We have all been there. Putting off a significant project or work task or homework assignment that we don’t want to do. Foolishly ignoring an upcoming deadline as if that will somehow make it disappear, when in fact, time still marches ahead. And then, the overwhelming dread and panic as our deadline loom larger and closer, we stay up late, or worse, pull a dreaded “all-nighter” to get the item off the do list, all the while telling ourselves we will never procrastinate again!
So why are we so hard on our teens when they do the same thing?
The parents of teens whom I work with all have one thing in common. That is that they want the very best for their adolescents. They want their teens to be successful, happy, and well-adjusted in whatever form that takes. So, when procrastination gets in the way of achievement, contentment, and self-esteem, adults want to help make it better.
If you know an adolescent struggling with procrastination, here are some tips that may be helpful.
Help teens set intelligent goals:
When I speak with teens about their homework management, the problem often lies in the lack of a concrete plan for getting their work done. Instead of aiming to “work on an English essay,” help your teen give themselves specific goals like “Work for 30 minutes on introduction for essay on Monday at 5:00 pm”. If task completion goals are specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-sensitive, they are more likely to get done. The satisfaction that comes from completing small goals builds onto itself.
Help teens get an accountability partner:
We often think about the perils of peer pressure regarding teens and their behaviors, but what about how friends can positively influence our child’s behavior? I ask adolescents to think of a friend they trust, who doesn’t shame or judge them, and who has mastered getting their homework done on time or wants help in this area. Setting shared goals regarding assignments and checking in with each other can provide a social incentive to stick to plans. Sometimes you may feel like you are a very unwilling and unappreciated accountability partner for your teen. If you are managing their assignment timelines and stressing more than they are, it’s not sustainable. Helping them develop skills to manage work themselves has the opportunity to create independence.
Help teens like one step at a time:
Frequently, when people are overwhelmed by big projects or assignments, they procrastinate because they become stuck due to the daunting nature of the work. Switching our mindset from “big picture” to “small picture” can make all the difference. Breaking up a daunting task into small, more manageable to-do items and only focusing on one step at a time can help us get unstuck. It’s a lot less intimidating to focus on writing one page of a report than it is to focus on writing the entire 20-page report. Help your teen break projects into small steps by writing this down and checking off portions of a project as they complete it.
Create a studying and homework habit.
One of the topics I am most fascinated by is how humans develop habits and impact our well-being. When we repeat certain behaviors over and over, they become automatic habits. When a pattern is automatic is takes much less effort and willpower to maintain. People who avoid procrastination create some work habit that becomes so natural they no longer think about it. Setting a homework place or a weekly homework “date” with a friend can become a consistent part of your teen’s routine. I’ve worked with many families who have found that they are more likely to get work done if they set a study hour together every night. This phenomenon leads to the last thing you can do to help your teen avoid procrastination, and that is to
Be a role model:
You don’t have to be perfect at timeliness to be a good role model, either! Talking to our teens about how we struggle to get work done can be a helpful learning exercise—talking through what has worked for us and what hasn’t can also be beneficial. Frequently, teens seem to block out our lectures because we have repeatedly said the same thing to them. Also, make sure to reinforce what we want to see more positively. Congratulate your teen when they take small steps, and congratulate yourself in front of your teen when you have success as well!
Marin Rieger, a Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist, joined the team at Jonah Green and Associates, LLC in 2015. Marin has several years of experience providing therapy for children and adolescents with a wide range of emotional and behavioral concerns, including anxiety, depression, social skills, emotion regulation, mood disorders, and impulse control. She has specific experience in several specialized areas, including self-harming behavior, substance abuse, suicide prevention, and eating disorders.