Teaching your kids to manage the clock

In this fast-paced world dictated by social media, time management is a challenge



In an increasingly fast-paced world where seemingly every second counts, effective time management is difficult for people of all ages, especially kids.

According to Roni Hardy, psychotherapist at Child and Family Services in Manchester, one reason why time management is especially complicated for kids is because it is a learned skill.

“While it may seem obvious to [adults] that if you wait until the last minute to do something you might run out of time, most kids don’t possess that kind of foresight,” she said. “The inclination is to put off the things they don’t enjoy doing until the last possible minute.”

Tracey Tucker, executive director of New Heights, an out-of school program in Portsmouth, cited biological reasons.

“A kid’s brain is still developing, and one of the things that remain underdeveloped at this time is their capacity to understand the consequences of their actions, which of course impacts their ability to manage their time effectively,” said Tucker.

Tucker said social media also challenges kids today in not only how they manage their time, but also how they perceive time itself.

“A lot of kids get caught up in social media and don’t know how to walk away from it —it’s nonstop for them,” she said.

According to Michelle Keyworth of Greater Nashua Mental Health Center at Community Council, a related issue is that parents cannot reference their own experiences in helping guide their children with social media.

“Social media and electronic devices in general are an intricate part of children’s lives in ways that parents never had to deal with as children themselves,” she said. “It’s an important part of how kids socialize, so parents should educate themselves about how kids use social media.”

Parkie Boley, childcare coordinator at Families First in Portsmouth, agrees and added while it is important to set limits on social media, every family and situation is different.

“Social media can be used as a tool, too, so there can be some benefits,” she said. “As a parent, you will know if there is a problem. Just pay attention to the negative side effects and don’t be afraid to say no.”

Dr. Peg Dawson, staff psychologist at Seacoast Mental Health Center, said it is equally important parents reeducate themselves on the perceived benefits of multitasking.

“The idea that people can focus on more than one sensory input at a time is a myth,” she said. “Research shows that kids and people of all ages work much less efficiently when trying to multitask.”

For kids, then, who constantly “bounce back and forth” between social media and homework, for instance, Dr. Dawson said research indicates poor long-term consequences.

“Kids are laying down tracks in their brains for the rest of their lives,” she said. “If they’re rapidly shifting from one thing to another, they’re setting an expectation that this is how they will work for the rest of their lives. That will be very hard to correct down the road.”

According to Dr. Dawson, another consequence from excessive “multitasking” is that pruning will not occur within the adolescent brain, which is a process whereby superfluous connections between cells formed in childhood are “pruned back.”

“These extra nerve cells are removed, which allows more information to be processed,” she said. “It enables kids to engage in deeper thought and make abstract connections required for complex tasks. If that’s not happening, they’re losing the opportunity to develop those skills and those abilities.”

In helping kids more effectively manage their time, Hardy suggested parents help them make a schedule, especially for after school.

“For example, 15 minutes for a snack, then start homework by a certain time, take a shower by a certain time, etcetera,” she said. “Making a list of what needs to be done during a certain time can help, and then have your child help you figure out how much time is needed for each task and write them down.”

Hardy said parents should also leave the more enjoyable tasks to the end to provide an extra incentive for kids to get through less enjoyable activities.

Extracurricular activities are also a big part of many kids’ lives, which is why Tucker said it is more important than ever that parents negotiate a “time management solution” with their kids as opposed to “arbitrarily dictate” one.

“Kids are probably busier today than in prior generations, but that’s not a bad thing,” she said. “The key is to talk with your kids, work something out that makes sense for everyone, and offer consistent guidance and support.”

Echoing sentiments expressed by Boley, Keyworth said it is critical parents also keep in mind there is no one formula for time management success.

“Certainly, some children are able to juggle more activities, and some even need extracurricular activities or they become bored,” she said. “For other children, getting through the school day is enough and they are happier with unstructured free time.”

If parents suspect their child has “bitten off more than [he/she] can chew,” Keyworth said a balance should be found between teaching kids to follow through on their commitments and how to recognize when they are overwhelmed.

Regardless of the specific circumstances, however, Hardy said there is one thing a parent should avoid when trying to help a kid or adolescent effectively manage his/her time, which is a lesson she learned with her 13-year old daughter.

“We learned that nagging her and micromanaging her is completely unproductive, so we wait until we hear from the school and then crack down,” she said. “In the meantime, we try to let her manage her time independently.”

According to Dr. Dawson, it is also important parents recognize the inherent challenges their kids face today in trying to manage their time.

“There are so many competing distractions today that didn’t exist years ago,” she said. “Kids are faced with harder decisions about their time. In a sense, we’re stacking the deck against them.”

Rob Levey is the director of development and communications at Seacoast Mental Health Center and a freelance writer.

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