by the Center of Cognitive Therapy
Every teen puts off a task. I’ll email my teacher tomorrow. I’ll start my homework after I finish watching this show. Some teens, however, are big-time procrastinators and there are a couple of reasons some teens procrastinate so much. First, some teens have trouble accurately estimating how much time something will take to complete. They think that they’ll have more time to get something done than they actually do and put it off until they can’t anymore.
The second reason some teens procrastinate is that it’s difficult for them to manage the stress, anxiety, or even boredom they anticipate feeling and they then put off starting tasks. It’s hard to blame them for this. Who wants to start something that’s going to be difficult? If your teen is a big-time procrastinator, here are six things you can do to help:
- Help Your Teen Break Down Tasks, Even Small Ones. Remember, that teens who procrastinate see certain tasks as overwhelming or very difficult. Helping your teen break assignments into smaller steps can help decrease the distress of tasks. This is called chunking and you can teach your teen to do this. Chunking helps teens develop a can-do attitude and that helps them start. For example, if your teen has an essay to write, you can help the teen identify the steps (write an outline, research each section of the outline) and commit to writing one segment of the outline at a time. If your teen has trouble estimating how much time it takes to complete a task, you can ask your teen to estimate the time to complete the step and to write the time it actually took to complete the task. In this way, you help your teen learn to more accurately estimate the time it takes to complete specific tasks.
- Ask Your Teen to Rate Confidence to Complete Task. At the end of the day, it all comes down to confidence, and when it comes to procrastination, you can help build your teen’s confidence by changing the task. Ask teens to rate their confidence, from 0% to 100%, that they can complete a particular task, then adjust or break down the task until they’re 90% confident (or greater) that they can complete the task in the time set aside to do it. It helps if you explain to your teen that confidence is something we build over time. As teens improve their ability to accurately estimate the amount of time it takes to complete particular tasks and they more often complete tasks on time, the more confident they become that they can complete things on time.
- Help Your Teen Anticipate Roadblocks and Plan Work Arounds. Often teens manage to start tasks but then bale out when they hit a roadblock. Sometimes the roadblock is needing something to complete the task that they don’t have, like a book or a worksheet, or teach your teen to take 5 minutes before beginning the task to go through a checklist. The checklist is usually three questions: Do I have all the information I need to complete the task? How much time do I have to complete the task? What other appointments do I have that will make it hard for me to complete the task on time? Teach your teen to brainstorm possible solutions and, more importantly, teach them that preparing for a task before beginning can save them time and make tasks less difficult.
- Help Your Teen Identify Best Times for Specific Tasks. Help your teen set up the best time to work on particular tasks. For example, most teens are not morning people, so tasks that take a lot of thinking power might not work so well when teens work on them in the morning. that works for them. Other tasks that get your teen moving, such as chores around the house, might work best at times when your teen’s energy is low. Last, teach your teen to build some extra time into their schedules so that they can complete things that are taking more time than they expected.
- Help Your Teen Develop Start-Now Self-Talk. Most teens who procrastinate are great at talking themselves into putting things off. I’ll do it tomorrow. I’ll do it when I’m not so tired. Help your teen develop start-now self-talk that interrupts these permission thoughts. For example, help your teen think through the reasons to complete the task now and write them down. To the thought, “I’ll do it later,” suggest your teen think, “What’s so bad about doing it now?” Or, ask your teen to write down all the consequences they’ve experienced when they procrastinate and name it My Procrastination Hassle List. Encourage your teen to read the hassle list before beginning to work.
- Help Your Teen Be Better Than Perfect. Perfectionism. Better than perfect? Perfectionistic teens can be big-time procrastinators. They wait until they have the time to complete a task “perfectly” or they rework things over and over trying to make it perfect and this process makes any task more difficult and more stressful. Once teens have been through that process a time or two, they’re not likely to want to start it again. Help your teen be better than perfect. Better than perfect is excellence on time and once teens learn that, their lives become easier and happier.