Helping Teens Handle Procrastination

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This week on Homeschool Highschool Podcast: Helping Teens Handle Procrastination.

Helping Teens Handle Procrastination

Helping Teens Handle Procrastination

Putting things off, especially things you don’t want to do, is a human thing. We all tend to do that. Sometimes for teens, because they have less experience in life, procrastination is one of the hardest things to conquer. Here are some tools for helping teens handle procrastination that you can share with them. 

Understand Why Teens Procrastinate

The first thing teens need to know when they are procrastinating is that it really is part of the human condition. It is one of the parts of the human condition that we have to develop tools to conquer, though. 

Honestly, wouldn’t you rather just do nothing if you could? Or just entertain yourself all the time without doing other obligations? Sure, we all would, but that doesn’t make us happy in the end. And neither does procrastination.

When you sit down and talk it through with your teen, usually when they are procrastinating, they actually feel worse at the end of the day than they did at the beginning of the day.  That is because those things that need to get done just sit there in the back of their head trying to hide. As the neglected task is eating at their consciousness, their anxiety levels are going up. 

Skills To Help Teens Handle Procrastination

When you see your teen procrastinating, sit down and talk with them about what they are procrastinating on. It could be math lessons or research papers or cleaning up their bedrooms – whatever…

Once you have them talking about it, see if it is really procrastination at play here or if there is something else going on. It is a common thing for teenagers is to experience bouts of anxiety or depressive episodes. This is difficult for teens because they have no experience with handling those kinds of things. In these cases, procrastination is not really procrastination but stuckness caused by the tough emotions.

When the problem is anxiety or depression

For a teen, anxiety or depression can look like:

  • Just sitting around like a lump
    • their body may feel heavy, like their arms and legs are heavy and it is hard to move.
  • Not being able to concentrate on anything 
  • Or feeling flat or miserable or hopeless
  • Feeling like they cannot do anything.

There are many different causes for anxiety or depression:

  • Sometimes the mood is depressed or anxious
  • Other times their hormones got off track
  • Or perhaps they are experiencing a long-term stressor like a pandemic or other tragedy
  • Sometimes getting in a big fight with their best friend can cause anxiety or depression

It does not have to look like they are crying all day. In fact, it often does not.

When teens feel depressed or anxious, they cannot focus on their work very successfully (unless it is really easy academics). But it is hard for them to handle more difficult things, those things that take a lot of concentration or they don’t really like too much.

If your teen is experiencing anxiety or depression, have a gentle discussion about it with them. Then talk to the family doctor regarding what to do about it. See if they can connect you with a counselor. When teens get a few tools for recognizing what’s going on and managing these kinds of issues, they feel so much better about it. They will regain their energy to be successful at their schoolwork as well as the harder things in life. 

Tools for helping teens handle procrastination

On the other hand, it is not uncommon for teens to actually be procrastinating for procrastination’s sake. In this case, try these tips.

Eliminate Distractions

Sometimes the procrastination is actually the teen feeling distracted. When distraction is happening:

  • Sometimes it is caused by addiction to notifications.
    • This is a universal problem these days where there are always these notifications going on for our teens (or us moms). 
    • Honest to goodness, if you could get your teen sit down and turn off notifications during the school day, where the constant sounds disrupting their thought patterns, your teen will have more neural energy and more thinking power to do the things that are not so exciting. 
  • Other times, the distraction is caused by having too many tabs open on the computer.
    • Close unused tabs and see what happens.
  • Sometimes they are distracted by something they are powerfully interested in.
    • They would rather do some gaming or go bake a batch of cookies.
    • Those distractions of things they would really rather do are calling to them. In cases like these, that’s a discussion for self-discipline. 
    • Those other interests are great, wonderful things to do. But let them understand that they can do them after four o’clock in the afternoon or in the evening or whenever school is over.

Work on it together with your teen and come to an agreement. Try this: Help them list their next-day’s priorities each night before bedtime. (It is really hip these days for teens to literally write those priorities on a white board.) 

Practice Delayed Gratification

One of the definitions of maturity is the ability to delay gratification. The ability to wait to do what they really want to do is a good life skill. Help teens reward themselves when they finish their daily priorities. (Have the write the reward on their white board, so they can really celebrate when they accomplish their priorities.)

Help With Feelings of Overwhelm

Many times, teens will feel overwhelmed. For They do not know where to even begin. You know they are feeling overwhelmed if you hear them complaining about their schoolwork or see them simply staring at a blank page. 

When you see your teen doing this, tell your teen to just close their eyes and scribble (or type) the letter R over and over again. Once that page is not blank anymore, things start to happen. The words start to flow, and the terror of the blank page or the blank screen is not so scary anymore. And just the act of doing some kind of writing will help your teen get started. 

Knowing What’s Next

Another thing that helps teens get over procrastination is knowing what to do next. According to research, it was discovered that when people know what they are going to do the next day before they go to bed, they will be less likely to procrastinate the next day.

For this, one thing that helps is to get a whiteboard and colored markers. Then have your teen write down what their tasks are for the next day every night at bedtime as well as the tasks they will be doing. 

For some reason, research shows that they are more likely to actually do those things that are written down (versus waking up and then deciding what to do without a plan). 

Having the paper or schedule in a colorful form or on a whiteboard they are going to do the next day really helps conquer some of the procrastination tendencies.

Scheduling Backwards To Create An Infrastructure

One thing that really helps teens overcome procrastination is to have an infrastructure for planning studying and projects. If you have teens who are using syllabi for some of their courses, you can help your teens use it to schedule backwards

To schedule backwards, you look at the syllabus. Then you divide lessons and projects up according to time (or a schedule) and put them on a calendar. This will help your teen see what is coming up and also co-ordinate all the work.

Use a Calendar or Scheduler

Teens who have a scheduler that they can use to know what is coming along as well as knowing when to work on things tend to do so much better at not procrastinating. This is because this gives them a neural infrastructure for time management

You can do this with different types of calendars, too, such as:

Of course, they could also use the calendars and the reminders on their phone. Our friend, Dr. Melanie Wilson from the Homeschool Sanity podcast has some planners for teens.

It is very doable to give teens these infrastructure tools and then watch them do less shutdowns from not knowing where to start.

Help teens create a 
growth mindset to overcome procrastination

Adopt A Growth Mindset

Then the next thing that a lot of teens need to overcome procrastination is a growth mindset. This comes to play when teens don’t want to do something or something feels intimidating to them, but they get it done anyway because they know they will feel better once it’s done.

When things like this happen, teens can talk to themselves through not wanting to get something done. They can say something like:

I don’t like this, but I’m going to feel so much better when I hand this in completed.

Making a positive prediction on the other side of that helps the smart part of the brain turn on which is so important for teens to learn that skill. 

Practice Pairing

Another thing that helps teens overcome procrastination, especially on subjects that they do not like, is practicing a skill called pairing.To do this, take the thing your teen does not really like to do and pair it with something that they do like. 

For example, if they have favorite music they like to listen to, put that on in the background while they do their math. What this does is teaches the brain that this unlikable task is not not all bad. 

Another example is rewarding snacks to eat while they do schoolwork or finish a paper. 

Pairing can usually be used for helping teens handle procrastination by doing something they really don’t like doing, but not just teens – everyone can benefit from this!

Helping Teens Handle Procrastination

Practice these skills to help teens handle procrastination with all tools by sitting down and talking to them about it. They can develop learned skills to overcome procrastination that they can carry all the way into adulthood. 

Join Vicki for tips on helping teens overcome procrastination.

Thank you to Richie Soares with Homeschool and Humor for creating this blog post!


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