One of the most common questions I encounter in my clinical work with parents, teens and preteens is , “Why isn’t my teenager more organized?” Often the primary answer is easy, though I rarely give it directly to parents: “go look in the mirror.” Organization is a skill that kids can model from their parents and often needs to be learned. While some kids seem to thrive on staying organized–they always keep their rooms neat, their clothes folded and their schoolwork orderly–most kids need a little help getting there. Helping teenagers get organized a core responsibility for parents in the 21st century.
Most younger kids won’t have much of a need to be organized. Schoolwork is from one teacher, they have one classroom, and all of their activities are typically organized and coordinated by their parents. But as kids move into middle and high school, their demands for organization multiply. They might have homework assigned be 3 or 4 teachers, they need to be organized so they have the proper materials to study for exams or complete projects. Finding her uniform for softball or soccer becomes her responsibility.
As preteens and teens get older, organizational skills become expected and vital to keeping up with demands and in being efficient. Kids who are disorganized can waste time trying to complete homework, often find themselves being late to school, and always seem to be losing their stuff (except for their cellphone- which is attached to their soul). Here are a few strategies for helping teenagers to get organized.
Practice organization with digital technologies. Many older children and teenagers enjoy and frequently use digital technologies such as cell phones and iPods. These technologies present many opportunities for organization that you can encourage your child to take advantage of. For example, helping your child to create a playlist of favorite songs on an iPod or to rearrange applications on an iPod Touch in a logical manner are two opportunities that your child can use to practice organization. Cell phones can also be fun for organizing telephone numbers or photographs of one’s family and friends. The best way to assist your child in practicing these skills on their iPods or cell phones is to practice these techniques with her initially and point out the benefits of using these types of organization.
Practice organizational skills with computer and internet-based technologies. Encourage your child to use the many internet-based technologies available in order to practice organization skills. For example, Google Docs is a great tool for word processing and later organizing documents by file type. Similarly, Picasa, a free Google application that can be used for organizing pictures, or applications such as Photbucket or Flickr, also provide your child will the opportunity to practice organization skills in a fun manner.
Ask your child to select one area of their life in which she wishes to improve her organization. By doing this, you involve your child in setting a more specific goal for herself rather than simply “getting organized”. For example, a child who struggles to find her athletic equipment every time she has practice might want to come up with a simple solution for this problem, such as placing an over-sized open-topped container in a common space in which all of her sporting equipment goes into. This might be best done in a garage or mudroom in the home where your child will notice it, but it is not in the way of the rest of the household. Other areas that children might choose to focus their organization might be to keep better track of their homework, to have a special and consistent place to keep their iPod or cell phone, or to identifyand maintain a location for special toys (such as Legos, dolls, or smaller hand-held video games).
Featured image: Flickr user TwentyFour Students