Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The (dis) Organized Teenager 1 - Is There Hope?

Next to “what do I do with all the paper?” the question “what do I do with my teenager?” is one of the most frequent questions I am asked as a professional organizer. When I dig deeper for information, most of you are concerned about 1) their bedroom which often looks like a cyclone went through and 2) their school desk/locker which looks like the cyclone dumped everything there.

Why are the teenagers so messy? Why are they so disorganized? What am I, as a parent, going to do about it?

Great questions.

Teenagers have a lot of “stuff” going on in their minds, which means they may be too distracted and preoccupied to worry about the “stuff” on the floor of their room. Keeping track of the relationship with and between friends, who is wearing what, who is talking to whom – or not – is a lot for a preteen and teenager to be thinking about. When you consider how quickly this social scene can change when you are between the ages of 12 and 19, especially the 12 to 14 year olds, their brains are on fast forward just keeping up with social dynamics.

Now add issues around school work and assignments, part time jobs and any other sports or activities they might be engaged in. We aren’t done yet; now add in the physical growth challenges like how to use arms and legs that grew (apparently) overnight, brains that are just plain tired from growing. Finally, to top it all off, the oversupply of (feels like new) hormones with attached emotional ups and downs, and – well – whether or not the laundry is in the hamper pales in significance by comparison. Can you blame them?

There is hope. The frontal lobe development occurs in the teenage years and with it the executive control that is housed there.

What can you do? Children tend to learn their organization skills from their parents. If you send out the message from your own state of organization (what does your desk look like?) that organization is not a priority, they will follow your step. Allowing them to leave the laundry on the floor until it stands itself up in the corner is sending the message that dirty laundry on the floor is ok.

We all know as parents – in case you wondered, yes, I have a teenage daughter – that we have to pick our battles. Organization is no different. I will leave you with this thought and homework: What message are you sending to your teenager about organization? Does everything have to be perfect? Is mess and disorganization ok as long as no one sees it? Is there a level of organization that is required, or desired, in order to meet our obligations at whatever stage of life we are in?

Think about it.

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