Read This if Your Disorganized Teen Struggles with Homework - Notes from a Teacher

Would you like to ban homework?

Would you like to ban homework and instead give your teen an hour of meditation practice?

Sounds crazy?

Actually one of the most prestigious girls' schools in Great Britain considered doing just this in an attempt to tackle the 'epidemic' of teenage depression and anxiety. 

And it's a fair point, isn't it?

But let's just assume that homework isn't going the way of the dinosaurs anytime soon, if ever. It's just one more demand for our teens to juggle along with extra curricular activities, family time, chores, time with friends and maybe even a part time job.

Our teens need to be organized to juggle those demands.

Except 'organizing' isn't on the curriculum.

And if your teen is disorganized, homework is going to become a battlefield that makes Call of Duty look like a picnic. 

So...

If you’ve ever wondered, ‘how do I help my disorganized teenager not get behind on their homework?’, this is for you.

If you’ve ever wondered, ‘how can I avoid fighting with my teen over homework?’, this is for you.

If you've ever wondered 'how do I avoid getting another phone call from that obnoxious Spanish teacher who makes me feel like parental-garbage because my teen forgot to work on their past tense verbs again?', this is for you. 

If you've ever wondered 'how do I help my disorganized teen not get behind with homework?', this post is for you.

 

Teenage Organization Myth #1: Helping my teenager get organized is just enabling.

(Give me a minute -*downs some whisky*)

No, it’s not enabling.  Organizing is a skill that needs to be learnt. Like driving. You wouldn’t let your teen get into your car and ‘figure it out’. Would you? Ditto organizing.

Teenage Organization Myth #2: It’s not my job to teach organizational skills. That’s the school’s job.

(*Sighs with stratospheric eye roll*)

Yes, it would be nice if teachers had time to dive deep into teaching organizing and study skills but sadly, there is very little room on the timetable.

So...

A teacher’s job is to teach the curriculum.

A teacher’s job is to make sure your child is listening in class and not messing about with their iPhone.

A teacher’s job is to scrap the chewing gum off the bottom of chairs and explain to students why it’s not nice to leave chewing gum stuck up there in the first place.

Bottom line….As a parent you cannot abdicate all responsibility for the education of your child. (Teacher rant over). 

Teenage Organization Myth #3: I struggle to get organized so it’s natural that my child struggles. It’s genetic.

(*smashes head into laptop*)

Thin, wispy hair is genetic.

Blue eyes are genetic.

Complete inability to catch a ball is genetic. (Probably)

But disorganization is absolutely, positively, not genetic.

Organizing, like baking bread, changing a tire, or applying makeup while simultaneously breastfeeding twins, is a skill to be learnt.

Grab your stethoscope (you do have one of those, right?), and let’s play Diagnosis Homework

Which one of these 5 organizing problems does your teen struggle with? Spoiler alert: It may be all of them but you can only tackle one thing at a time. 

  1. They don’t know what homework they should do because they didn’t write it down in class OR they wrote it down but they haven’t got a clue on what random scrap of paper they wrote it by the time they get home.

  2. They can’t find the worksheet they were meant to work on for homework

  3. They don’t find time to do homework

  4. They sit down to do homework but get distracted

  5. They don’t remember to take homework they did finish into class 

1 | They don’t know what homework they have

You: ‘Got any homework to do tonight?’
Your Teenager: ‘No. Maybe. Stop interrogating me!' *Door slams. House shakes*

Next day you get a phone call from Senor Obnoxious Spanish Teacher wondering where your teenager’s damn Spanish homework is. Joder!

Does this sound familiar?

Problem: Your teenager doesn’t write down homework OR if they did write it down, they don’t remember where they wrote it by the time they get home.

Diagnosis: Planner Phobia

Cure: Work with your teenager to find a planner that works for them. This may be a paper planner or a planner on their phone or tablet. But the simplest way to solve this digitally is to have them take a photo of the homework assignment.

And it doesn’t end there...your teenager has to get into the habit of actually using the planner and remembering to take it to and from school and classes.

So, I heartily recommend contacting the school and let teachers know what type of planner your teen is going to be using to note down the homework. This way teachers can gently remind your teen when they assign homework. 

Contacting school especially important if you’re trying a digital planner and the school has strict rules about students using phones/tablets in class.

Pro Tip: It may take time to find the perfect planner method. Like shopping for the perfect prom dress, they may not love the first one they try. Don’t let your teen get discouraged. Remind your teen it’s not them at fault, it’s the planner. 

Pro Tip: Check if your teenager’s school has an online system where students can check homework assignments. More and more schools are doing this...it’s a miracle of technology.

2 | They can’t find the worksheet they were meant to do for homework

Ever noticed that your teen’s school bag looks like a 4th July parade...confetti everywhere?

Except it’s not confetti.

Those loose sheets of paper littering the school bag are important letters, worksheets, and homework assignments. And they’re getting crumpled, creased and caked with grime. *shudder*

Diagnosis: Filing Flu/Fever. 

Cure: Two words for you: hole punch.

And a binder.

Again, buying a hole punch and binder is the easy bit.

The difficult bit, feels-like-smashing-your-head-against-a-brick-wall, tough bit is actually getting your teenager into the habit of hole punching and filing every single bit of paper that comes their way.

Again, contacting school and liaising with teachers is going to be your best tactic for making sure this filing happens. Let the teachers nag your teenager. They literally get paid to do it. 

3 | They don’t find time to do homework

Symptoms: Repeatedly submitting late homework; working late into the night to complete homework; low quality last minute homework dropping their grade average; you receive calls from the school about missing homework.

Diagnosis: Homework Hypertension (AKA where the hell did all this homework come from ?)

Cure: This one requires a careful look at how your teen is using their time.

Firstly, write down everything they have to juggle (academic, sporting, other clubs and societies, work (if applicable), home chores)  and when they have to do it.

Talk it over with your teen honestly: Are these commitments realistic? Has your teen over stretched themselves? If yes, it may be time to take a step back and evaluate priorities. Yes, it’s good that your teen works on the school newspaper, but not if their grades bomb because of it.

Now it’s time to plan exactly when homework will be done. Specifically. Having a set start time for homework helps it to become a habit. And having a set end time for homework helps your teenager see some light at the end of the tunnel.

I highly encourage you to help your teen schedule in regular down-time too: time with friends, time for social media, time for just doing whatever they like. This gives your teen something to look forward to and ensures they have an incentive to get homework done. 

4 | They sit down to do homework but get......(oh! look at this interesting thing on Snap-Face-a-Gram*)......distracted and nothing gets done. 

You can lead a gymnast to the balance beam, but you can't make her Arabesque.

Symptoms: I know from hard teaching experience that teens can find at least a dozen things to distract themselves from doing homework: staring at their cuticles, gazing out the window, picking their noses, the list goes on and on and on. 

Diagnosis:  Procrastination Pox

There may be many reasons for this including: homework being too difficult, too boring, lack of interest in the subject.....but let's concentrate on organizing problems. 

Cure # 1: Help your teen get into the study attitude quickly by choosing one place for them to work on homework. Studying in the same space regularly creates a sense of habit and tells their brain what to expect. 

If space is a problem, setting up a mobile office or homework caddy that can be opened up on the kitchen table for example will work just fine. There are a ton of homework caddy ideas on Pinterest. 

Cure # 2:  Try helping your teen create a sense of urgency by using the Pomodoro technique. This is a Golden Oldie productivity strategy. It works like this: set an alarm for 25 minutes, work  as hard as you can. Then take 5 minutes rest. 

*because we just do not know what the next thing in social media is going to be, y'all. 

5 | They don’t remember to take homework they did finish into class 

Symptoms: ‘Mom, could you please bring my history homework to school for me?...It’s on the kitchen table. Purleeeesssseee.

Diagnosis: Packing Pains

Cure: Checklists

Ask your teen to come up with a list of everything they need for school on certain days (textbooks for Spanish on Tuesday, kit for football on Friday etc). Plus all the usual stuff: pen, lunch, water. and whatever else they need.

Write it up neatly, print it off and laminate it. Add at the top of the list a generic ‘homework’ reminder for each subject your teen studies each day of the week.

Then...here comes the hard bit....get them into the habit of checking this by-the-door checklist every time they leave for school. It takes 2 minutes but is a clever way to make sure your teen has everything they need for the day. 

This tip comes straight from pilots and medical professionals. And if you want to learn more about how checklists are used to save lives and get things done, have a look at The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande. 


What’s if it’s too much homework: Having done all of this with the best will in the world, it may just be that there is too much homework. If you think this is the case, talk to the school as soon as possible. 

Insider Secret: Each subject teacher think their subject is the most important. The art teacher thinks art is more important than maths. The English teacher thinks English is more important than Spanish, blah, blah, blah. Talking to someone with a more objective view may be better: try seeking out a student counselor, a head of year (if your school has them), or a vice principal.  


Quick question: Would you want to swap places with your teen?

I'm talking full on 'Big' (or '17 Again', depending on your age #showing_my_age). 

Let's be honest, teens have it tough today. I don't care how many miles you had to walk to school, in the snow, without shoes. Being a teen today sucks. 

And homework is just one pimple on the face of youth, so it's our duty to show our teens Jedi-level organizing skills that make their lives easier. 

No matter how crap you think you are at organizing, I guarantee that you can make a difference to your disorganized teen. 

If that doesn't convince you, just remember, one day your teen is going to pick your retirement home!