As kids enter their teen years, organizational skills become increasingly important. In a few short years they’ll be out on their own, and, as it states in Chapter 13 of the parenting manual that no one gets, it’s your job as a parent to help them get ready. (OK, those years might not always seem short, but once your kiddo has left the nest you’ll be wondering where the time went!)
Many kids are lulled into thinking they don’t need organizational skills or, for that matter, any good study habits. If they’re bright, there’s a good chance they can do pretty well or even excel just by showing up and staying awake. And teachers, tasked with helping all students succeed, are likely to offer a great deal of support — reminders about test dates, reviews in class, extensions on project deadlines, outlines and study guides, etc. But college is typically a very different scene. Suddenly, there is a great deal more content, and students are mostly on their own to grapple with it. On top of that, their days and nights are suddenly much less structured, presenting a time management issue that can be challenging for people at any age. Without good skills to fall back on, many kids quickly get overwhelmed, stressed, and discouraged.
To help prepare your teen to manage increasing responsibilities, here are three skill areas you can foster and encourage now.
Time estimations skills. How long does it really take to do a page of math problems? Read 3 chapters for English class? Memorize 20 vocabulary words? The best way to find out is to observe and record. Encourage your teen to keep track of how long each task takes, and also to note the conditions at the time (Sleepy? Agitated? Hungry? Listening to music? Tending to notifications?) and the results (Did the assignment well? Felt prepared for the test? Frustrated and confused?) Every few weeks, ask what your teen has learned from this about how long particular assignments tend to take, and how to make study time most effective. You can add in some tasks that relate to housework too! How long does it take to empty the dishwasher? Empty the recycling bins? (Yes, then you can ask them, hey, do you have a couple minutes? Great, I appreciate your help emptying the dishwasher.)
Daily Review. Each day, take 5-10 minutes with each kid to review their classes: what happened today? What assignments are due? What projects are coming up? Ask open-ended questions rather than yes/no (see examples here). Teens may resist this as they get older, but if you start it when they’re young, hopefully they’ll appreciate your interest and support, and will enjoy having you to tell about what happened in class each day. More importantly, encourage them to adopt their own review practices.
Time Management. Managing time is all about setting priorities, and establishing conditions for productivity. Help your teen develop habits that prioritize academic success by encouraging them to do schoolwork first, before video games, socializing, part-time jobs, and naps — or by helping them work out a schedule optimal for their situation. Support them in establishing good conditions for schoolwork by identifying and meeting their particular needs. Some kids need quiet in order to focus, but for others, total quiet is agitating. Some kids may be distracted by things in their bedroom and better able to focus at the kitchen table or elsewhere; others are comforted by their “nest” and are able to tune out potential distractions. Most teens are ravenous when they get home from school, so a healthy snack (i.e. not a sugar/caffeine bomb) is probably a good idea. Avoid judging and criticizing, though. Instead, be your teen’s partner and advocate in figuring out how s/he functions best and fostering those conditions.