Helping teens get organized can be quite a task. When the school requested a conference with the Goldbergs regarding one of their sons, all kinds of things ran through their mind. Late homework was probably the last thing they expected to discuss.
“After the school conference we tested him and went through all kinds of processes to make sure we had him in the right school and in the right environment to do his best work,” said Donna Goldberg, author of The Organized Student: Teaching Students Skills for Success for School and Beyond.
“We determined he was in the right place. Our son kept telling us that we didn’t need to do the testing, but we assured him we did. The following year, on his own, he made a goal to turn in all homework on time and not ask for extensions on anything. At the end of the year, he told us what his goal had been and he was very proud of himself for accomplishing it.”
Goldberg’s experience with her son led her to write the book and help students master organizational skills.
“We teach children to tell time, but we don’t teach them how to manage it,” Goldberg said. “When I started this, schools did not require work planners. Now they require planners, but few students know how to use the tool to help them accomplish their goals for the year.”
Encouraging your teen to start school with goals can help them succeed in the classroom and generally, in life. Whether they want to make the football team, turn in homework on time or be on time for school, learning how to organize is foundational to their success.
“Just because parents are organized does not mean their children will be,” Goldberg said. “In many instances, I see parents who expect their children to learn organizational skills just by watching. Just modeling a particular behavior does not ensure that teens are learning it. We have to break it down for them step by step. In that process, parents need to remember that although a certain way of doing things works for them, that same system may not work for their teen.”
Goldberg believes these six steps can help teens develop organizational skills:
- Work to establish trust with your teen. Your don’t allow your teen to rummage through your purse or briefcase without your permission. Instead of just going through their backpack, ask them to go through it with you.
- Recognize success, no matter how small. Just because you want your teen to get organized does not mean he’ll remember everything. Have a system in place, allow it to fall apart, and start again from where you left off.
- Don’t bite off more than your teen can chew. Some teens can work on an entire organizational system quickly. Others need to take it slowly.
- Remove the academic component from the equation. If the goal is to complete work on time but your teen made a terrible test grade, celebrate their progress for turning in homework on time. Discuss the grade another time. Deal with them as two separate issues.
- Make sure everybody knows: this is a process. Organizational skills don’t just happen, and it takes practice. There will be missteps along the way. But, as you consistently work the process, teens begin to internalize the system.
- Keep everything in perspective and be positive. Stay focused on organization and remember that great achievements don’t always show up on the report card.
“I think many parents do not understand how difficult it is to be a student today,” Goldberg said. “Teens are inundated with information from the time they get up until they go to bed. It is very difficult to be organized when you are constantly transitioning. A child who does homework while messaging and texting can’t focus because he is going from one thing to another.”
Remember that teens rarely plan to be inefficient. When a child struggles with organization, try different ways to help your child problem-solve the situation.
When push comes to shove, most teens can come up with some excellent ideas. It requires time and energy, but you are teaching valuable, lifelong skills.