My husband and I have a son who is a junior in high school. He is struggling lately with procrastination, which can have a big impact on his academic performance. Part of me wants to “let him fail on his own” so he learns the natural consequences of poor planning. But as any college admissions counselor will tell you, the junior year is a critical time when students need to perform their best to increase their chances of college acceptance, scholarship awards, etc. My husband and I go back and forth on what we should do. Do we let him mess up, knowing that his short-sightedness could create a long-term problem that impacts college options? Or do we continue to nag him into doing what needs to be done, even though he seems to resent our reminders and nudging. This is such a tricky age! What do you advise?
Response by Katie Neal, LCSW
Yes! This is a very tricky age and it’s tough to know which way to lean at this point in their lives…more toward roots or wings? For this issue, it may be a combination of “suffering” the natural consequences and helping to make sure he stays on track to meet his long-term goals.
The first thing that I think would help, if you haven’t already, is a conversation. I would encourage both parents, together, to have a very candid talk with him about your concerns and expectations. With teens, the adults in their lives often assume the teen knows the expectations. In actuality, those expectations sometimes adjust over time and the teen may not be fully aware of what is expected of him in regards to future planning.
This type of conversation may also bring barriers that he may be facing with these tasks. Is he procrastinating with taking the ACT because he’s afraid he might not do well? Could he use some extra tutoring and doesn’t know how to ask for the help? Working together to help address any of the barriers that are brought up may help in getting him back on track.
Once any barriers are addressed, I would encourage the parents and the teen to collaborate with each other to make some short and long-term expectations. It’s helpful if these are listed in short, easy-to-follow directives. An example of a long-term goal would be: Have a summer job. The short-term expectation would be: Turn in three applications by April 30th. These smaller expectations (turning in applications) would be ones that occasional reminders might help, but ultimately, if he chooses not to follow through with completing that task, there would be consequences both “natural” and potentially ones from the parents, depending on how the family typically addresses a teen not following rules/expectations of the parent.
Throughout the process, it may be beneficial for the parents to acknowledge that this is a tough time. Growing up and navigating these processes can be confusing. Parents validating those feelings and showing their love and support through this transitional time might help the teen to navigate in a more positive way.
Hang in there!
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