First, the bad news — no matter how much you threaten, tempt, cajole and beg, you will never succeed in motivating your teenager to get organized. Take it from me (a once notoriously disorganized, rebellious teen myself): The more you lecture and punish, the more obstinate about getting organized your teen will become.
But, don’t despair! The good news is that teens today genuinely want to get organized. The world has become as complicated and fast-moving for teenagers as it has for adults — they are under enormous pressure to do well in school, build a college résumé, have an active extracurricular life, maintain a social life, perform well on PSATs, SATs ? the list goes on and on!
Organization and time management are vehicles for self-expression. After all, the first thing getting organized demands is that you figure out your priorities and identify what’s important to you — isn’t pondering the answers to those questions what being a teen is all about?
Rather than lecture or teach, your role as a parent is to coach and guide. Here are three sure-fire ways to tap into your teen’s own motivation for getting organized:
1. Take yourself and your own frustrations out of the picture.
Teens will get organized for their own reasons — not just to please you. Ask your teen what the clutter and disorganization are costing him or her. Is he an A student getting B’s because he often hands his homework in late? Has she wasted money on replacing items like sports uniforms and textbooks because she keeps losing them? Has his social life gone flat because his time is stretched too thin? Help your teen identify his or her own motivations in positive terms: “I want to be able to add community service to my schedule without having any of my other commitments suffer” or “I want to get better grades in school.” Everybody is more motivated by a positive payoff than by a negative one.
2. Build your teen’s confidence by identifying the ways in which he or she is already organized.
Everyone, including your teen, is organized someplace, somewhere, in some way. One of your most important jobs as your teen’s coach and guide is to help change his or her self-image as “hopelessly disorganized.” Eliminate phrases like “You’re such a slob” and “Your room is a pigsty!” Instead, concentrate on the positive — maybe your kid’s room is mess, but he always turns in his homework on time. Maybe she has papers piled everywhere, but her photo albums and scrapbooks are in enviable order. Recognize the ways in which your teen is organized and let him know you are confident in his ability to apply those skills to other areas of his life as well.
3. Remove the pressure to get rid of stuff.
Forget the myth that “getting organized” means throwing stuff out. This approach creates temporary results and lots of anxiety. The truth is, organizing isn’t about getting rid of things at all. It is about identifying what’s important to you and giving those things a reliable, consistent home. Assure your teen she can keep everything she uses and loves. By focusing on what’s most important, the rest just melts away.
Finally, be sure you reward your son or daughter’s organizing successes with additional freedom. Being organized is about being responsible. If your kid accomplishes his or her organization and time management goals, let there be a payoff! What about extending her Saturday night curfew, or allowing him to take on another extracurricular activity? For a teenager, gaining trust and freedom from parents and teachers is one of the biggest motivations of all.