Supporting Your Teenagers : Agreeing on Schedule Flexibility

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Up until the teenage years, children generally are pretty happy if they're told when they have to do things. But with a growing sense of independence, your teenager may quickly decide that such time-dependent scheduling is being “treated like a child.” What can you do to alleviate the stress this situation causes without having your family's schedule fall apart? The following sections answer this question and offer information to help you decide when and how to adapt your scheduling to accommodate your family's teenagers.

Reviewing Assigned Chores

You can begin by looking at the chores that you've assigned to your child. Do a lot of them have to be done at specific times? If so, you may want to start to reassign these chores to someone else, especially a younger member of the family. Instead of these chores, delegate tasks to your teenager that require more responsibility. Frequently, these tasks are not as time-dependent. Get buy-in from your adolescent by allowing her to have some input into which family responsibilities she'll take on. Explain that she'll still have to contribute the same amount of effort—or maybe even more—to the family, but that she'll have more autonomy in determining when she'll make the time to do it. Table 1 shows you some trades that can be made between time-dependent chores and time-flexible chores.

Table 1. Time-Dependent Versus Time-Flexible Chores
Time-Dependent ChoreTime-Flexible Chore
Walking the dogWashing the dog
Loading the dishwasher after dinnerChopping vegetables for dinner
Putting out the trashMowing the lawn
Picking up siblings after schoolPicking up dry cleaning
Placing the family's carryout dinner orderResearching airfares for the family vacation

Of course, sometimes there's just no one else available to undertake a time-dependent chore. For example, if you and your teenager are the only people in your family who are old enough to take the dog for an afternoon walk, and you have to be at work at that time of day, then the chore cannot be reassigned to another family member.


A new driver might be willing to take on more chores that involve using the car.

Don't just insist that your teenager conform to a schedule that accommodates this task. Instead, ask him if he can propose a workable alternative. Perhaps he'd like to pay the next-door neighbor to walk the dog. Perhaps he'd like to undertake a household project you would have paid someone else to do in exchange for your hiring someone to walk the dog. Or perhaps he'd like to start a dog-walking service and get paid to walk other people's dogs along with yours. The solution to which you agree is not nearly as important as the dialogue that gets you there. When your teenager has some ownership of the outcome, he'll have a more cooperative attitude about implementing it.

Unfortunately, sometimes there simply is no alternative to your teenager having to do a chore at a certain time. You can use these situations as opportunities to reinforce your adolescent's sense of maturity by explaining that having these sorts of responsibilities is a part of growing up and becoming an adult.

Balancing Leisure Time

Sometimes it seems—at least to the adults—that all teenagers do is sit in front of the computer, play video games, and watch television. So, naturally, if the family's schedule is becoming hectic, it's easy to place the blame on these seemingly lazy members of the family. But don't forget that all family members need leisure time in their schedules . If you think your teenager is wasting too much time, have an open discussion with her and come to an agreement about how much time she should be spending in front of a video monitor. You can set up parameters in a number of ways:

  • A single total of time allowed per week or per day for recreational computer, video games, and television. For example, 16 hours a week spent among these activities in any combination.

  • A total time per week for these activities with a daily maximum. For example, 16 hours a week, but no more than 3 hours a day.

  • A time limit per week or per day for these activities collectively with specified caps on individual activities. For example, 16 hours a week on these activities, with a maximum of 5 hours of TV watching.

  • A time limit per week or per day for each of these activities individually. For example, a maximum of 2 hours of recreational computer, 1 hour of video game playing, and 1 hour of television watching per day.

  • A trade-off against time spent doing something “more productive.” For example, each hour of recreational computer, video games, and television must be balanced against a certain amount of time spent doing homework, studying, and reading.

Whatever the system you work out with your teenager, you can indicate your trust in her ability to manage her life by letting her monitor her own time by filling out a log similar to the one in Table 2. If you're using a trade-off system, you'll want to add columns to keep track of homework, studying, reading, and their totals, as well. Getting your teenager accustomed to keeping a log will also promote her understanding of the pace at which time passes.

Table 2. Computer—Video—Television Log
 Week of ___________________________ 
 Recreational ComputerVideo GamesTelevisionTotal

To make the use of a log as effortless as possible, try one of the following:

  • Compose the master log form on your computer and print out and post a new form each week.

  • Compose the master log form on your computer and have your teenager fill out the form on the computer and print—or electronically send—the report for you each week.

  • Create the master log on paper, photocopy several weeks' supply, and post a new form each week.

  • Create the master log on paper, laminate it, and have your teenager fill it in each week with a dry-erase marker; then you check it and wipe it clean for the start of each week. (Caution: Use this method only if you are confident you'll review and wipe the log clean before the start of each week.)

Acknowledging Your Teenager's Outside Responsibilities

Your teenagers will be seeking employment to earn money, too. They may start with jobs such as babysitting, delivering newspapers, and mowing lawns. Then they'll probably progress to employment with required hours. These jobs are very important to your teen, so you should give them the same sort of precedence as your job in your family's schedule.

To complicate your scheduling endeavors further, teenagers frequently find jobs with early morning, late night, or irregular hours. So, here again, you are presented with the opportunity to collaborate with your teen so that neither you nor he is stuck with an unworkable schedule. Really, the scheduling process is no different from what we've already discussed; it's just that now, in addition to the adults in the family, you have a teenager on your scheduling team.

To do list

  • Specify which of your teenager's activities require advance notice to you

  • Map out a schedule for your teenager to obtain a driver's license

  • Help your teen become a responsible citizen

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