A parent recently reached out with a deep concern about her teen daughter. She said, “Erica, she doesn’t take care of basic responsibilities, like cleaning her room or feeding HER cat. She is so disorganized and can’t follow a plan to save her life! I don’t even know how she will graduate with so many missing assignments. But she insists she’s adult enough and has it under control and continues to ask for more freedom. I just don’t know what to do anymore.”
It is not uncommon for parents to worry that their teen isn’t ready to be an adult because, despite a variety of support, their daughter continues to fall short in the areas of organization, prioritizing, and ultimately, getting things done. This is bound to trigger parent concerns, especially when a teen pleads for more freedom and adulthood is just around the corner.
So, what is a parent to do?
When I coach parents with concerns about their teen’s readiness for more autonomy, we focus on creating an environment and relationship that will support their teen’s journey toward independence and teach essential life skills.
Start with an audit.
When do you rescue your teen and when do you allow her to take responsibility for her life? Teens need support from their parents and other adults, but they do not need everything done for them. Notice the parts of your teen’s life that you still manage and ask yourself where you can relinquish control. Provide her with more opportunities to be the director of her life and deal with the outcomes of her choices.
Show, don’t tell.
Instead of telling your teen that she needs to make her doctor’s appointments, manage a checking account, or even make a meal, show her how to do so. I meet a lot of teens who want to take on adult responsibilities, but they hold themselves back because they don’t know how. Modeling is important, but explicit how-tos go a long way with teens.
When it comes to organization, time management, and prioritizing, your teen may need to develop a system.
When I coach teens in these areas, I encourage them to explore different approaches. For example, when it comes to organization, they usually need to be shown different ways to stay organized.
- For school assignments, some of my teen clients have found color-coded folders are helpful, whether in tangible form or virtual.
- For time management, most teens find both a physical planner and an online calendar help keep them organized.
- For prioritizing, they almost always need to learn how to identify the tasks that are most important. Depending on the task, teens may choose to prioritize by due dates, by the perceived difficulty of the task, or by their level of enjoyment.
Honor her process… and progress.
All of these approaches require time and patience, and they require you to calibrate with your teen. Meet her where she is and do your best to teach, guide, and coach her to overcome obstacles and frustration. Highlight her progress and help her see how she can build upon new awareness and skills.
A note on Executive Functioning
According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, “Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.” Most executive functioning skills develop in childhood and continue to sharpen through early adult years.
When a teen continually struggles with executive function, it does not mean she isn’t smart or capable, but it may mean there are other forces at play. A doctor’s opinion can help you gain a better understanding of what is going on in your teen’s brain and how to set up routines to improve her executive functioning skills and avoid the triggers that create difficulty.