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Psychologist Post: Back To School Tips For Organizing Your Disorganized Teen

Teens and tweens who have been diagnosed with ADHD face an immense challenge as they transition into junior high and high school

organization teens
While there are many layers to this challenge, one of the biggest is that the need and demand for good executive functioning skills increases exponentially. Executive functioning skills are what help keep us organized, manage our time wisely, communicate effectively, solve problems, and make good and efficient decisions. The challenge to this when you’re the parent of a teen with ADHD is that, just at the time when you and your teen are likely both looking forward to an increased level of independence, they collide with the requirement for executive functioning skills that have not yet been mastered. Below are some tips for how to effectively balance your teen’s simultaneous need for both support and independence:

“With all areas, the goal is to move your teen from dependence into independence.”
Dr. Christina Skai

Homework

organization teensGetting kids to do their homework is hard enough on its own, but when you add in the challenge of executive functioning deficits, you are likely working with a teen who forgets to write down assignments or who absent-mindedly leaves text books at home or in the school locker. You can do things like getting your teen a planner and checking it each day when they get home from school. This will help foster independence in your teen, since the onus for writing down assignments will be on them. However, the likelihood of forgetting to write down assignments is large. Therefore, the best solution to this dilemma is to have a good line of communication with your teen’s teachers. Fortunately, today many schools have PowerSchool, a Web-based software application that allows teachers, parents, and school administrators to track and share information about students. However, if your child’s school is not set up with this, be sure you have the email addresses of all of his/her teachers so you can help your teen stay on top of things. It is also strongly recommended that you encourage your teen to maintain this level of communication with teachers as well. A teen who is open and honest with teachers about executive functioning struggles and who communicates well when there are questions or concerns, is likely to generate a greater level of understanding, empathy, and willingness to help from teachers. If accidentally leaving books at home or school is an issue, it would benefit you to look into getting two sets of textbooks for your child. This will enable them to always have a set available when needed.

Read More: Organizational Tips for Your Child

Read More: Teens with ADHD: How Parents Can Help

Time Management

Often one of the biggest executive functioning deficits that comes with ADHD is difficulty managing time well. For parents of teens who constantly space out, get distracted, lose track of time, or take an excruciatingly long time to complete what should be a quick task, this can be extremely frustrating, especially if you find yourself having to constantly nag or urge your teen to hurry up. One solution for working through this challenge is to take advantage of the expanding realm of electronics and help your teen set up a system of reminders on his/her phone. Things such as due dates for assignments and times of work shifts/sports practice/club meetings/appointments can all be put into a cell phone that will alert your teen when it is time for something. You can similarly do this if your teen struggles to stay on task with something by setting an alarm to go off every so often that alerts your teen to refocus and redirect his/her attention to the task at hand. Another recommendation is to have an open conversation with your teen about what things tend to be the most distracting for them and work with your teen to find a way to minimize these distractions (i.e. no access to computer/tv/phone until X amount of homework is done). The goal with this is not to take preferred things away from your teen, but instead is to help them identify and self-monitor when something/ someone/ someplace is becoming too much of distraction and to put them in charge of removing either the distractor or themselves from the situation.

Organization

teen organizationThe skills needed for organization are often linked to time management as well, so it will be important to have a game plan for both skills in order to help your teen be most successful. Helping your teen with organization can take many forms. Some teens may stay better organized if they are easily able to distinguish work between classes. This can be done by doing things such as color coding each subject, (i.e. math class has a red folder, science has a blue folder etc.) and checking in weekly with your teen to help stay on top of putting each paper/assignment where it needs to go. Helping your teen create a schedule or checklist can also be immensely helpful. Generally, the more specific and detailed you can be, the better. This may mean allotting certain hours of the day to homework on certain subjects (i.e. math homework 3-4pm, English reading 4-4:30pm, etc.). It may also mean creating a checklist to assist your teen ensure they has everything needed for the day before heading off to school (i.e. a list of supplies to take with them such as binders, books, lunch, calculator, gym clothes, etc. or a list of things needed to get done before leaving such as showering, brushing teeth, eating breakfast, etc.).

With all areas, the goal is to move your teen from dependence into independence. Therefore, it is important that you don’t just do things for your teen, even though this will likely save a good deal of time frustration in the short-term. However, when thinking long-term, you want your teen to be able to efficiently and successfully manage even the most challenging executive functioning tasks as independently as possible.

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Christina Stai

Author: Christina Stai

Dr. Christina Stai is a licensed clinical psychologist in both California and Iowa. She specializes in young children and received her doctorate in Psychology (Psy.D.) from Azusa Pacific University, an APA accredited school near Los Angeles. She completed an APA accredited internship and APPIC accredited postdoctoral fellowship at a residential emergency shelter with abused and neglected foster youth.  We are proud that she has joined Hope Springs.

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