College Ahead for Mom’s Disorganized Teen

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on Jan 31, 2018 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question: I have a junior in high school. He gets good grades, has lots of friends and is a good kid all around. His organizational skills are horrendous though. We have to dig through his messy binder each night to try and figure out what he has for homework. He doesn’t write any of it down. I still have to wake him up each morning even if I reminded him the night before to set an alarm. He often loses things. I am fearful of how he will do when he leaves for college and would like tips to help him focus on organization over the next year and a half while he is still home, please.

Answer: Sounds like you are doing a good job with your son, and it has paid off in him being a ‘good kid all around.’ Now it is time to step back. The consequences of his disorganization might mean some hard knocks, however, this will be important learning for him. It sounds like it is time to stop helping him figure out what homework he has, and stop dealing with the messy binder. These are his problems to solve. You will not be at college with him, and if you continue to help him, he will have trouble later doing these things for himself. You rightfully recognized this need.

It is also time to stop waking him up. Begin by having a conversation about his need to be able to do this for himself. Together decide on what future date when you will no longer be waking him up for school. You will have to fight any impulse you have to get him moving. It might help you to plan to be away from the house when you first choose to have him do this on his own. He may oversleep, he may be late. Remember, you will not be there at college. Usually, once he knows that the consequences are fully his for not getting to school on time, he will begin to take responsibility. You can assist him by helping him map out what he may need to be successful, like experimenting with bedtimes and pulling away from screens before bed, and the like. Once you start, don’t go back to helping.

Your goal now with your son is to help him develop his independence. He may have to fail, and not do well initially before he gets the hang of it. Unless his scattered, disorganized behavior is the result of some form of Attention Deficit Disorders ( ADHD), I am not recommending that he needs other professional interventions. Since he is thriving in most areas of his life, this is not indicated. The pulling away during the late high school years is part of an important developmental step that both you and your son need to take.

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine, a mental health and substance abuse treatment agency serving adults, adolescents, children and families. For more information or if you or someone you know needs help, call us at 877-888-4304 or visit our website and click on “Referrals.”

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