Study finds routines help teens’ health, well-being

Melissa Erickson More Content Now

From brushing our teeth to paying bills, routines are helpful because they allow us to get things done without motivation or willpower. Like the ad says: Just do it.

By making life predictable and relying on routines, parents can help set up their teens for success, according to a new study from the University of Georgia. Teens with more family routines during adolescence had higher rates of college enrollment and were less likely to use alcohol in young adulthood, among other positive outcomes. The findings were published in November in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

To make a difference in the lives of our family members, we have to make a difference in them every day, said lead author Allen Barton, an assistant research scientist at the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

“Routines play an important role in making that happen,” Barton said.

Teens with consistent family routines such as mealtimes, bedtimes and after-school schedules also exhibited greater self-control and emotional well-being and lower levels of epinephrine, a stress hormone.

Relying on a routine may seem mundane, but consistency and predictability are powerful influences on a teen’s life, even if experts don’t completely understand why.

“Even with young kids, where most of the research on the benefits of routines has focused, we don’t have a clear answer for what it is about routines that makes them so powerful,” Barton said. “With that qualification, I think we saw these results because consistent family routines give kids a lot of things — a sense of predictability, order to life at a time where lots of things are changing, knowing how to expect in the day-to-day life at home, a context for helping certain conversations happen with their parents, etc. So I don’t think it’s one big thing that family routines give kids, but lots of little things that accumulate over time to have the long-term benefit that we found in this study.”

For families interested in implementing routines into family life, Barton suggests the following:

Start easy

“Pick something specific, simple and realistic and just start it,” Barton said. If starting a regular chore or homework time with your teen is going to lead to more pushback than getting a regular bedtime or family mealtime, then that’s not the place to start.

Don’t build it up

“I wouldn’t recommend viewing this as a big change or resolution. What you’re a looking to do is just establish a new normal,” Barton said.

For example, consider mealtime.

“Everyone has to eat. With a routine of family mealtime, now you’re just looking to do it in a way that is more consistent and with everyone at the table together,” Barton said.

Once something becomes “routinized,” it is no longer a question of if you’re going to do it. “You just do it and don’t think twice about it,” Barton said.

Ask for their input

Depending on the specific routine, parents can ask kids for their thoughts so there is mutual buy-in and agreement, Barton said.

Add yourself in

“Include yourself in the change. Create a regular bedtime for yourself or regular time you spend with your child uninterrupted. View this as something you’re in together,” Barton said.