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Ask the Experts

How Can I Help My Procrastinating Teen?

By Joe Connolly, Consulting Educator

Question:

My son is a 10th-grader in high school, and he barely pays attention in class, doesn't finish his work and rarely has any homework. He waits until it's almost time for report cards to come out and then hurries to find all his missing work and turns it in. He is a very smart boy and could really make something of himself if he would just apply his brain power where it belongs. I have tried everything from helping with the work to punishment. I've even talked to his school and they won't offer me any advice or hope at all. What else could I do to help my son succeed in his school life?

Answer:

Thanks for your question. A few things jumped out at me when I read your question. My first response is that it's not unusual for a 10th-grade boy to be distracted in class or to choose other ways to keep himself busy besides homework. Likewise, procrastination can also be common at this age.

From your description, it sounds like he eventually realizes his responsibility to his class work, albeit a bit late. I would consider that a positive part of his current personality because it tells me that he does care.

The part that bothered me about your question was that you have tried talking to his school and they won't offer advice or any hope. You do not say who you contacted at the school, but my first suggestion would be to go back to the school for assistance.

Start by asking to speak with your son's counselor. Explain the situation in detail to the counselor and ask for a plan of action. His counselor should be able to give you specific suggestions as well as tell you a specific course of action he or she plans to take with your son.

If you are not satisfied after speaking with the counselor, then I suggest you contact the assistant principal in charge of academics. Ask that person the same questions that you asked the counselor. If you're still not satisfied then I would contact the principal of the school and then the superintendent. Keep going up the administrative ladder until you get somebody who will offer assistance.

Unfortunately, it is a fact that many schools only have one counselor for every 400-500 students. So it can be easy for a student to slip through the cracks. However, it is up to you to be an advocate for your son.

As far as helping him at home, I would recommend setting up a program where he can begin to change his behavior. However, he needs to see the benefit of doing well in school before he will change. Start by setting a small goal to achieve. For instance, you might agree that he'll turn in all his homework on time for one week. If he succeeds, then he can "reward" himself with a small gesture. Perhaps he will get an extra hour on the computer or something like that. If he fails then he loses that hour.

Keep working on these small goals until his behavior becomes second nature. This process is called behavior modification. There is much more to the process than I am describing here, but this will get you started.

If none of these suggestions help to produce positive results, then I would suggest meeting with a professional counselor outside of the school. There are many gifted individuals who can help you both deal with your frustrations.


Joe Connolly is the author and creator of 3 STEPS to parenting teens and the One Minute Rule. One of the founders of Good Parents, Inc., Joe is a sought after speaker of family topics and is widely known for his expertise and powerful speaking on parenting. Joe has been a featured speaker at Stanford University's "Stressed Out Students" conference, the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, California State Senator Jackie Speier"s "Girls Day" and at corporations including Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and Genentech. Joe is the dean of students (K-5) at the Harker School in San Jose, CA. You can learn more about Joe and the services he provides at joeconnolly.org. Joe can be reached at joe@joeconnolly.org.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

01/8/2008:
"My first child is graduating from TWU with her bachelor degree in Biology this Spring. She is thinking about going for her Master instead of going to Medical school to pursue her dream of being the surgeon. She said that will give her a break before she gets burned out. Is it a wise choice or she is just wasting two years. I know your program focus on K-12 but thought you might give advice or know some others who do. Thanks, "
12/26/2007:
"How do we look for a qualified counselor that would be specific to our needs? What questions should we ask to find a quality counselor? Our son is a procrastinator as well, but we have been looking on the strengths of our son, and looking for answers to the procrastination part of his peronality. Please allow us to know via e-mail when you have an answer to our questions."
12/3/2007:
"I too, had the same question except my son is in the ninth grade and he does exactly what her son does. First, I am going to put the short term goal in place with the reward. All the while I will be reading Connolly's books. It's funny before reading this article mother's intuition had told me to make an appointment with his counslor and now reading this article I know what to ask for come Wednesday morning."
11/26/2007:
"Hello Joe, Very interedting article on,'How can I help.........teen?'. My problem with my daughter who is in 10th grade is different.I rarely see her doing her work with pen and paper,most of the time she is on computer,no doubt she always busy with her academic work on computer, but why schools now a days expect their students to be so much computer dependent? Is this my problem or a problem of many parents? I will appreciate your input. Thanks, Siddharth Patel. "
11/26/2007:
"This is exactly what I am going through with my 10th grade 16 year old son. The school has not helped no matter what I have done going up the administrative ladder. My son is treated worse at school the more I try to advocate for him. Also, we are moving and I have a back injury which I really need his help, yet he doesn't help with packing for the move. But he does offer to make me a sandwich and assists me when I look like I need help walking. He is thoughtful and kind, yet I can't get him to help me with this move. He wanted to move and made sure it was what he truly wanted and he was sure about for months. He threatened to run away if we didn't move. So plans have been put in motion and it is a done deal, we even have a place to move in to, all that's needed is his help packing. What else can I do as a mom to understand why he is behaving this way? Thank you very much."
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