Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, family routines have been turned upside down. Young people have had to adjust to remote or hybrid learning, less in-person social interaction and increased screen time, as well as the disappearance of many of their usual sports and activities. Now with summer, everything is changing again. Schedules are generally more relaxed, and many young people are finding themselves with a lot of unstructured time on their hands.
But adolescents and teens need routine for the sake of their mental and physical health. Knowing what to expect on a daily basis provides security and can help ease stress and anxiety. Completing certain tasks every day, no matter how small, gives a sense of accomplishment that can have a powerful impact on how a young person feels. Devoting certain times of the day to exercise or outdoor activities are basic self-care strategies that support wellbeing and resilience.
So, routines, even simple ones, are critical anchors for maintaining good mental health. They create a positive level of stress that keeps young people focused on something outside themselves.
Build a Schedule
Getting teens and adolescents to cooperate with a regular schedule, is another story. Children this age want independence and autonomy, and they will likely not take well to an imposed program. As a parent, your best chance of encouraging them is to:
- Build a schedule together. Have your young person take the lead in deciding what they should do, when.
- Make decisions together about priorities. Exercise, time for reading, a hike, swimming or volunteering, could be activities that both you and your teen can agree should happen every day, few days or once a week.
- Allow for flexibility. Following the schedule shouldn’t get in the way of summer fun.
- Understand that your child will need breaks. After all, it is summer break. Your teen needs time to relax and unwind.
- Write it down. Having a checklist or schedule available in writing, will help your teen follow the plan.
- Consistency. Have mealtimes, wakeup and bedtimes happen around the same time every day (but allow for flexibility).
- Stick with it. Routines take time to sink in and become a habit.
A Word About Sleep
Having a regular and consistent sleep schedule is essential for physical and mental health. But teenagers’ sleep cycles often get out of whack, especially over the summer.
In 2020, Challenge Success surveyed 10,000 high school students and found that high schoolers were getting an average of 6.7 hours of sleep per night – well below the recommended nine-hour benchmark, which only 7 percent of students were hitting. Five percent of students regularly slept under four hours per night, the research team found. During the school year, many young people are extremely busy and stay up late to get homework done while also having to get up early for class. Over the summer, a lack of structure can lead to unhealthy sleep habits. Many teens report staying up late to play computer games or text with friends, sleeping into the afternoon the next day and then having trouble falling asleep at night.
But we know that adequate sleep helps to stabilize a young person’s mood and reduce irritability and depression. Research also shows that adolescents and teens who get enough sleep tend to make better decisions and be less impulsive around risk-taking.
The Cleveland Clinic recommends the following strategies for adolescents and teens that can help regulate their sleep cycles:
- Be consistent: Stick to a consistent bedtime and wake time. (Most teens need 8 to 10 hours per night.)
- Bye-phone: Avoid electronics before bed. If your teen must use a gadget in the evening, try an app that filters out blue light, which can be stimulating.
- Wind down: Before bed, try a quiet activity like reading.
- See the light: Try to get natural light in the morning. Go for a walk or eat breakfast near a sunny window.
- Move it: Get regular exercise.
- Don’t nap: Avoid naps longer than 45 minutes or after 5 p.m.
- Use your bed for sleeping: Stake out another area to do schoolwork or lounge around during the day. (This helps your brain remember that bed = sleep.)
- Breathe in, breathe out: Use relaxation techniques to help you fall asleep. People old and young are feeling extra stress and anxiety right now. To calm a racing mind, try tools like deep breathing, mindfulness apps or progressively squeezing and releasing your muscles, starting at your toes and working to your head.
If your adolescent or teen is unable or unwilling to follow a routine, there may be something else going on. Consider having them evaluated by their physician or a mental health professional. Contact me. I’m here to help if you need further guidance.