9 Organizing tips for parents and teens
Our children have far more complicated lives than we ever did – the academic demands upon them, the digital world they inhabit, and their complicated social lives, are completely different to the teenage lives their parents recall. In addition, our parents were less likely to both have professional commitments of their own beyond looking after us. So maybe there is a grain of truth in their eye-rolling sighs about how no-one understands just how hard they have it these days…
Here are some tips for you to help them, stay on top of their lives and feel in control – during those years when you feel out of control of so many aspects of your body and your life.
- Help them from the start of the school year, to be systematic about folders, homework assignments, and how these things will travel to and from school – every year that passes they will be given more and more to cope with academically, and having the right tools to hand can prevent feelings of overload getting a grip too fast. For example, a properly labelled set of folders, and bag that somehow meets their needs for being on-trend and stylish but also accommodates all their stuff. This might require some complicated shopping trips – and don’t forget to take the largest folder with you when you go.
- Make sure you are aware of their class timetable, and help THEM to stay aware of it – there could be as many as 40 separate lessons per week, so that’s not reasonable to expect to store in the mind alone. Help them by making copies, and getting them to keep them on hand - on their bedroom wall, inside their locker, in their homework folder – the copies at home are important too, as it’s likely that each day of the week will require different books, equipment and preparation.
- You will probably never see your kid’s locker or desk, where they store their stuff at school. But you know your child, and you know the state of their room and closets at home… so you might want to talk about practical ways to use their private storage space at school effectively, including the possibility of some kind of tray storage system if they have a lot of loose papers, or hooks for safe control of sports kit and similar items. If they often can’t find or forget things, encourage a clearout at a suitable time (ie when NOT already late for a class), and talk to them about a weekly purge to avoid the clutter building.
- If you agree ground-rules and boundaries with clearly and calmly-explained reasons, you won’t have to endlessly renegotiate, a process which creates frustration and wastes energy and time. If you both know that they are always home by 7 on school nights, and that you’re not prepared to review that decision until after Christmas, they can go find something else to whine about…
- Encourage them to use basic planning and organizing skills and tools in ‘real life,’ not just at school. Keeping a notepad by the bed can help anyone set down their midnight worries, and teens need their sleep more than most – this simple act can really help with getting back to sleep, for anyone with things on their mind. Keeping a personal journal or notebook where they develop their own useful lists, such as music or films they want to download, or stuff they might quite like as gifts if you or anyone else asks… these all benefit the doer in a tangible way.
- Get them to use their gadgets to get organized – every phone a teenager would be seen dead with has some kind of calendar function they can use to set reminders, about everything from homework and revision that they have to do, to dates and meeting up with friends You can be sure their phone has some kind of task or list-making function too – so if paper lists are just too uncool to consider then go with the gear, don’t fight it. They could even get a kick out of helping you set up your own smartphone as a better personal organizing tool!
- Of course older ones have to help out, but it’s fair that they should get greater freedom and choices. Let them experience the natural payoff for co-operative and responsible behavior, such as getting the homework all done properly on Friday evening and therefore being allowed to stay out later over the weekend.
- Help your teen to learn to manage and plan their time. Remember, at their age they simply have no idea what a precious resource time is – that perspective will come with experience, but meantime you can teach them to appreciate how it slips away. For example, have them set a timer on their specced up phone, so they can see how quickly an hour passes just messing around online. You can use this as a way into a conversation about how long things like homework assignments take, and how to remove distractions.
- At this age they will also be getting longer term revision and project-based study, and awareness of time is vital here for managing the workload. Teach them to use planning tools like calendars and diaries – and call me old-fashioned but I think a paper/analog version is often clearer at this stage – to work backwards from critical dates, and plan how they will break the work required down into manageable chunks, and get it all done on time. This vital technique will serve them well into higher education and the workplace beyond, as they’ll get used to seeing any vast amorphous project as a series of next-actions in order, that they can get stuck into tackling in a non-scary way This is an incredibly helpful mindset to master, especially during those turbulent hormonal years, when it can feel they are being asked to shoulder so many responsibilities yet have so little control over their time and their lives.