How to Help Your Teen Get Out of Bed in the Morning

Transitioning your teen towards greater independence in the mornings.

I am sitting in between an 11th grader and his mom, mediating a conversation about how to improve this teen’s morning routine. You may be thinking, why are both parties present for this conversation when it’s the child who’s unable to drag his butt out of bed? Like many good-intentioned parents, this mom helps her teen wake up in the morning. Without this help, he would remain in snooze mode, leaving the irksome sound of the alarm to fall on deaf ears until noon.

The Predictable Future

If both parties maintain this routine, both can expect a stressful college transition. If he's late to that obligatory morning class and misses an important part of the lecture, he likely will receive a lower test score down the road. And what about the dejected student without a lab partner because his partner missed the class where everyone paired up? That will be this guy! With five unexcused absences for the semester, he ends up with a disappointing grade that does not reflect his intelligence, and it traces back to his inability to independently wake up. Not a pretty picture! Neither one of them wants this future. How do we get both Mom and her teen on task?

Ignite Motivation

This teen currently lacks morning motivation because he has a wonderful safety net who goes by the name of Mom. It is important to ignite a sense of purpose and urgency for in teens who struggle to get out of bed. Just like this mom, many parents with good intentions continue patterns that they think benefit their child because they don’t want their child to suffer immediate consequences—nor do they want to be late for work. This seemingly quick fix, however, can lead to long-term dependence. Parents need to train their brain and undo the habit, replacing it with a healthier routine.

Take a Step Back

For most parents, taking a step back at first feels counterintuitive. Minutes fly by while their child remains in bed, all while the parent knows the child has missed the bus and is going to be late for class. By distancing the safety net, and allowing the child to experience the real-life consequences of his choices, space is created for a learning curve. Sound messy? This calls for a well-rehearsed, step-by-step plan for both parties to follow.

Teen Goals

The night before, the student will:

  • Bring his phone to the kitchen where it remains until the next morning.
  • Place a strong-flavored mint or ginger candy on his bedside table.
  • Set two alarm clocks, one at 6:25 a.m. and one at 6:30 a.m. Set volume on HIGH.

Teen goals explained:

  • Taking away the phone eliminates distractions and creates motivation for him to get downstairs.
  • Eating something with a strong flavor helps awaken the senses.
  • Placing one of the alarm clocks across the room forces him to physically get out of bed to turn the alarm off.

Parent Goals

If Mom (or Dad) sees that he is not up by 6:35 a.m., she or he will enter the room to provide support in the following ways:

  • Turn lights on.
  • Turn the radio on high volume.
  • Allow their pet dog in the room to lick teen’s face.
  • Use a squirt gun to lovingly squirt water in teen’s face.
  • Mom is allowed to help for one minute and will state one time only, “I am helping you to wake up for one minute. When the one minute is up, you are on your own and there will be a consequence.”

Mom goals explained:

  • Mom typically enters his room at 6:25 a.m. and talks to him for 10 to 15 minutes. Entering the room later gives the teen a chance to practice his new routine. Delaying her entrance also causes the teen to be a few minutes late to school. Since this teen cares about his grades and pleasing teachers, this real-life consequence provide that extra boost of motivation to wake up independently.
  • Mom typically uses multiple verbal reminders which have proven exhausting for her and ineffective for him. The above strategies keep conversations to a minimum and focus on ways to effectively alarm the senses

Rewards and Consequences

  • When he successfully follows the plan for one week, he is rewarded with a meal from his favorite restaurant.
  • For every morning that he does not follow the plan, he loses 24 hours of screen time effective immediately.

Helpful Hint: The most effective rewards and consequences stem from the child’s ideas. Of course, parents have the final say but if we let the child share what they want first, we can utilize what inherently motivates them and then adapt as necessary.

Final Steps

Print out the goals and tape one on the refrigerator for parents' viewing pleasure and one on the student's bedside table so it is the last thing he sees before drifting to sleep. Take a picture of the goals to save on each person's phone.

The most important rule: Follow the plan!

It may feel awkward at first and it may even feel wrong. This is a good sign that you are on the brink of positive change. It’s only a week-long commitment. After a week, revisit the plan and make changes as necessary. The next session consists of devising strategies that allow Mom or Dad to further distance the safety net while the teen continues to practice healthier morning habits, making mornings easier for the parents, and helping the teen get on track for a smoother college transition.