Messy bedrooms, studying untouched and household chores ignored.
Lots of screen time, sleeping and avoiding the stuff it feels like they should be doing?
This is an extremely common tale.
So why do teens procrastinate so much?
Why do delay, delay, delay tasks that will inevitably need done?
3 Reasons Teens Might Procrastinate
1.) There are more exciting/attractive things to do
Think instant gratification - what gives instant enjoyment and requires little in the way of hard work? Screen time is the modern equivalent, preceded by text messaging, talking to peers on the phone, reading magazines, playing in the street......
It can also help to tune into the last time we actively procrastinated - what did you do instead of the 'task'?
The more we fear/dread/dislike doing anything, the more attractive procrastination becomes. We find ANYTHING that appears easier and less threatening than the task itself.
Procrastination does not equal laziness per se. It means avoiding certain activities/chores because there is something aversive to us about them.
The procrastination might be employed when the 'task' elicits anxiety. This is very common amongst teenagers, especially during their exam years. When the academic work becomes more difficult, or is associated with being evaluated, it can feel too overwhelming to even begin.
In the moment, it is easier to close the books/computer than face what is unpleasant and what might impact on self-esteem, mood and anxiety.
This can lead to a cycle of procrastination, avoidance and low mood/low motivation.
We can see how this cycle maintains the problem and it can become very difficult to stop.
Perfectionism is often (but not always) a very close cousin of procrastination and anxiety.
For a teenager with perfectionistic traits, completing a task to their desired standard (the only standard that feels acceptable to them is 'perfect') is exhausting and often impossible. The perfectionism as such can mean that there is little or no sense of relief from completing a task as the focus is on the mistakes, or perceived imperfections.
To avoid the harsh judgement of the perfectionist voice within, avoidance can feel like the best option. If it is difficult to feel 'happy' with your efforts, it is then easier to understand why not trying feels safer.
Teenagers who are deemed 'grade A students' are sometimes caught in a cycle of perfectionism and procrastination. They feel the weight of expectations and fear not meeting these as representing failure.
While academic prowess can be perceived as desired in our society, it can also feel difficult for teenagers to navigate.
Perfectionism is a huge topic on it's own - this is a very brief nod to it. But it can help us to think about this trio of avoidance fuelled by perfectionism, anxiety and instant gratification.
5 Ways Parents/Caregivers can support procrastinating teens
Open up the conversation - ask them if this blog resonates? It might not but it might help them say why not. What is their own experiences and where does procrastination mostly show up?
Help them feel more organised - split tasks into really nice manageable chunks. Ten minutes of anything is better than nothing. Often just starting is the biggest hurdle due to the thinking styles that maintain the problem.
Experiment with your teen setting aside a specific time for a task. Is there a mantra or a useful phrase that they can use to encourage themselves? We can become our own cheerleader. It just takes practice.
Validate the feeling - talk about times you have procrastinated and how you helped yourself out of the cycle
Encourage and model excellent self-care - sleep, nutrition, exercise, connecting with others etc. We must have the very basics right before we can climb the ladder of productivity.
Thank you all for reading,