MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern

Posted on November 13th, 2017, 0 Comments

How to Help When Your Teen Procrastinates

Almost all teens procrastinate at something. Cleaning their room, writing thank-you notes, starting a big project all come to mind. It probably is of little consequence much of the time, but procrastination can become a harmful habit, particularly when it involves your teen’s schoolwork.

It is commonly believed that students procrastinate because of their fear of failure. However, a series of recent studies suggests that fear of a poor grade sometime down the line may not be the main cause of academic procrastination. Instead, procrastinators might put-off difficult work because they have a low tolerance for the pins and needles feeling linked with sitting down and getting started at any given moment. Despite realizing the longterm harm in what they’re doing, these students focus on feeling good now.¹ And they tend to get lost in two kinds of wishful thinking: I’m just waiting for the best time to do the work or I know I can pull it off at the last minute.²

The problem is that students who engage in this kind of thinking typically end up putting things off until panic sets in and then working furiously – cramming and even pulling all-nighters – to get it all done. As a result they learn less and the quality of their work suffers. Plus these students say that putting off their work makes them awfully anxious.¹

Telling your teen to “just do it” is not going to work any better than telling them to “cheer up” when they’re sulking.² So how can you get your teen to get at their daunting and unpleasant schoolwork and get it done? You can’t. At least not directly. Teens have to mostly get themselves unstuck. But you can talk with your teen about procrastination and offer to help by providing tips that have been shown to work.

Try This
The key to overcoming procrastination, according to researchers and academic coaches, is to just get started. And because almost any task – no matter how daunting or unpleasant – can be tolerated for a short stint, experts recommend that those prone to procrastinating begin by working for just ten minutes at a time.²

Specific suggestions³ translated into strategies that can be used to help a teen are summarized below:

Encourage your teen to start small.
If your teen is having trouble getting started on a big project designed to take several nights or weeks, you can often support them best by helping them break the work down into manageable pieces. Then encourage them to start hammering away at those little pieces one at a time.

If they’ve done nothing, suggest they start by doing anything for ten minutes. The less they’ve been doing, the lower their (and your) expectations should be in the beginning. If they’ve done nothing on the project, suggest that they start by doing anything on the assignment for ten minutes. They might begin by organizing the materials they’ll need for the project, or, if research is required, they might begin by doing a preliminary online search. Whatever it is, once they’ve put in their ten minutes, they have succeeded and are free to take a short break or continue working.

Once they’ve been working on the project somewhat consistently, suggest that they try using the first ten minutes on the hardest task.
If they’re working on a research paper, for example, they might begin to take notes on some of the reference material, or they might start a bit of rough draft writing. Again, once they have done ten minutes of the hardest task, they are free to shift to an easier task or take a short break.

Nudge them to do at least ten minutes of project work everyday. Even on days when they have lots of homework or a busy extra-curricular schedule, try to get them to squeeze in ten minutes on the project. A commitment to consistency will help keep them mentally and emotionally connected to the project.

Allow (even encourage) rewards for completing the ten-minute work chunk. Small concrete rewards (a short break for chatting online, listening to a favorite song, or eating a snack) are ideal. You might even add to the options by keeping some of their favorite treats in the pantry. And remember, in the beginning it’s more about process than product. It’s not whether what they’ve done is fabulous, it’s that they sat down and did what they committed to doing.

A note about starting small to help them build momentum:
I can hear many of you protesting that ten minutes of work on a project is not enough to amount to anything – that you can’t imagine suggesting it, much less rewarding it. I get it. I once felt the same way. That is until I came to understand that the ten-minute chunks of work are about more than merely helping a teen complete a school project. It’s about helping them rebuild trust in themselves as they strengthen their willpower muscle and build momentum. And that’s best done slowly and with practice. Like when bodybuilding at the gym, willpower is best developed by regularly exercising it in small ways. You don’t want to do too much as once.⁴

Sources and Resources
1. Jaffe, E. Why wait? The science behind procrastination. Observer. April, 2013.
2. Hoover, E. Tomorrow, I love ya! Chronicle of Higher Ed. December 9, 2005.
3. McKinney, M. Overcome procrastination. Tomorrow’s Professor. Msg. 833.
4. Weir, K. The power of self-control. Monitor on Psychology 43: 46.

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on October 30th, 2017, 0 Comments

Three Things You Can Do to Help Your Teen Be More Stress Resistant

Teens have a lot to juggle. And now that school is in full swing, that juggling just got harder. With each successive year, their schoolwork becomes more abstract and demanding, athletic teams become more competitive and selective, and we parents tend to apply more pressure and get harder to please.

Try This
Although there are no good quick fixes for curing teens’ stress, there are lots of things that can help them be more stress resistant. And some of these are things that we parents can do. Below are three that made a big difference in our home.

Have some relaxing, hassle-free zones.
Consider making times and places in your home that are free havens from stress and anxiety. Family meals are a good place to start. Although as kids get older and more independent they tend to eat fewer meals with their family, research indicates that participating in family meals can improve teens’ physical and mental health.¹ Plus many teens say that eating dinner together is one of their favorite family activities. And most teens who participate in family dinners say that the interaction and togetherness are the best part of the meal.

Learn to listen to things that make you uncomfortable.
Teens want to be heard, and it’s easy to listen when what they’re reporting is positive and finished. But when the issues are stressful and unresolved, we parents sometimes get anxious and want to make everything okay. That’s when our quick advice (It’ll be fine. Don’t worry.) and our desire to solve the problem for them (Here’s what you need to do…) can get in the way.

To help your teen explore whatever they’re struggling with, without taking over their problem, try:

– Feel like talking…?

– What do you think…?

– Tell me more about…

Remind them of their past successes.
Sometimes we can help our stressed-out teens best by acting as historians for them. When they’re feeling anxious –whether it’s about an upcoming performance, competition, or test – we can listen to their worries and then remind them of their past successes under similar emotional circumstances.² To give you an idea of what that might sound like, here’s an example from my years as my daughter’s historian:

I know you’re nervous about the dance recital tomorrow. But I feel certain that you will get through it successfully. Remember last year. Before the recital started, you were uncertain. You were afraid you’d forget something or even fall. You had a stomachache and your throat hurt just as they do now. But you danced exquisitely, and when it was over you talked about how much you enjoy performing for an audience. You can do this – just as you have before.

You don’t need to work on these strategies all at once. Pick one that feels most natural to you and start there. Progress in any of these areas will help your teen feel stronger, more confident,and more connected to you.

Sources and Resources
2. Riera M. Staying connected to your teenager. Cambridge, MA: De Capo Press of Perseus Books Group; 2003.

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