How Can I Help My Procrastinating Teen?
By Joe Connolly, Consulting Educator
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?
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.
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.