How do we encourage young people to have more down time?

This blog post has been inspired by a local high school teacher who has children of her own.  She was having an interesting conversation with her son.  Her initial question was “Why don’t teenagers read as much as they used to?” His response wasn’t that he didn’t want to, but that he didn’t have the luxury to be able to.  He felt that there was too much pressure on teenagers to always be busy and productive.

I also have four different clients at the moment who would echo this boy’s words exactly.  They feel scheduled, driven, pushed, directed and overwhelmed.  Although they would never come out and say it, they feel more anxiety than they should simply because of the intensity of their lifestyle.  In my words – They don’t have enough margin in their lives.

Here are 7 ways to create adequate margin in young people’s schedules:

1.Recognise a young person’s need for margin. Young people need to play. They need to rest and they need time with their thoughts. Without adequate margin, their lives can become imbalanced, stressful and unhealthy.

2. Avoid constantly scheduling them. So often I hear myself say to my children, “What are you up to now?” or “What should you be doing next?” My underlying message to them is “keep busy”. I have had to deliberately choose to ask, “What are your going to do tonight other than homework?” It’s been emphasising that relaxation is just as important as work.

3. Yes, I also fear that if I stop nagging nothing will get done.  If they are organised and on top of things, it is less work for me.  Young people actually need to drive their own energy and work pace according to their personalities and needs.  Recognise their differences.  Let go as much as you can.

4. Confine jobs and homework to a set time. It is ideal for homework to have a stop and start time.  If homework times aren’t set young people tend to procrastinate, and worrying about homework can over-take the whole night.

5.  Plan to have breaks.  Plan to have dinner together, watch a TV show or go for a walk before bedtime. Plan to create stopping points in your family’s schedule.

6. Value down time. Don’t be afraid to call ‘time out’ if you know your young person needs some down time.  School work is important, but not as important as their mental health and ability to enjoy life.  A day off once in a while or a weekend without anything on can be just what they need.

7.  Ask your young people this question – Do you feel too busy?  You will be surprised at their answer.  Once there is space in their schedule they may actually pick up a book.  Until then I assume they will opt for the faster, higher energy version of entertainment – movies and YouTube.

THANK YOU to everyone who has been passing these blog posts on, and for all your kind emails about their impact on your family.  If you have a topic you would like me to blog about email me at

If you would like to book me to speak at your school or community event email

MOST IMPORTANTLY if your teenager needs support from a psychologist, counsellor or mentor Youth Excel would love to help.

Michelle Mitchell