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Help Your High School Student Get Organized

It's Never Too Late to Learn New Habits


Mother helping daughter with homework
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By the time your child reaches high school, you may think it's too late to instill some basic organizational skills. It's not, and it's more important than ever especially if your child plans to attend college. Not to mention that being organized is an important work skill.

Use these tips to help your child get organized for high school.

Schedule a Weekly Meeting

Gone are the days when your child comes running in the door at the end of the school day yelling "Guess What?" More likely, he'll walk in the door and head straight to his room without saying much.

If you're like most parents of high school students (especially boys), you probably find out about things either very last-minute or after the fact.

A weekly meeting can be a great communication tool that allows you to stay in the loop without smothering your child. Sunday evenings are a great family meeting time:

  • Everyone should bring their agendas, planners and calendars.
  • Work your way through each day asking what everyone has scheduled. Work? Ball practice? Game? Before-school activities? After-school activities?
  • Does your child have a ride to each event on his calendar or will you need to provide transportation on one or more days?
  • Any projects due or big tests scheduled? Does your child have all the necessary tools or supplies?
  • What's on the calendar socially? The Friday night football game? A movie with a friend? A birthday party? Will you need to provide transportation? Is there anything your child needs? A special outfit washed or dry cleaned? A gift? Discuss plans for fitting these events in and for making sure everyone has what they need.

While these weekly meetings will be important to you as you juggle both work and family responsibilities, their true value is teaching your child to think and plan ahead. That's a skill that will come in handy for years to come.

Anticipate Procrastination

Many teenagers seem predisposed to procrastination. They wait until the last minute to start an important project. They pull all-nighters to finish the research paper that's worth 50 percent of their grade. They waste time on Facebook and wait until 9 p.m. to start studying for a big test the next day.

While this will drive some of you Type A parents crazy, resist the urge to micromanage. There are some ways to encourage your child to stop procrastinating:

  • Don't try to have a rational conversation about procrastination with your child when he is in the middle of getting something done at the last minute. Tempers will flare and nothing productive will result.
  • Instead, sit down the next day or a few days later to discuss the situation. Ask your child to explain the circumstances that led to the last minute crunch. Looking back, is there anything he would have done differently? Looking ahead, what's his next big project, paper or test? How can he plan better to avoid the same thing happening again?
  • Many children never really learn how to study and it catches up with them in high school. Many schools and tutoring clubs offer study skills classes designed to teach your child how to study efficiently and effectively. Consider enrolling your child in one of these courses. It's an investment with long-term dividends.

Establish Expectations and Consequences

By high school, you should have a clear understanding of your child's capabilities. Set expectations in terms of grades and test scores based on these capabilities, and clearly communicate these expectations to your child. Some parents even put them in a written academic contract between them and the student.

Whether you communicate your expectations verbally or in writing, you should also include the consequences if expectations are not met. Decide with your children whether these consequences include:

  • Extracurricular activities will be eliminated;
  • No weekend social events such as sleepovers or the mall;
  • Loss of cell phone privileges; or
  • Loss of gaming privileges.

When it comes to time management and organization, one of the best lessons you can teach your child is personal responsibility and the understanding that there are consequences tied to every decision. 

Don't Bail Your Child Out

At one time or another, we will experience the following:

  • It's 9 p.m. and your child comes running into your room holding a dirty uniform he needs for tomorrow's big game;
  • It's late at night and your child has just finished his research paper. He asks you if you'd run to your office and print it out because he just realized the home printer is out of ink;
  • You're sitting in your office and your cell phone rings. It's your daughter. She left her biology project sitting on the floor of her room and needs it for next period. Can you run home and get it for her?

If these situations rarely happen, you can decide if you should step in and help. If they are a common occurence, do not bail your child out. This will be difficult. But if you do, you are simply reinforcing your child's disorganized habits. You are also sending the message that it doesn't matter if you are organized or not; it all works out in the end.

You won't be there in college, and you certainly won't be there when he gets his first post-college job. You're doing him a disservice if you're always there to bail him out in high school.

That doesn't mean you must be stern about it. Express sympathy for the predicament and interest in your child's ideas for solving the problem. You may find that he can get out of the jam without your help. That's a great way to build confidence and life skills.

A Personal Note

Throughout high school, I played the flute and took weekly private lessons. I was required to practice 45 minutes per day. If I managed my time well and completed my practice sessions, my parents paid for my lesson. If I did not get in the required practicing, I had to use my hard-earned babysitting money and pay for the lesson myself. At the time, I thought that was extrememly unfair. Looking back, it was one of the best lessons my parents taught me. I learned to manage my time in order to get important tasks done first. That lesson has helped me both personally and professionally ever since.

Use these tips and suggestions to teach your child the same lesson.


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