Three Ways to Help Your Teen with Time Blindness

Overview: Guest Contributor Lynna Sutherland shares strategies to help a teen with time blindness, so they can be more productive and confident as they homeschool.

As our kids work their way through the lower grades towards high school, many of us cling to dreams of those high schoolers who are able to work independently. But sometimes that just doesn’t work out like we hoped and our teens need extra support even into the high school years.

Today, I’d like to focus in on one particular challenge: time blindness. This is especially common for kids with ADHD and presents more often in girls than in boys. Essentially, a teen with time blindness does not sense the passage of time the same as a neurotypical brain does and may become hyper-focused on a task — even a good task — without realizing how much time has passed.

NOTE: You don’t need to have an ADHD diagnosis to experience time blindness. If your teen is often surprised at the time (“What?!? How can it be four o’clock? I just had lunch!!”) these tips might be useful!

Time blindness can make homeschooling difficult for your teen. Here are ways to help them conquer this problem and feel more confident.

3 Ways to Help Your Teen with Time Blindness

1) Teach your teen about what time blindness is.

My son drives an ’97 Ford Ranger he inherited from his great-grandfather. It still runs great, but there’s a problem with the gas gauge. In the summer, it’s perfectly accurate. But in the winter, it stops at about halfway to empty and stays there no matter how much more gas is used up.

It’s inconvenient and it resulted in one phone call from the side of the road due to an empty tank of gas. But now that he knows it’s a problem, he just relies on the odometer instead of the gas gauge to determine when he should fill up the tank.

Helping our teens to be aware of their time blindness is a similar strategy. Once they know what it is and that it might be a challenge for them particularly, they can learn to rely on other resources to keep track of time and be aware of how they are spending it.

One great way to open the topic for conversation is to watch some videos from the YouTube channel How to ADHD. This one in particular talks about time blindness (item 2 in the list): How to (Actually) Get Out the Door on Time.

2) Use the senses — sight, touch, and sound!

Once your teen knows that he or she might need some extra strategies to keep track of time, one of the best ways to do that is to engage their senses in the challenge.

Visual timers can be a great way to help your teen perceive passage of time or time remaining. When I was an elementary school teacher, I used one like this. Your teens might prefer something more subtle (or pizza-themed?). Or even just a clock with a large display so they can easily keep an eye on it while busy with a task.

Related: How to Make the Most of Your Valuable Time

Another useful tool is a watch that can be set to buzz/vibrate at set intervals. Just don’t mention that the Amazon listing also says it can be used for potty training. Haha. You can set this watch to buzz, say, every 15 minutes. When the watch buzzes, it reminds your teen that time is passing and allows him or her to glance down and check in on the current time.

And finally, of course, sound can be a great tool. One of my favorite timer apps is Multi Timer Stopwatch. You can get it for Android or Kindle and you can probably find something similar for iOS. With the paid version (totally worth it, in my opinion) you can set a timer and then choose the intervals at which you would like to be reminded of how much time is left.

For example, you could set a 30-minute timer and ask for reminders every 5 minutes. At each five-minute interval, the timer app will say “[Name of task] [time left] minutes remaining.” For example, “Sorting Laundry. 15 minutes remaining.” It’s just another way to help your teen stay connected to the time, how much time has passed, or how much time is left.

3) Practice estimating and re-estimating time.

In addition to tools that help your student to be aware of time as it passes, it’s important to train our kids to understand the value of time, just like we’d teach them to understand the value of money. How far does a dollar go? How far does a minute stretch?

In another post about teaching teens time management, I talked about using a planner or even Google Calendar to help teens lay out their schedules and plan time for the things they need to accomplish.

In order to help teens develop a sense of how far time will stretch, you can help them develop a “time budget” in the same way we might teach them to develop a financial budget.

Create a chart that breaks down the day into 15- or 30-minute intervals. Then, make a list of all of the tasks that need to be accomplished and budget time for each task. This means that teens will need to practice their time-estimating skills as they consider whether math will take 30 minutes, 45 minutes, or an hour and 15 minutes.

Over-budget and you have time to spare. Under-budget and you’ll be crunched. But either way, estimating and then comparing actual “expenses” to what was budgeted is a great way to develop a sense of time and the ability to measure it mentally.

Extra tip: I like breaking my teen’s time budget into 30-minute blocks and then using the Pomodoro method (Ann talks about that here) so that each 30-minute chunk is spent with 25 minutes of work and a 5-minute break. (This method also works great for kids who are easily distracted and can’t focus well, the opposite of what we’re talking about here.)

Self-knowledge is a wonderful thing.

I’m a terrible speller. I’d love to be better at that, but the fact is, that’s probably an area that will always be a weakness for me. So, I know to double-check, ask someone, or use spell-checker to make sure I get it right. The same is true of time blindness. It isn’t an insurmountable challenge.

They key is simply to help our teens understand how it impacts them, and then to teach them to make use of available resources to compensate!

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