Listen to an audio file of this tool.
Now Is the Right Time!
As a parent or someone in a parenting role, you play an essential role in your 15-year-old 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 your teen 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, your teen may engage you in power struggles when they have other goals in mind like — “How can I assert my independence by staying up longer?” Using the steps below can help navigate this struggle with skill. 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.
Establishing regular routines can help your family get through the day cooperatively while building vital skills in your teen. Routines can help your teen feel safe because they know what to expect and are better able to learn from the rich experiences you have together every day. When there are changes to the routine – expected and unexpected – this will also help your teen learn to be flexible and practice adjusting to new situations.
Today, in the short term, routines can create
- regular sleep habits, which help teens perform better in school;
- greater cooperation and motivation as you go about your daily tasks;
- connection and enjoyment;
- structure to ease stress and increase cooperation and motivation as you go about your daily tasks;
- feelings that your teen can make sense of their world;
- a sense of mastery when your teen repeats routines and knows what to expect; and
- added daily peace of mind!
Tomorrow, in the long term, your teen
- builds skills to handle unexpected challenges in life;
- 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.
Five Steps for Establishing Routines
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 done best when you and your child/teen are not tired or in a rush.
Intentional communication and a healthy parenting relationship support these steps.
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 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:
- “What do you think is helpful about having routines?”
- “How does having a routine make the day go smoother?”
- “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?”
- As your teen transitions to a young adult, they may feel they are now independently managing their lives and do not need a 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 could 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. “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. “What’s next on our plan?”
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
Step 2. Teach New Skills by Interactive Modeling
As a parent or someone in a parenting role, 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 do 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 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 and are taking fewer risks as they view their uncertain adult future.
- Eighteen-year-olds will be more comfortable with adult responsibilities and returning to you for advice. 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 yet 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 routines and bigger choices like whom to befriend or to 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.
- 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.
- As 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…” statements.
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 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 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 onto the next step.
- Recognize and appreciate effort. Frequently, teens get feedback on what they are not doing right, but how often do you 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!”
- If there is part of a routine that is not working, talk with your teen about ways that you might change your plan for it to work better. “It seems you are struggling to wake up on time in the morning. Is there something you can do to help you get up on time? Could you go to bed a little earlier? Would moving your alarm clock away from the bed so you have to get up to turn it off help?”
- Proactively remind. Remind in a gentle, non-public way. You may whisper in your teen’s ear, “Don’t forget…”
The best way to turn around a misbehavior is by recognizing when and how your teen is making good choices or acting positively in similar circumstances. They need to learn what to do as well as what not to do.
Don’t move on, nag, or do a task for your teen. Be sure to 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, your teen is developing routines and practicing them so they can learn how to stick to the plan of their usual routine and be flexible enough to manage changes. Now, you can offer support when it’s needed by reteaching, monitoring, coaching, and, when appropriate, applying logical consequences. Parents and those in a parenting role naturally offer support as they see their teen fumble with a situation in which they need help. This is no different. But, your teen 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?”
- Recognize effort by using “I notice” statements like, “I notice how you started your homework right after school without me asking. That’s taking responsibility!”
- 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 feelings in check. Not only is this good modeling, when your feelings 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
No matter how old your child is, your praise and encouragement are their sweetest reward.
If your teen is working to grow their skills – even in small ways – it will be worth your while to recognize it. Your recognition can go a long way to promoting positive behaviors and expanding your teen’s self-esteem and confidence. Your recognition also promotes safe, secure, and nurturing relationships — a foundation for strong communication and a healthy relationship with you as they grow.
You can recognize your teen’s efforts with praise, high fives, and hugs. Praise is most effective when you name the specific behavior of which you want to see more. For example, “You got out the door on time — love seeing that!”
Avoid bribes. A bribe is a promise for a behavior, while praise is special attention after the behavior. While bribes may work in the short term, praise grows lasting motivation for good behavior and effort. For example, instead of saying, “If you keep your room clean, you can invite some of your friends to come over for dinner” (which is a bribe), try recognizing the behavior after. “You have been keeping your room clean and your bed made. I really appreciate that!”
- 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 noticed you completed that major assignment on time. Yes! Excellent.”
- 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. It needs 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 everyone does the dishes together to make the task quick, and then head to the ice cream shop.
Your teen 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 is also helping them achieve their personal goals.
Engaging in these five 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.