There is no easy answer to the ongoing crisis in teen mental health, but one powerful solution may be found in rethinking how teens’ daily lives are structured. Research suggests that stable routines support teens’ overall mental health and well-being, while a lack of routine makes them more vulnerable. A recent study from the University of Georgia found that teens with regular mealtimes, bedtimes and after school schedules “reported less alcohol use, greater self-control and emotional well-being and higher rates of college enrollment in young adulthood.” Even more impressive: consistent routines correlated with lower levels of the stress hormone epinephrine.

Why is routine so important for teens? Adolescence brings with it intense physical, emotional, and social change. When so much of a teen’s life is in flux, the predictability of everyday routines is grounding. As the study’s lead author Allen Barton says, “We often lose sight of the mundane aspects of life, but if we can get control of the… everyday parts of life, then I think we can have a major impact on some bigger things.” The benefits of routine include:

You may be asking, How can we get started with more stable routines… especially if my teen is already used to less structure? Parenting experts agree you should start small and involve teens in planning. Create one new routine at a time and begin with something that feels fun and rewarding, like a monthly game night or weekly dinner at home with the whole family. Ask your teen to help you brainstorm how to make your existing everyday routines more enjoyable and efficient, or create new rituals and traditions. This approach helps teens buy into routines as beneficial rather than seeing them as limiting.

Know that some teens like and need routine more than others. To give your teen a sense of ownership, talk with them about the habits they want to cultivate and the goals they are working towards, then work together to establish one small supportive change at a time. Approach new routines as an experiment instead of a rigid rule: try something out and if it doesn’t work, be prepared to modify it. When schedules or circumstances change– like at the start of the school year or when your teen adds an activity– it’s a good time to reevaluate routines. Above all, stay flexible and keep communicating. 

More tips for setting successful routines:

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