5 Ways to Keep Busy Teens Focused
When they were younger, it was so much easier.
The kids came home from school. Did their homework. Went to soccer or baseball practice a couple of nights a week. Sure, some weeks were crazy, but for the most part, I could count on a relatively consistent ebb and flow to their days.
Then they became teenagers.
Now, sports schedules are intense and constantly changing. Social calendars are full and shifting at a moment’s notice. For example, my daughter’s plans for a typical Friday night get made, cancelled, rescheduled and completely remade 100 times throughout the week.
The only thing in my house that’s predictable now is the daily reality that nothing is ever predictable.
There’s a spontaneity and energy to a house full of teenagers that truly is refreshing and fun. But, whether they admit it or not, teens need some constants in their schedules to keep them grounded and focused on the things that truly matter.
As parents, we can help keep our teens from going on full tilt and flaming out. So, what needs to remain constant even in the midst of chaos?
1. An emphasis on faith.
“I don’t believe everything that you believe, Mom. You’re just going to have to accept that.” Those words have come out of both of my children’s mouths more than once. I always wince when they do. The level of influence that we once had when they were little is gone.
It’s scary for us as parents. But allowing and encouraging them to wrestle with their faith is a good thing. If they are truly looking for the Truth, they will find it. The Bible promises us that.
We can’t force them to believe anything. But we can keep exposing them to Truth. I’ve certainly made lots of mistakes in this area. I’ve missed opportunities. Out of fear, I’ve been controlling and legalistic. I’m learning from those mistakes.
Rather then “preach” or control, I try to talk about how God is working in my life and answers to prayer. I don’t force it. But I pray God helps me to create and recognize opportunities to weave faith into natural, everyday conversation.
We also take them to church every Sunday. Our church Youth Group is awesome, but neither of our kids have connected there. We made them go for a while, but it wasn’t working. We finally let it go. But they are expected to attend church service every Sunday. Our Pastor speaks Truth boldly. They like his approach and he’s earned their respect.
When we’re able to eat dinner together (sometimes a Herculean challenge), we usually do a devotion. Often, one of them will choose and read it and lead the discussion. Keeping it short and focused seems to work best.
They need to get the message from us that no matter what is going on in their lives, God is the constant anchor.
2. School responsibilities.
As a mom who used to be a compulsive “homework helper” and grade checker (online grade systems are a curse, I tell you!), I have struggled with letting go of control and allowing them to take responsibility for their school work.
I can’t (and shouldn’t) be an enabling safety net. But I can give consequences when they aren’t meeting their responsibilities. And I can allow natural consequences to help jolt them into reality and renewed focus.
Teens need to get the message from us that no matter how busy they are, God is the anchor.
3. Helping out around the house.
It’s tempting to think, “They’re so busy. I’ll let them off the hook.” I know. I’ve done it.
It’s true. Their time is limited. Chore charts and designated days of the week for tasks haven’t worked for me in years.
But they’re not house guests. Our homes are not hotels. They need to contribute in some way. What has worked for me is to ask them to do small tasks on a regular basis — unloading the dishwasher, cooking dinner now and then, doing their own laundry, etc.
They’re still contributing to the household. And smaller tasks seem to mesh better with busy, unpredictable schedules.
4. Respect for others in the house.
When schedules are crazy, tensions rise. It’s just human nature. And who bears the brunt of our stress? The people we love the most, of course.
I can’t keep my teens from bickering. (If only!) But I can make their lives very uncomfortable if they refuse to show respect for each other or for their parents.
5. Family time.
No family activity my husband or I have ever planned has been met with cheers. My kids complained when they heard we were going on a four-day cruise last summer, for goodness sakes! I think whenever “family” is spoken in the same breath as “activity,” teens have a trained response to object.
But when we push past the resistance, we always find it’s worth the effort. Even if the whole activity turns into a complete fiasco (speaking from experience here), it’s usually a bonding family memory at some point.
They may not need to be with us in the same way they did when they were little, but they do need to know we’re there — and that we’re invested in them. Even when they’re being rotten.
Continually directing our teens to focus on what matters helps equip them for life outside our walls.
They still look to us for direction and consistency.
As my daughter told me a while back, “I’m all over the place, Mom. I need you to be the calm, consistent one.”
Through God’s power, I’m determined to help them stay focused on what matters.