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Home Family Parenting Advice Summer Assignment Procrastination—Good Parenting

Summer Assignment Procrastination—Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,
My rising high school junior has signed up for Advance Placement classes for the fall semester. She’s a good student with sights on a college major in the natural sciences. But she’s a procrastinator.

With August half over she jokes that she has yet to begin a two-page essay assignment that’s due the first day of school. I’m more stressed out about this than she is.

Do I Push?

Dear DIP,
In a word, No, but if you must, Gently.

Time Management
Typical teen-agers live very much “in the moment.” Moods fluctuate with the unpredictability of hormone waves while plans with friends materialize and evaporate just as quickly. Teens are focused on themselves and their peer group, often to the exclusion of family commitments and academic responsibilities. Those who hold down a job do best with short hours, or in the case of summer jobs, a brief term of full-time employment.

Time management involves planning ahead and self-discipline – two abilities that may yet be in development. While maturity level and personality factors vary from teen to teen, many will need some help to budget their time effectively. You might ask her if she’s given any thought to: reference sources, the basic structural form the essay could take (for example, chronological presentation of events and ideas leading to contemporary attitudes or knowledge, or equal space allotted for two or more comparative points of view), and her opinion(s) on the subject.

These are thinking tasks that can be addressed in advance of actually sitting down and typing, and may benefit from bouncing her ideas off of you or someone else. Also (gently) suggest she pick out a couple blocks of time for this assignment during which other family members will leave her undisturbed. It might help her (and you) to check with the teacher as to approximately how many hours the assignment should take. A finite amount of time is easier to approach than a seemingly endless quantity of time. Highlight for her the committed blocks of time before the due date she may already have saved for family activities and plans with friends.

Experience Can Be a Great Teacher
While parents’ stories of “When I was your age” fall on deaf ears in the teen years, a well-told anecdote or two could motivate her to get this assignment completed. Either you or another respected adult in her life could share a lesson learned from your own dilemmas with a procrastinated assignment. Both success stories – the teacher was absent the day it was due so there was time for a fantastic re-write, and stories of regret – once I finally got into the assignment I realized I didn’t have enough time to do it the way I would’ve wanted to. Prompt her to remember incidences in which procrastination has led to her best work or less than her best.

If your own past battles with procrastination led to trying new ways of approaching long range assignments, share tips for her to consider. Did you learn to stretch it out evenly by making project time part of a daily routine, for example an hour a day, right after school over a week or two? Or did you learn that “all at once” is your best approach to a big task so you can fully immerse yourself without losing concentration, maybe with a quick critical review the next day for final edits? Did you find that having a Study Buddy helped or hindered with tackling a long-avoided assignment? Did you ever go back to a teacher to ask, “Wait. What do you mean by this question? And what sort of references should I be looking for?” to clarify the assignment? Was there a certain environmental factor – light snacks, background music, morning light, the company of a cat – that put you in the best frame of mind to do the assignment? Did your muse come to you through a mantra – “I’m learning more and more as I read and write about this” or “She (the teacher) will be so impressed with what I’m finding out” or “It wouldn’t have been assigned if it wasn’t going to be a valuable (and accomplishable) learning experience.” Or did you find motivation to get through a dreaded assignment by promising a reward for yourself of something fun when you got it finished?

It’s Her Job and Her Approach to It
With or without your wanted or unwanted support, your daughter is ultimately responsible for her academic responsibilities. She is also learning her own best approach to being successful with school.

Those of us who struggle with time management (myself included) often underestimate the amount of time needed for a project. We find ourselves caught up against a deadline without enough time to do a job as well as we would have liked. Interestingly, it’s the adrenaline of “Oh no, I’m almost out of time!” that can motivate that critical self-directed push to the finish.
A “false deadline,” say, one week before the actual due date, gives her a grace period, if needed, to add that last finishing touch to her essay. Maybe accompanied with the promise of enough time for wardrobe inspection and refreshing before school starts.

The “request for an extension” technique, to be able to finish up an assignment after the due date, will come in handy for her at some point; college professors are used to it. This worked well for me about a week before the due date. The person who suggested it to me – an older and more experienced student – said, “Professors are human. If you ask one-on-one and explain your reason for not expecting to be finished on time, and express your sincerity in wanting to do a good job on the assignment, your request for a day or two more is probably going to be granted.”

Your daughter is also going to have to come to terms with her ideal academic load. The Advance Placement courses and associated AP exams in high school can give students college credit in recognition of the amount of time and effort these require. However, the constant pressure to perform and excel may prove to be more than your daughter wants to deal with. She may need your help, or the help of a counselor, to determine how much of a challenge she should undertake when choosing her courses.

Another optional technique she can learn about is that classes can be changed (early in the semester) or dropped at any time. Yes, even in high school. She should ask about the possibility of retaking the same course, or repeating an AP exam, later. This tip served me well in graduate school when I re-took a prerequisite Statistics course. Even though I finished with a “B” the first time around several semesters earlier, and didn’t get the credits twice, it refreshed what I needed to know to manage the next course, greatly reducing my stress level.

As your daughter conquers this assignment and those to follow, she is hopefully gaining some self-knowledge. She will learn to recognize patterns in her behavior that are likely to stay with her, and techniques that she can use to affect the results she wants for herself.

Dr. Debbie Wood

Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.

What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.

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