A common complaint many of my students make about their lives is that they feel “stressed out” and that they don’t have enough time to get done all that their school, family, work, and social lives require. This feeling of being overwhelmed is not unique to high school students. At no time in history prior to this moment have people had more distractions and tasks whirring about them on a daily basis. Stress seems to be the inevitable byproduct of life in modern society. However, my observations, study, and practice have convinced me that this is not true. In almost all cases I have dealt with (including my own), the stress and all of its nasty accompanying symptoms is entirely self-inflicted.
Over the years I have observed frustrated parents, teachers, counselors, coaches etc. get very upset with teens who “won’t get their act together.” Meetings are held and example after example of how disorganized a particular student is are put on humiliating display. Messy bookbags and lists of missed assignments are met with frowns and disappointed head shaking. In most cases, in fact, the teen agrees with his critics. He knows he’s not organized and promises to try harder. I’m convinced that he does “try harder,” but the problem is that no one’s ever shown him how to do what he’s trying to do! He’s been set up for a lifelong Keystone Kops routine. The great irony is that most of the adults criticizing him are disorganized messes themselves or have managed to compensate around their organizational shortcomings (or hired a secretary!).
Early in the summer before entering high school, I recommend that students and their parents sit down for a brief discussion about stress and the feelings that accompany a sense that one never has enough time to relax. After this discussion, the student should be given a copy of this sheet (anything similar will do), and have him fill out the sheet as accurately as possible for one week. This exercise will be more effective if parents fill out sheets as well. The more things are seen as a collaborative effort toward common goals rather than as a top-down imposition, the more “buy-in” parents will get.
At the conclusion of the week, the student and parents should meet again to go over the sheets. Try to divide the activities into categories (e.g. eating, exercise, TV, video games, sleep, phone etc.). I can’t emphasize enough here that this is NOT the time to critique the choices the teen is making regarding his use of time. If parents go down that road, they can essentially guarantee a shutdown of communication – and the time window in the high school experience when the student is most receptive to guidance and discussion will likely be lost. My experience with this experiment is that the student will be genuinely surprised with how much of his time (percentage-wise) is wasted. It’s similar to the realization my wife and I had when I financial adviser had my wife and I track every daily expense for a month. It wasn’t the big purchases or bills that were killing us. It was the daily frittering away of money on small things. This is exactly what happens to people with time.
What needs to happen next is for a weekly (bi-weekly works as well) meeting to be scheduled where family members share calendars and schedules. There are numerous ways to accomplish this. Some families enjoy the face to face time while others utilize a “virtual” online approach. From this, the student creates his own weekly schedule. Until personal mastery of this aspect of self-management, parents should frequently spot-check progress.
Aside from taking ownership of one’s life and education this is THE essential habit necessary for success. Subject specific issues are irrelevant until this habit becomes a seamless part of daily life. Also, this habit will reap enormous benefits not only for the student, but the entire family as well.
Next Week: Be the Parent – Turn Off The Toys