For parents of teenagers, trying to motivate them to leave the house or submit homework on time can be a constant struggle. However, psychologists say parents might need to cut them some slack.
“Teens do have that sense of urgency,” said Dr. Caroline Buzanko, who works as a psychologist in Calgary. “Actually, they have a heightened sense of urgency. The only problem is their priorities are different from ours.”
Buzanko said the part of the brain that helps with prioritizing and long-term thinking is still developing in teenagers. She said the “working memory piece” is what’s missing.
“Things like getting started on tasks, prioritizing what’s important, making good decisions, being motivated — those are all part of the brain, which is still developing,” Buzanko said. “We need to give them a little bit of leeway, I think.
“‘If I do my homework, then I can go play my video game.’ That’s what’s still developing and that’s what’s missing.”
Some teenagers can only plan for a few days in advance, Buzanko said.
“When I look at high school students, they can maybe remember to do homework at the end of the day or the next day. They can only see into the future by two to three days. They won’t remember to study for an exam that’s a week away,” Buzanko said.
How can parents help?
- Learn through failure
One of the difficulties is a lot of kids are not learning from their mistakes and from their behaviours, Buzanko said.
“There’s not a lot of consequences. A lot of our kiddos, they’re getting constant prompts from their parents,” she said. “Parents are prompting them all the time, so the kids aren’t learning the skills themselves.
“They’re not learning the skills in the first place. We’re actually setting them up for failure.”
Buzanko said kids will learn through failure.
“What happens if they miss the bus? Parents are prompting them so much that they don’t get a chance to miss the bus,” she said.
- Brainstorm ideas
Buzanko said learning from failure doesn’t mean parents need to completely take a hands off approach. She suggests they help their kids with strategies to become future thinkers by working together and brainstorming ideas.
“‘What do we need to do so that you can be the boss of your morning? Get your parents off your back, so that you can get to school in time,'” she said.
- Find purpose and give options
Other suggestions from Buzanko include helping kids find purpose in their tasks and giving them options.
“Why is this important? Why is going to school on time important? If they can find some nugget of why it’s important, that can help,” she said. “‘What will happen if you get to school on time or what happens if you don’t. You choose.'”
For long-term assignments, Buzanko suggests using a calendar to break down projects to small tasks that need to get done each night.
Can productivity be taught?
Author of How to be a Productivity Ninja, Graham Allcott, told Global News that productivity is a skill that needs to be learned.
“It’s a set of habits and that doesn’t come easily. So often in the early parts of your career or when you’re studying, it’s an age where you have to really learn those habits and make those stick,” Allcott said.
The goal is to learn how to work while focused and poised and not in a sense of panic, Allcott said.
“Urgency will certainly help and occasionally a deadline can help to push you along, but really the goal is how can we be productive without being in a rush, without being on a deadline.”
- Global News