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How to parent smarter not harder.

Getting teenagers into a routine

Getting teenagers into a routine is a topic that frequently comes up in my discussions with parents of teenagers. And especially so around exams and during the recent coronavirus homeschooling / lockdown periods. It can be hard to know when to just leave teenagers to it and when to be more directive.

The answer (as so often) is probably somewhere in the middle – exactly where in the middle will depend on your teenager’s maturity, temperament and motivation.

The great thing about routines is that they can help to establish positive habits. Things like getting up in the morning, getting homework done, exercising regularly and helping out around the house. When you are in a consistent routine, tasks become closer to a habit than a chore. Getting teenagers into a routine helps them to develop self-discipline and can help reduce repeated conflict around contentious issues.

So what’s the best way to get your teenager into a positive routine?

Design the routine together

Arrange a time to sit down together and discuss it. I usually say something like “I seem to be nagging you a lot at the moment about homework/mornings/chores which isn’t much fun. I’d like 10 minutes to sit down and talk to you about it so we can stop arguing. When would be a good time today/tomorrow for us to do that?” Give them input on when (not if) the conversation happens.

Start off by asking them for their thoughts rather than launching straight in with a complaint or solution. Even if they don’t think there is a need for change, explain calmly why it is causing you a problem and invite them to come up with ideas that would make things better. Take their suggestions seriously and don’t let them sabotage the conversation. For example, if the idea they come up with is “You could just back off and let me get on with my life!” you could answer, “Yes, I could. But I don’t think that would be the responsible thing for me to do as a loving parent so we probably need to come up with a compromise idea.

Talk about goals

The point of a routine is to help you achieve something – such as getting somewhere on time, getting better at a skill or sport, or getting the grades you need. Getting teenagers to set goals for themselves – and then breaking those goals down into small steps – is a really useful way to kickstart a new routine. Questions like “What can you do this week that will take you closer to that goal?” or “What progress will you need to have made by the end of this term to get on track for that goal?” are really useful here.

Be prepared to compromise

You might think that the best way to approach revision is to get up at 6.00am and get it all done before lunch time. You may even have done that when you were a teenager (though you would have been in a tiny minority if you did!). But there is not a lot of point insisting that your teenager follows that schedule if they are dead set against it. You know what will happen – they will just ignore the alarm. Or put it on snooze for 3 hours.

Instead, talk to them about when they study best. What works for them? How many hours a day do they feel they need to study in order to meet their goals? What are the fixed points when they aren’t available to study. How much time does that leave for studying? Work collaboratively with them to scope out a routine. It may not be your ideal and you may not  think it will work. But agree to try their best ideas for a week and see how it goes – with the proviso that if it isn’t working, you’ll try out some different ideas instead. There might be a few false starts but these are all part of the learning process. And getting teenagers into a routine is ultimately about helping them learn how to do that for themselves.

Harness your teen’s motivation

When it comes to change and doing difficult things, motivation is everything. You teen might be naturally motivated to reach their goal or they might need to factor in some rewards to help them stick to their routine. For example, taking a day off studying at the end of the week if they have stuck to their schedule. Identify some positive enablers by asking “What would help you stick to the routine?” They might need some practical support (a whiteboard in their room or a new alarm clock!). Or you might be able to support with small treats to support their motivation – their favourite pizza if they stick to the schedule all day or a movie night at the end of the week. (See Supporting children through exams for more ideas!)

Track progress & review the routine regularly

If you can, get your teenager to write down the routine you have agreed. This helps with accountability and means you can track progress together. Set an early review period for a new routine. That way, if the routine isn’t working or falls apart you can tweak it. Take the same approach to reviews as to the initial conversation. Let them have input into where/when the conversation happens (not if) and start by asking them how they think it is going. What has worked well? What hasn’t worked well? Why? What have they learnt? Reviews are not an opportunity for you to have a go at them, they are a chance to collaborate to find a better solution!

Those are my top tips for getting teenagers into a routine. Like most things to do with parenting teenagers, it isn’t always easy – but do persevere and be collaborative, it really will help. Good luck!

'Getting teenagers into a routine' by parenting expert Anita Cleare - photo of a teenagers lying on the floor listening to music

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