Ask the Experts—Disorganized Teens - MetroFamily Magazine
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Ask the Experts—Disorganized Teens

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This month’s question: It’s been a month now but my teen cannot seem to get organized in school; help! How can I help her to stay organized and not get overwhelmed by her schedule?

Organization is easy for some, but a learned behavior for others. Get your child interested in organization by making him part of the process—from picking out notebooks specific for each class to writing down important due dates for homework and test dates in his daily agenda. Then make sure he keeps that agenda with him, both at school and at home. If too many activities are the problem, consider reducing activities and responsibilities. Start with one or two and add on until you find the right balance.

Once those papers start coming home, it can get overwhelming and his backpack can become disorganized very quickly. Show him how to go through paperwork and decide what is important enough to keep and what can be tossed.

Devonne Carter, LCSW, is a Clinical Social Worker in private practice in Edmond. 405-326-3923,

First, start with his backpack. If it is overflowing with papers and other stuff, clean it out and throw away anything you can. Sort the rest into their proper folders or compartments in the backpack. For each class, he should have a folder or binder and any necessary supplies and books. He should have an agenda or notebook to list each subject’s homework assignments and due dates, so each day he knows what has to be done at home and when to turn in each assignment. Some schools and teachers require students to purchase and use a school agenda. If your school doesn’t, an agenda is still great to help keep track of assignments, due dates, and test dates so he doesn’t have to try to remember it all each day.

Another way to stay organized is to create a “launch pad” at home, a place for his backpack and everything that needs to go to school each day. After he does homework, have him put everything on the launch pad so it will be ready to grab in the morning. A great resource to check out is Her Student Control Journal helps kids organize their school schedules. You can find it at

Tamara Walker RN is a talk show host and speaker in Edmond.

I would start with a calendar in his room or day-planner notebook (if he will use it). Each weekend, take the opportunity to review assignments for the coming week and write important dates on the calendar. If he doesn’t have this information, reach out to his teacher or school website. Have a weekly plan, and follow up daily on what is required for the day. Praise him when he’s on top of his schedule to reinforce that positive behavior. Check off both assignments and tests each day after completion. This allows him to see the progress he has made and to start developing patterns and habits he can use moving forward.

Consider organizing schoolwork by subject. Small notebooks or colored files are perfect for this. Help him to keep subjects separate and to have a place for everything. In the beginning, review these folders daily, insuring that he is keeping up with the separation of subjects. At some point, this will become more his habit than yours. Remember, it takes several weeks to develop a habit. By setting up systems like the ones above and consistently implementing it for at least three weeks, you will offer your child the best opportunity to develop positive organization skills.

Donnie Van Curen, M.A., LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist with Counseling 1820, LLC. 405-823-4302,

Our Readers Respond:

  • A planner is a great tool, but you’ll have to show her how to use it. If it seems too bulky, you can make your own weekly assignment sheet and have her write homework assignments for each class. Create some kind of incentive if she completes it for a preset time period and get some fun pens to encourage her to use it. She may not be able to use pink or purple pens at school, but there’s no reason she can’t use them in her planner!
  • FranklinCovey has awesome seminars and planners for teens. It will change her habit—totally worth every cent.
  • Spend 20 minutes after dinner or before bed every day planning for the next day. Make a checklist to keep track of daily responsibilities and ongoing projects, and make it a goal to check off everything on time. When your teen accomplishes this, offer a reward—a special meal, extended curfew or other incentive to help keep her on track!

Thanks to Laura G., Kelly N. and Jessica P. for your feedback!

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