How do teens view time?

These days, I worry that teens are gradually losing skills and concepts that may have long-term effects on their personal development. Here's a short list of things that are going the way of the buffalo...

  1. writing in cursive   (thanks keyboard)
  2. typing   (thanks voice activation technology)
  3. driving   (thanks Uber)
  4. map skills   (thanks Google Maps)
  5. patience to wait for their favorite song on the radio   (thanks Pandora and iTunes)
  6. face-to-face conversations   (thanks texting and SnapChat)
  7. cooking   (thanks microwave)
  8. humility   (thanks Instagram and selfie-sticks)
  9. restraint   (thanks Costco)
  10. concept of time   (thanks digital calendars)

Clearly, these changes aren't all bad, but the pace and depth of these changes should be noted.

After spending the last two years observing how teenagers approach the college admissions process, I have concluded that the average teenager's concept of time has changed.

Back in the day, many of us kept track of time by referring to the family wall calendar often proudly displayed in the kitchen. It gave everyone in the family a good sense of the week's activities as well as a visual reference of time between events. It also imprinted important holidays and events in our brains when we saw them in the context of a monthly calendar. Today, it seems these visual cues are being lost.

Paper and wall calendars have all but disappeared, largely replaced by digital calendars on laptops, iPads, and smartphones. While convenient to most of us, the jury is out on how this may impact our children. Some teens don't even know what a wall calendar looks like.

When assignments, tests, practices, and other important tasks are relegated to a small smartphone screen, that shows limited information unless double-tapped, I can't help but think that something is being lost.

How can a teenager appreciate the number of days left to prepare for a mid-term exam if they rarely see a visual representation of those days on a paper calendar?

Thumbing through a phone calendar with cryptic abbreviations just doesn't hold the same weight as a physical calendar on the wall.

Gone are the days when kids would mark an important day on the calendar in big letters (e.g. Spring Break), and then patiently mark an "X" at the completion of each day leading up to it.

It seems the time horizon that teens operate under today is getting shorter and shorter.  Increasingly, teens are living their lives in daily increments - based on what events show up on their screen each morning. In my experience, they often have no concept of what's happening next week, month, or quarter. While their "carpe diem" attitude may seem like a romantically simple way to live, its long-term viability in the real world is questionable.

What to do about it?

As a longtime goal-setter and planner, I prefer physical calendars. My favorite is a quarterly calendar. It motivates me to see the days ticking away as I get closer to a birthday, anniversary, race day, family vacation, or business trip. It creates a rhythm in my life based on what lies ahead (and behind). I think it's helpful to expose our children to this perspective as well.

Call me old-fashioned, but I recently bought each of my sons a quarterly wall calendar so that they can mark down important personal events in their lives (e.g. Boy Scout camping trip, lacrosse games, school recital, final exams, summer vacation, chores, birthdays, etc.). I think (and hope) that this will give them a new perspective on the passage of time and their relative place in the ever-quickening pace of life.

I'm not sure how my sons will react to this anachronism, but I feel strongly about trying to help them grasp the magnitude and blessing that every day brings.

I will report back with how my "Wall Calendar Experiment" goes. Don't worry, I won't forget. It's highlighted on my wall calendar.

Try this with your kids

To gauge how well your kids understand the concept of time in their lives, ask them these questions tonight:

  1. What's today's date?
  2. When is your last day of school?
  3. How many weeks of summer vacation do you have?
  4. When is the first day of school next year?
  5. In what month is the general election for the Presidency of the United States?
  6. What month is Mother's Day? Father's Day? Thanksgiving? Memorial Day? Independence Day? Labor Day?
  7. What years are the Summer Olympics played in? How about Winter Olympics?
  8. What day does your [enter name of summer activity here] start?

Answers to these questions will give you a clearer picture of how well your child understands some basic principles of time. Of course, give them a healthy margin of error based on their age. We're not looking for precision here. I'm not sure I could nail every question here to the exact day (I know my wife could without hesitation). But, if your child draws a blank on every one of these questions, or misses by several weeks, it may be time for a wall calendar intervention.

How do you deal with such changes in the lives of our children? Have you tried anything to bring back a piece of the old days to maintain the skills, concepts, or values that are important to you?

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