Time well spent

It is a real pleasure to work with parents in the 21st Century Afterschool Program. Parents are the number one influence in the lives of their children, yet so many activities continue to serve only one generation. I have a great deal of respect for Christine Haslett and her whole staff for bucking this trend by prioritizing parent involvement in the afterschool program. I hope other programs will follow their example!

How could we help you support your child’s school success? This was the question asked of every parent with children enrolled in the afterschool program. A large margin responded that they wanted to help their kids make the most of their time. It made sense. Families are overscheduled. The rhythm of the week upon which previous generations ordered their lives has been replaced with 24/7 demands. Technological advances like the internet and text messaging divide our attention between the real and the virtual.

There’s an oldie by the Rolling Stones called Time is on My Side. It is one of my favorite songs even though I disagree with the premise. Time can’t be on my side or not on my side. Time is simply a commodity. A family can invest that commodity wisely or spend it foolishly. The aim isn’t to squeeze every last second out of kids, it’s about them learning discipline so they can find a healthy balance in life. That is why my favorite definition of time management is simply: “Doing the right thing at the right time so you can get everything done and enjoy yourself.” Here are several things a parent can emphasize to help young people make constructive use of their time:

1. Emphasize behavior. Sometimes we describe children as procrastinators, disobedient, or disorganized. Dropping the labels and instead talking about behavior may be the first step in better time management. Think of it this way: if I’m told I’m a procrastinator, well pretty soon I will believe that’s just the way I am. Nothing ever changes, end of conversation. But if we talk in terms of procrastination as a behavior, well a behavior is something I can change. I can learn a new habit.

2. Emphasize long-term discipline. We grownups nag a lot. Sometimes it seems like it’s the only way that we can get kids to do anything. Ultimately, it is an ineffective strategy because a) there is never an end to the nagging because there are always new tasks to accomplish and b) we cannot always be around to goad our kids into completing tasks (nor should we). What if we reframed these time issues in terms of long-term discipline? In other words, “what habits can I help instill in my child now so they will choose to do the right thing at the right time for the rest of their lives?” Nagging is not necessary when expectations are clear and supervision is consistent. (You can use the time you used to spend nagging on a good conversation with your child.)

3. Emphasize learning. Ponder what your child needs to learn to be a better steward of their time. A rule of homework before TV teaches them that work comes before play. Choosing their TV viewing for the week ahead or filling in a monthly calendar teaches them how to prioritize their limited time. Doing their homework in the same place each night teaches them how to organize their work space. Decide what your child needs to learn, think of several different strategies, and try the one you think will best meet the learning outcome.

How are the young people in your life making constructive use of their time? If there are changes to be made, make them together so it is a learning experience for both of you. Just pick one thing to change at a time so you don’t overwhelm your child. Be consistent but patient because it takes time to form a new habit. The good news is that when those new habits can take root they will help your child succeed at school and in many other areas of their life.

Upcoming presentations for the 21st Century program will explore how to set healthy boundaries and expectations in your family. Our schedule is as follows: 3/17 @ Tidioute Community Charter School, 3/20 @ Warren Area Elementary Center, 3/27 @ Sugar Grove Elementary Center, 4/3 @ Youngsville Elementary Middle School, and 4/10 @ Allegheny Valley Elementary School. The presentations are free and open to parents/guardians of children enrolled in the 21st Century Afterschool Program. Contact your program for specific time and other details about the evening program.

Ian Eastman, M.A. promotes the wellbeing of our community at Family Services of Warren County. “Like” its page on Facebook for great tips about happy and healthy living.