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Protecting Your Teen From the Busyness Trap

As a parent you do need to set some limits.
By Dennis and Barbara Rainey


As your child grows older, begin teaching him how to make sound, wise decisions. We’re not talking here about the mechanics of time management and how to keep a schedule (as important as those things are); rather, we are talking about how to operate from a biblical mind-set, how to know important personal values, how to evaluate the cost involved with any choice, and how to analyze options and make a good decision. This may be the best inoculation to prevent chronic busyness.

As our children have moved through the teenage years, they’ve heard us repeat the phrase, “No one does it all!” so often that they can complete it before we get the first word out of our mouths. But we’ve tried to teach them that life is full of trade-offs. They have to settle for limited objectives.

As a parent you do need to set some limits. For example, determine ahead of time how often you will let your child spend the night with a friend. How many days can he go home with someone after school? How many nights during the week can he attend school or church activities? How often can he work? (That last question especially applies to young adolescent girls who babysit.) Repeatedly you will hear yourself saying things like, “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to go to the roller skating party tonight since you have a dance recital tomorrow.”

We’ve found that if you don’t have some kind of boundary, then home becomes little more than a pit stop for fuel (food), new tires (money), and water (a peck on the cheek or a pat on the back from Mom or Dad).

The child’s weekly schedule needs balance. Observing the Sabbath is a good first step. But the concept of appropriate pacing, with ample time to be still and reflect on what life means and where the child is headed, also needs to permeate the regular routine.

This will require your involvement over a significant period of time. For example, at the beginning of a school year you will want to sit down with your child and list all the possible outside activities he or she could participate in. Talk about the pros and cons of each option—how much time would be required, how it would affect other areas of his life, and so on. Ask questions such as:

“How will this activity benefit you as a person?”

“How will this affect your relationships with the others in your family?”

“Is anyone pressuring you to participate in this?”

“Will this add too much stress?”

“What could suffer as a result of your participation in this activity?”

“Do you feel this is something God is leading you to do?”

As your child matures, he will make more choices on his own, stumble through some agonizing mistakes, and continue to learn. Don’t be surprised if you are still helping your children in this area as they exit adolescence. This is tough enough for us to regularly pull off as adults.

As a parent, you also need to closely monitor part-time jobs. Learning how to work for someone other than Mom or Dad is a positive thing for a young person. Many preadolescents first have such a work experience as babysitters or lawn cutters. Later they often move on to some type of retail or fast-food environment.

How busy should teenagers become with work? One of our mistakes may have been letting some of our children work too many hours. We suggest carefully monitoring anything above 10 hours a week. Any more than that, and your kids will probably feel a lot of stress.

Don’t step back from setting some boundaries. For example, one of our limits is that we don’t allow any work on Sundays. That’s part of the reason that several of our children have worked for a fast-food restaurant chain located in malls called Chic-fil-A, which is not open on Sundays.

Discuss your expectations on study time and grades with your teen. Then prayerfully count what the decision to take the job means. “If you say yes to an employer, son, you are saying yes to being there when they call and when you are expected to work. That means you may not get to go fishing with your buddies or you won’t be able to lie out and get a tan if the weather is nice. Are you willing to give up that pleasure to be able to go to work to earn money?” We have repeatedly found that teenagers don’t do well in anticipating the true cost of decisions.

Finally, monitor what the commitment and the part-time job is doing to your teen and to your family. Sometimes part-time jobs mean more work for parents—running a child to the place of employment and picking him up later in the evening. This may be too disruptive to your family.

The busyness trap will provide daily opportunities to check out how your child is doing in keeping priorities in order and not succumbing to stress. Following are some ways to test the progress of your teenager as he builds his convictions:

Since participation in activities or doing other fun things with friends should be viewed as a privilege and not a right, you should not be afraid to have certain minimum requirements.

These might include cleaning his room, maintaining a certain grade point average, finishing chores, or reading a set number of books. These boundaries can be used to instruct your teen in the nature of commitments and real responsibility.

One of our family sayings is, “Work first, play second.” We are continually working on instilling this concept in our teens by verbally reminding them and serving consequences when they fail.

Watch your child carefully to make sure he is meeting his top priorities and help him make adjustments if necessary.

For example, midweek youth group meetings and discipleship groups can be very important to the spiritual growth of our children. If your teen is too busy with other activities, it may be time to review all that the child is doing and trim some of the fat from his schedule so he can go to church.

One of our teens became very busy with activities and in the process brought home a grade card well below his capability. Part of our discipline was to remove the privilege of attending youth group for a period of time. However, this decision earned us the reputation among his Christian peers as the parents who “grounded their child from God.” That criticism wounded our teen more than us. He had to live with the accusations. Not all decisions that you make need to be understood by everyone. You are your child’s parents. Be courageous and do what your teen needs.

Let your child experience the pain of failing to count the cost when making a decision.

Resist the urge to rescue him. Use those mistakes to tutor your child for the future.

Remind yourself that your child needs to learn self-denial.

Lamentations 3:27 says, “It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth.” This means that it is good for our children to bear some burdens, to deny themselves, and to pay the price for the overall good of the family. It’s not good to cater to their every whim and let them have everything they want. They need to learn how to deny themselves, because suffering and self-denial are central to following Christ. Do we want our children to be genuine disciples of Christ or just be comfortable and happy?

Take advantage of natural teaching opportunities.

For example, if you and your spouse have a regular time of planning, consider bringing your child along and letting him eavesdrop as you go through the process of making decisions about how you spend your time. You might even want to have a test ready for your teen that helps him apply what he’s just seen to his life.

Or let’s say your 15-year-old comes home and announces she is considering trying out for the volleyball team. Sit down with her and discuss all that she is presently committed to doing. Look at a calendar and talk about how her schedule will change during different months of the year. Ask her what she is going to eliminate in order to be able to fulfill her commitment to be at all the games and live a life with balance.

All of this advice is based on a dangerous assumption that we parents are in control of our schedules and that the trap called busyness has not ensnared our feet.

One of the best things we have done to keep out of this trap is a weekly date night when the two of us go out for dinner and discuss our family’s schedule related to our convictions. We show up every Sunday night at a certain restaurant armed with schedulers and notepads. The restaurant workers know us by name; in fact, once when we missed a couple of weeks, a waitress asked if our marriage was okay!

No other single thing that we have done has helped us more than this regular time that is devoted to making certain that our calendar reflects our family’s real values.

Adapted from Parenting Today’s Adolescent: Helping Your Child Avoid the Traps of the Preteen and Teen Years. Copyright 1998 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.

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