fight for their independence anymore since they are on the threshold of the adult world. They may fear their future and be also relish in the possibilities.
- Nineteen-year-olds can be living on their own, so if they are not yet, think about them as an independent emerging adult under your roof. They can and should be making their own decisions about their daily and bigger choices like who to befriend or with who become romantic. They may seek your advice and guidance knowing that, ultimately, they now have the right to choose for themselves.
Teaching is different than just telling. Teaching builds basic skills, grows problem-solving abilities, and sets your teen up for success. Teaching also involves modeling and practicing the positive behaviors you want to see, promoting skills, and preventing problems. This is also an opportunity to establish meaningful, logical consequences for when expectations are not met.
- Though teens would often like to appear fully capable and independent, they are still learning the tasks of family life. Consider: “If my teen left our house and lived away from us today, would they know how to do a load of laundry, how to pay for utilities and rent, and prepare three healthy meals a day?” Thinking about what tasks they’ll need to be able to do when they are on their own can offer you guidance on areas to step up their responsibilities. When you’ve identified those areas, you’ll need to teach them to do those new tasks.
- Because teens and young adults are glimpsing a future without you, they may appreciate your willingness to work alongside them and provide guidance and support if, for example, they’ve never made a family dinner. There is a simple process called interactive modeling that teachers use that can become a powerful teaching tool for parents.3
- Say what you will model and why.
- Model the behavior.
- Ask your teen what they noticed.
- Invite your teen to model.
- Ask what they noticed with their own modeling.
- Practice together.
- Provide specific feedback starting with strengths using “I notice…”
If you suspect that your 15-19-year-old might be resistant to being taught a new task by you, then this can be done subtly. Just working side by side on a project and chatting about what you are doing actually models the behaviors, promotes reflection on what you’re doing, and helps transfer the skills to your teen.
Your 15-19-year-old is more interested in considering their independent future so use this as a motivator! They may have fears about managing on their own. So, your support and guidance could actually help them feel more confident and capable. Make a priority of having a family dinner together at least once a week to connect despite busy schedules!
Step 3. Practice to Grow Skills, Confidence, and Develop Habits
Your daily routines can be opportunities for your teen to practice new skills if you seize those chances. With practice, your teen will improve over time as you give them the chance with support. Practice grows vital new brain connections that strengthen (and eventually form habits) each time your teen performs the routine.
Practice also provides important opportunities to grow self-efficacy – a teen’s sense that they can do a task successfully. This leads to confidence. It will also help them understand that mistakes and failures are part of learning.
- Use “Show me…” statements. When a teen learns a new ability, they are eager to show it off! Give them that chance. Say: “Show me how you prepare a meal for our family. I’m here to help if you need it.” This can be used when you are in the routine and need to move on a next step.
- Recognize and appreciate effort. Frequently, we offer feedback on what our teens are not doing right, but how often do we recognize when they are working on their behaviors? Recognize effort by saying “I notice…” statements like, “I notice you made a plan to get enough sleep last night. I appreciate seeing your sense of responsibility in action!”
- Proactively remind. Remind in a gentle, non-public way. You may whisper in your teen’s ear, “Don’t forget…”
The best way to turnaround a misbehavior is by recognizing when and how your teen is making good choices or acts positively in similar circumstances. They need to learn what to do as well as what not to do.
Don’t move on or nag or do it for your teen. Be sure and assume that they will take their responsibilities seriously and accomplish them. If they don’t, then discuss it in the bigger picture. Allow them to face real world consequences and then discuss. Assure, “I know you are capable, but you are not on time in the mornings. Have you heard from your teacher about being late?” And ask, “Can we talk about what’s happening? How can I support you in getting out on time?”
Step 4. Support Your Teen’s Development and Success
At this point, you’ve taught your teen a new or challenging task so that they understand how to perform it. You’ve practiced together. Now, you can offer support when it’s needed by reteaching, monitoring, coaching, and, when appropriate, applying logical consequences. Parents naturally offer support as they see their teen fumble with a situation in which they need help. This is no different. But, the challenge of this age range is that they may initiate a fight if they feel you view them as not fully competent. Be sure you are empowering them to fully implement a task. Be there if they need you but only if they ask for your support.
- Ask key questions.
- “Are you all set with what you need to make dinner?”
- “Do you need any help finishing up so that you can get to bed when you planned?”
- Reflect on outcomes: “Seems like you got to bed later than you hoped last night. Were you feeling tired today? Did you have a hard time paying attention in class?”
- Apply logical consequences when needed. Logical consequences should come soon after the negative behavior and need to be provided in a way that maintains a healthy relationship. Rather than punishment, a consequence is about supporting the learning process. First, get your own emotions in check. Not only is this good modeling, when your emotions are in check you are able to provide logical consequences that fit the behavior. Second, invite your teen into a discussion about the expectations established in Step 2 for the routine. Third, if you feel that your teen is not holding up their end of the bargain (unless it is a matter of them not knowing how), then apply a logical consequence as a teachable moment.
- Stay engaged. Working together on particularly challenging times of the routine can help offer additional support and motivation for your teen when tough issues arise. Be sure to pose the challenge as a question and allow your teen to provide solutions.
- Engage in further practice. Create more opportunities to practice when the family has time together.
Step 5. Recognize Effort and Quality to Foster Motivation
Though adults tend to forget, our attention is still our teen’s sweetest reward. They want and need our recognition of their competence in order for them to feel competent.
It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness and business of getting tasks accomplished like getting to work and school on time in the morning. But if your teen is working hard to get to school on time in any small ways, it will be worth your while to call it out. After all, your recognition can go a long way to promoting more of the same positive behaviors and expanding their sense of responsibility. Add to their motivation to work hard by the following actions.
- Notice! It may seem obvious but it’s easy not to notice when all is moving along smoothly. When teens are buzzing through their homework tasks and on time, a short, specific call out is all that’s needed. “I notice you completed that major assignment on time. Yes! Excellent.”
Be specific. “Good job” seems to not carry much meaning. However, a specific compliment about a pointed behavior – “You made your bed and cleaned up your room. Love seeing that care for your space!” – can promote more of the same.
If you focus only on outcomes – “You got out of the door on time” – you miss the chance to influence the process. Better to say – “You were able to wake up early, complete your project, and come downstairs right on time.”
This age group is thinking ahead to the days when they’ll be on their own. Comments that point out how they are acting in ways that are self-sufficient will help them see how contributing to your daily family life can also help them achieve their personal goals.
- Recognize small steps along the way. Don’t wait for the big accomplishments – like the full morning routine to go smoothly – in order to recognize. Remember that your recognition is a tool to promote positive behaviors. They need to happen along the way. Find small ways your teen is making an effort and let them know you see them.
- Build celebrations into your routine. For example, after making a family meal we’ll all do the dishes together to get them done quickly and then head to the ice cream shop.
Avoid gifts or other physical rewards or performance. These actually have a de-motivating effect on teens. When you remove the money, for example, have they internalized the skills and also the sense of responsibility for performing them? There’s less of a chance if you’ve offered a “bribe.” Focus on your attention as the best reward. Your attention and recognition add to their feelings of competence. This is an essential strategy in discipline for skill building.
Family celebrations are different than bribing for behavior. In the bribe, you bait ahead of time in order to get a teen to behave a certain way. But, celebrations instead can be decided upon and occur after hard work has taken place. If you are working hard on holding a garage sale with all family members contributing, then celebrate with a trip to a local bakery. These kinds of celebrations recognize cooperation, work ethic, and contribution in a connecting way.
Avoid screens one full hour before bedtime (that includes phones). The bright light of the screen fools your eyes and brain into thinking it’s daytime and fuels your body that way. It can put off your ability to go to sleep and get a solid night’s rest. Educate your teen on this fact so that you aren’t viewed as setting an unreasonable rule but are only following through on what’s known about sleep and screens.4
Engaging in these fives steps is an investment that builds your skills as an effective parent to use on many other issues and builds important skills that will last a lifetime for your teen. Throughout this tool, there are opportunities for teens to become more self-aware, to deepen their social awareness, to exercise their self-management skills, to work on their relationship skills, and to demonstrate and practice responsible decision making.