It was a spectacle, getting to school in the morning. My mom was a teacher at my high school, and most days we drove together. I regularly underestimated how long my morning routine would take, hurling myself into the passenger seat at the last minute, makeup and books flying. There were real, and sometimes embarrassing, consequences to this ... such as the morning I arrived at school without my shoes!

Teenagers know they are supposed to manage their time. But they either don't know how, or simply choose not to. Rather than dictating to your teen how he should be using his time, teach him the skills to make those decisions for himself.

Jesus instructs us to be realistic about our plans: "For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn't first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?" (Luke 14:28). When your teen learns to allocate his time appropriately to the things that matter, he is learning not just time management, but time stewardship. The following two questions may be a helpful starting point in teaching your teen to honor God with the moments he has been given.

What's Getting in the Way?

Teens have their own unique obstacles that prevent them from using their time wisely. However, here are a few they might talk about.

Busyness (too much or not enough). Being busy is usually a good thing for teens. But too many commitments can lead to stress and exhaustion, and too few can lead to isolation and depression. Ask your teen to list all of her commitments and evaluate each one. Does the commitment bring life? Does it ignite passion and interest? Does it connect her to others or help her develop a God-given gift? Help her remember that there is a season for everything, and sometimes you just can't do it all.

Lack of organization. Disorganization can double the time it takes to accomplish a task. Don't impose your own system on your teen, but help him think of tools he can use, such as a daily planner, colored folders, or a schedule for cleaning his backpack.

Perfectionism. Some teens would rather do nothing at all than do something halfway, so they procrastinate or spend too much time on something so they can do it perfectly. If your teen struggles with this, see if you can get her to open up about her fear of failure. Remind her that mistakes are learning experiences, and help her set realistic goals for herself.

Being overwhelmed by large tasks. When work piles up, paralysis can set in. If your teen falls behind, sit down together with a calendar and make a plan. Talk to the school counselor or teachers so that a realistic deadline for makeup work can be established. And if it's an issue of procrastinating on an unwelcome task at home, suggest setting the goal of spending 10 minutes on the task and stopping. Usually starting is the hardest part, and then motivation builds.

Lack of time or place for efficient studying. I once worked with a student who would study in her bathtub because that was the only place that was quiet! Thirty minutes of focused effort is more effective than two hours of distracted effort. The kitchen table works for some, the bedroom desk for others, and the coffee shop with headphones still for others. Let your teen tell you what works best, but discourage studying in bed, as it can affect the quality of sleep.

Digital distractions. It's no question that our electronic devices distract us, not just from being productive but from being in the moment. They pull our attention constantly from important relationships and commitments. Set some house rules that everyone follows, such as being tech-free after 9 p.m. or no devices at the dinner table.

What's in it for You?

Sometimes we focus so much on telling teens how they're managing their time ineffectively that we forget to describe the benefits of using time well. Here are a few benefits that occur with good time stewardship:

  • Growing closer to God

  • Having enough free time for spontaneity

  • Better physical and emotional health

  • Getting enough sleep

  • Having time for friends

  • Keeping stress at a manageable level

  • Accomplishing important personal goals

God wants us to experience the goodness of time well spent. In fact, this is why He commands us to observe the Sabbath (Ex. 20:8). We should set aside time in our week for rest, fun, feasting, and worship. When we do, we can approach work or school with energy and focus. Teach your teenager to prioritize her values, and then plan her life accordingly. As she learns to be a godly steward of her time, she will find that her days are less stressful and more enjoyable. She will have a better relationship with God and with others around her. And she just might get to school with her shoes on.

This article is courtesy of Parenting Teens Magazine.

Gretchen Williams Raley is a Guidance Counselor at a high school in Austin, Texas, where she also runs her own private counseling practice. She has more than 17 years of experience working with teenagers in a variety of capacities, including current counseling work with adolescents and their families. In her free time she enjoys traveling, photography, and playing piano on her church worship team.