This Is Why You Should Let Teens Have Lots of Down Time

If you are a parent of a teenager, you know all too well the transition that happens; they go from running circles around you to sleeping until noon and napping throughout the day. Small tasks like taking out the garbage or wiping the counter after they’ve destroyed the kitchen to make a sandwich feels like a huge undertaking and they aren’t afraid to complain about it.

When my oldest of three went through this stage, I couldn’t understand why everything left him exhausted. I didn’t understand how he could sleep so late, nap all the time, and seem unmotivated and uninterested in everything.

Getting him to clean his room was something he couldn’t wrap his head around. He would start and then I’d go in there an hour later and he’d be lying on his bed with his big, dirty shoes and his sweatshirt half on.

Sleep texting negatively impacts sleep.
Letting my son sleep helped our relationship. (Tuomas Lehtinen/Shutterstock)

I responded to my son’s laziness by giving him more chores

So, I pushed him hard. I assigned him more chores. I signed him up for volunteering and coaching sports when he stopped wanting to play. This did not go over well. It backfired, and instead of coming out of his relaxed state, he sank further into it.

I was fighting a fight I was never going to win. The more I wanted him to come to life, the more exhausted he became. I was trying to tread water against a current that was stronger than me, and we were both miserable.

One day I was too tired to bug him about getting out of bed. I was burned out from constantly pestering him to do this or that and get more involved. My two younger kids were entering those relaxing-teen years, and I knew my work was cut out for me. I knew I should save some energy by pestering the two of them.

I stopped bugging my son, and this happened

Then, I noticed something happened very quickly: When I stopped bugging him and let him have as much time to sleep, relax, and do nothing, he started doing less of it. I wondered if part was because he had just come out of a big growth spurt, and some of his energy was coming back.

That made me think back to the days when I was a teenager and the summer I grew several inches and filled out. I napped all the time. I lounged in my room. I slept until noon. It was the year I discovered how much I loved to read and write, and decided I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, which I am. It was the year I started journaling which I still do to this day, and I believe it is one of the most positive things for my mental health.

I felt sorry that I had pushed my teen son so hard

It hit me how hard I had pushed him for the past year, and it hadn’t done anything except strain our relationship. I was afraid he’d miss out on important life experiences if I didn’t keep him busy. I thought I’d be seen as a lazy parent if I let him quit all his extracurriculars, sleep whenever he wanted, and ignore the fact his room looked like a crime scene.

However, the more I stepped away and let him do life his way, the more he came out of his teenage coma. He started waking up earlier. He didn’t flap his body around when I asked him to do things. He started his first job, then got a second job to save for a car. He started helping out around the house without being prompted. And when he found his hobbies like tinkering with cars, dirt bike riding, and riding his snowmobile and 4-wheeler, I saw how happy he was.

When I gave my son space, he figured out what he liked to do

My son’s energy started coming back. I believe this is because I gave him room to relax, and in that space, he began to figure out who he wanted to be and how he wanted to spend his time. Now, he’s up before six in the morning and is excited to start his day.

I used this same approach with my two youngest kids (mostly because I was too tired to fight this battle again), and their ‘relaxing’ years have improved. My daughter found a love for animals. She works in an assisted living facility and loves it. I never have to ask her to clean her room. My youngest has a passion for gardening and living off the land. He never sleeps in or naps. He loves to rise and shine, go outside barefoot, and welcome the new day.

This may not be the answer for everyone, but it worked for my teens

I’m not saying this is a cure-all; I believe our teens need us to guide them. But, my experience with my kids showed me they do a lot better when I’m not on their back trying to keep them busy. No one likes to be pestered. I’m a 47-year-old woman, and if someone nagged me all the time to do things, that certainly wouldn’t motivate me.

Our teens are tired of trying to navigate school, jobs, friends, learning to drive, and doing lots of things for the first time. On top of that, they are still developing, growing, and flooded with hormones. The best thing I did for our relationship was to let them relax as much as they wanted. It helped them find things that made them happy faster than me trying to force what I liked on them.

More Great Reading:

Doctor. Sleep Specialist: How Teens Can Get More Sleep

Does Your Teen Sleep Until 2PM? Let It Go, Summer Slumber Is Normal

About Katie BinghamSmith

Katie Bingham-Smith lives in Maine with her three kids. She is a Staff Writer at Scary Mommy, shoe addict and pays her kids to rub her feet. You can see more of her on Facebook and Instagram .

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