As preteens enter the hallways of middle school for the first time, they often feel totally overwhelmed by the amount of teachers, classrooms, schedules, textbooks, new friends, and homework assignments to manage. In fact, well into high school, most students struggle with managing their lives, for there is always a limited amount of activity, money, and energy to be spent in a day’s time. Truth be told, most adults fail to manage their lives well every day. We all have bad days, but for a teenager the results can be devastating when day after day is mismanaged.
It is NOT all about fitting in one more thing each day to be more productive. It is NOT about putting an iPhone in the hands of every second grader to maximize their efficiency. Nope. It’s about living well. It’s about setting a healthy rhythm to our lives. And ultimately, it’s about living according to OUR OWN values, not society’s values. Here are some ideas for helping kids (and adults) manage their time better, in order to live a more deliberate, healthy life.
First, explore the concept of priorities. Discuss what a priority is and why it’s so valuable. Discuss how priorities need to reflect our deepest values, and how the way we spend our time should reflect our priorities. In other words, we should order our priorities from first to last, according to what we value the most, all the way down to what we value the least. Ideally, we will attempt to spend our time accordingly, making sure that our highest values are not neglected in any day.
Second, examine the way he or she actually spends his or her time each day of each week. Account for all the time spent in a week. Sit down and plot out each day, half-hour by half-hour. Count up the average hours of sleep, school, homework, television, exercise, internet use, eating, chores, and everything. It may reveal some areas well worth congratulations, as well as areas needing improvement, based on how well it all seems to match up with his or her priorities.
Third, devise a system of keeping track of all dates, appointments, to do lists, and memos. It might be cheap little spiral notebook or a beautiful leather day planner or a slick little cell phone full of “apps.” Whatever works. And if it fails to work, then a new system must be purchased and implemented. Every middle and high school student needs to use one. Schedule every unusual event of the day, including not only tests and dentist appointments, but also outdoor play time, media time, family time, and social time.
Fourth, organize his or her locker, backpack, and academic binders. These areas must be kept relatively clean and organized. There are very-very-few students who can succeed in school when their locker, backpack, and binders are a mess. There must be an easy-to-access place for everything (not necessarily all clean and tidy).
Fifth, set an effective morning routine. Mornings are rough for nearly every teenager, since they rarely get enough sleep; most are zombies until about third hour. So, make the morning routine just that – a routine full of actions which require little deviation or thought. You might even need a checklist on the bathroom mirror for a while: out of bed at 6:15, floss, shower, dress, eat cereal, pack lunchbag, etc.
Some kids might need to incorporate just one of these strategies per week, since a whole-hog change might be too much for some. Take a few steps, celebrate the progress, then take some more steps, and celebrate again.
As with all things related to kids, the most powerful strategy of all is for them to observe the adults in their lives modeling the behaviors appropriately. Do your best to manage your own time, and be sure to include them in your thought processes as you make decisions daily. If they see you wrestle with your plans and priorities every day, they will be more confident in doing it themselves.
And finally, we need to help them help themselves. In other words, we should not do all the organizing and planning for them. This will not teach independence; instead, it will cripple them. So, after your get them set up, try to guide them from the side, giving them space and encouragement to succeed at managing their own time. Here’s another article about teaching kids to be independent
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