4 Ways to Teach Teens to Live with Intention—Even in Stressful Times

Right around spring of high school freshman year, it seems the transition happens in which kids suddenly have full-blown adult expectations as measures of success. 

With standardized testing, huge class sizes, competitive college applications, and social media comparisons of test scores, the pressure seems to be piling up. It used to be the kids at the prep schools who had tons of pressure on them, or the kids taking the advanced classes who felt the pressure, not every kid. Is it just me or do some teens have busier calendars than adults today?

When people ask me if I’m busy, I say I’m “good busy.” What I mean is my calendar is filled with things I love, things I feel productive doing, and things I am fulfilled doing. I believe my calendar is filled with my purpose.

Teens often haven’t been taught to look at their schedules with purpose and passion. Though many of their to-do’s are have-to’s, they can be viewed through the lens of heading towards a goal. Without viewing your teen's schedule with intention and editing it for purpose, they can get swept away with the anxiety of overload.  

If your teens are tired, stressed, and feeling out of control here are four ways to teach them to live with intention and peace.

1. Focus on passion & purpose.

If we allowed it to happen, our schedules would completely control us, and we would find ourselves spending most of our time in the carpool, but for what? For things our kids love? Things we feel like they have to do to get into college? Things they’ve simply always done because that’s what everyone in the neighborhood does?

When my son was born, I dreamed of him being a star athlete, and I couldn’t wait to have my son be the best on the team. I was going to be that mom. BUT, when we started my son in soccer at the ripe old age of three, he was the kid pretending he was an airplane and picking flowers while his teammates were playing the game. We tried sports again when he was seven, at his request, and now he is hugely invested in football and basketball. My perspective has changed—I am now letting him take the lead. I want him to do what he’s passionate about and what makes him happy because that’s what’s sustainable and what will bring him joy.

When we don’t have something that we look forward to it is challenging to find fulfillment and make good choices. This is especially true with our teens. When they find their passion and invest their time into it, if it is healthy and brings them joy, it will help them get through the tough parts of their to-do’s. Let them try a lot of different things when they are young so by the time they are freshmen and sophomores they will be able to focus on things they are passionate about, then they can be “good-busy.”

2. Make self-care a priority.

mother and daughter hiking in woods

Photo by Getty Images

Photo by Getty Images

Self-care has been something on our minds in the last few years. What do you do for self-care—listen to music, alone time, girls night out? What does your child do to make sure they are staying mentally strong? “Self-care” isn’t just a luxury you use with your vacation days—it can be life-saving,” according to Teen Vogue’s list of affordable self-care ideas. “Something you need to practice daily to keep yourself in check.”

They will need your help to learn self-care. Teens tend to go to negative coping mechanisms first (well, don’t we all?). We can help them learn positive coping mechanisms to get through the stresses that come their way.

Ideas:

  • Take a mental health day to do something fun with the family.
  • Alone-time trips with one child at a time. You really get to re-learn your teen when you have long periods of time with just them doing what you both like to do. Spa days, road trips, camping, theme parks, etc.
  • Get coffee or ice cream.
  • Pray and meditate.
  • Write thankful lists and focus on the positive
  • Get out into nature.
  • Exercise.
  • Take digital fasts.
  • Eat healthy meals.
  • Practice good sleeping habits.

3. Keep a schedule.

day planner

Photo by Marty Baldwin

Photo by Marty Baldwin

Go old-school analog on your teen. My favorite tool is the weekly calendar from Moleskin. You can write tasks on one side and schedule on the other. Choose colored pens or highlighters and get started with a big monthly calendar and write out all that she is doing first. Or you can do it on your computer if you’d like. Don’t leave out a single detail.

Here’s the key: Color code with a separate color for things they have to do, things they love to do, things they are doing just because, and things that they like to do but it’s not a love.

Notice what color is filling your teen’s schedule. Is it things they don’t love that are keeping them busy? Are the have-to’s taking over? Now you can see where you can edit so that the color that is dominant is either a love-to-do, purpose-filled, or self-care.

Even with some of the have-to’s you could change classes to something they love and still get the same credits or replace a volunteer activity with a volunteer opportunity they are passionate about etc. Now that you have re-crafted their schedule transfer the new one into their Moleskin and help them to stay up on it. I would suggest doing a self-evaluation or the scheduled quarterly to make sure your child is feeling passionate and encouraged.

4. Establish healthy habits.

A considerable part of self-care is not letting it be a one-time fix but establishing healthy habits. So when our kids are on their own, they will continue to live that way. And it's important:

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has conducted studies on how factors such as poor nutrition and lack of physical activity negatively affect kids in school. Their findings included evidence of:

  • Lack of adequate consumption of specific foods, such as fruits, vegetables, or dairy products, is associated with lower grades among students.
  • Students who are physically active tend to have better grades, school attendance, cognitive performance (e.g., memory), and classroom behaviors (e.g., on-task behavior).
  • Participation in extracurricular physical activities such as interscholastic sports has been associated with higher grade point averages (GPAs), lower drop-out rates, and fewer disciplinary problems among students.