Late for an Important Date?

Help Your Teen Learn Time-management Skills and Develop a More Accurate Internal Clock

Published on in Health Tip of the Week

Teen StudyingIf your teen is always running late to activities and rushing to complete homework, they may remind you of the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland: “I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date!”

While being chronically late is funny for a fictional rabbit, it can cause serious challenges in real life. Your teen might hand in incomplete homework that they didn’t have time to finish, forget important supplies for school or sports because they were rushing around before leaving the house, or simply give the impression that they don’t care about something because they show up late or unprepared.

All teenagers occasionally run late and rush around trying to fit everything they need to do into their day. But when your teen is habitually late and stressed for regular activities, it can indicate they are struggling with time management. Time management is one of our executive functions: the skills that let us execute daily tasks.

Time it out

Building a more accurate internal clock can help your teen overcome problems with time management and develop this critical skill, according to Iris Paltin, PhD, Pediatric Neuropsychologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“The internal clock-building process involves using a stopwatch to teach your teen how to recognize the actual duration of an activity — and how that matches up with their own pace and style of work,” she says.

By better understanding actual time and perceived time, your teen can improve their time management skills and make better choices throughout the day.

What to do

Sit with your teen and ask them to try a few exercises using a stopwatch. First, point out a common assumption: things they like will go very quickly, and things they don’t like will go slowly.

For example, they may feel as though they watched TV for 20 minutes, but it has actually been an hour. Alternatively, they may worry that cleaning their room will take an hour, but in reality it takes only 20 minutes; or, loading the dishwasher: maybe seven minutes in reality, versus the 35 minutes spent dreading and fighting about it.

Try a timing exercise with your teen. Let them know that you’ll tell them when five minutes have passed so they can know what that feels like. However, they should continue the activity until it is finished.

To complete the exercise, ask your teen to:

  • Pick an activity they can do at home.
  • Write down how long they expect the activity to take.
  • Start the activity while you time them using a stopwatch on your smart phone.
  • Note the five-minute mark, and alert them.
  • Stop the watch when your teen has completed the activity.

This exercise will help develop time-management skills by:

  • Comparing perceived time to actual time
  • Thinking about what five minutes feels like
  • Raising awareness about how long an undesirable activity actually takes
  • Helping your teen realize — and be realistic about — how long their attention to a task lasts before they need to take a break and do other things
  • Develop independence; the teen can become more reliant on their ability versus relying on you to manage their time/schedule

Lessons learned

The next time your teen does an activity, ask them to factor in the things they learned during the stopwatch exercise. Do this exercise sporadically with other activities, until your teen closes the gap between perceived and actual time.

Time-management skills can be difficult for teens to master, but the rewards will be felt long into adulthood.