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The Effects of Sleep on Performance

In this day and age, sleep could be considered a luxury for many of us. Whether you have to study, work, or do chores, sometimes it’s difficult to get enough sleep. This leaves you feeling tired, irritable, and sleepy the next day. This problem is even bigger if you’re an adolescent who, due to brain chemistry, usually goes to bed very late and ends up getting too little sleep.

In the next few paragraphs, you’ll learn exactly how sleep affects performance, the DO’s and DON’T’s of staying awake, and how you can get more sleep. Also, we’ll look at common assumptions about sleep and determine if they’re myths or if there is some truth to them.

Consequences of poor sleep

When we say “poor sleep,” we’re thinking of both quantity and quality – how many hours and how restful those hours actually are. Poor sleep includes not enough hours, frequent nocturnal awakening, and trouble waking up in the morning. Sometimes, if you don’t sleep enough, the quality of your sleep can compensate for it; other times, even if you sleep for ten hours but wake up non-stop, you might wake up feeling tired. [2]

The things that are most affected by the lack of quality sleep are learning, memory, and motor skills.

In order to really learn something, the newly acquired knowledge needs to be properly consolidated – that is to say, stored safely in our long-term memory. For this to happen, at least 4.5 hours of sleep is necessary the night after learning something new. So, if you spent hours studying something the night before an exam, but didn’t give yourself enough time for quality sleep, chances are you’ll do worse than if you only studied for half that time, but got enough sleep afterwards. [2]

As for performing motor skills, similar rules apply – you need enough quality sleep for best performance. This is especially important for movement-based sports, learning an instrument, or developing fine artistic movement. If you don’t sleep enough the night before the big competition, you’ll be slower and less precise than you might expect to be. What you should do is get some rest from that activity for 24 hours before the performance, as well as make sure you get a good night’s sleep. This might sound counterintuitive – shouldn’t I squeeze in as much practice as possible? Not the day before the performance! As we mentioned before, newly learned things (and this means movement-based things as well) need to be properly stored in long-term memory if you are to remember and perform them correctly. [3]

Now the question arises – how can I best use sleep to my advantage? What are the DO’s and DON’T’s?

Let’s go through some common sleep myths, and hopefully, all your burning questions will be answered.

Myth  No.1: “The older you are, the less sleep you need”

Sure, this is true when comparing adolescents to very young children. However, adolescents in high school DO NOT need less hours of sleep than, say, adolescents in middle school. They need the same amount, which depends on the individual, but is sometimes as long as ten hours. This is proven by the fact that most high school students who don’t need to get up early in the morning will often wake up only after a full ten hours of sleep. [2]

So why do we believe they need less, then?

There are two reasons: first, high school students usually go to sleep later than middle school students, and second, they start school earlier. Thus, their overall sleep time becomes shorter; and seeing how a majority of adolescents lives on seven-ish hours of sleep a night, we tend to believe they just need less of it – which simply isn’t true. [4] This was the reason for the recent debate about U.S. school starting times. Many think it would be more beneficial for students’ health if high school classes were to start an hour later than they currently do, and based on research, we can’t help but agree with that.

Myth  No.2: “Adolescents’ brains are different, so they turn into night owls”

This is true, but there’s more to it. If you are an adolescent, especially one who considers themselves to be mature, chances are you start feeling sleepy later at night than you used to – this is a purely biological factor. [2] However, there are social factors as well, one of them being late-night social activities – like parties –  that often start happening during adolescent years. Be that as it may, the biggest culprit is still technology.

Older students tend to spend more time using their smartphones, computers, and technology in general. And while too much time in front of a screen is harmful in itself, it also affects our sleep schedules. Screens we look at daily have a special type of light – blue light – that our brains read as a “wake up” signal. This is why most social networks have blue backgrounds – Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr… So if you decide to “just check Facebook before bed”, you might find yourself still attached to your phone an hour later. Add this to an already delayed sleep schedule and you can begin to understand why most adolescents today suffer from sleep deprivation. [4] [9]

If you want to learn more about screen addictions and how to manage them, sign up for our free webinar on this topic and save your spot now!

Myth  No.3: “Naps are a valid replacement for night sleep”

Again, this statement is partially true. Naps can be extremely useful if you didn’t have enough sleep last night, or haven’t slept in a long time – but in the long run, not enough night sleep will cause you issues like diminished alertness, irritability, learning and memory problems, and micro-sleep  – when you fall asleep for just a second or two, which can be deadly if you’re sitting behind a wheel. Therefore, naps shouldn’t be overused, but they can be useful if need be.

But now the question arises – what is a perfect nap?

First of all, you should nap in the afternoon; ideally, anywhere between noon and 2:00 p.m. [7] As for how long these naps should be, anything between 30 and 60 minutes is great. [8] You should be aware, though, that after you’ve awakened from a nap, you’re almost certain to experience sleep inertia – that feeling of sleepiness and fatigue that comes after a nap. [7] However, this usually passes after five to fifteen minutes, and then you’re good to go!

Myth  No.4: “If you don’t have the time to sleep, energy drinks or coffee are a good substitute!”

The truth is, energy drinks can do more harm than good, especially if you have medical issues like diabetes or a heart condition. The amount of caffeine in energy drinks is not regulated and is usually through the roof; on top of that, energy drinks have sugar and additives such as guarana, to further help you stay awake. [6] So if you absolutely must stay awake, coffee is a better solution. But the problem here is the more you drink, the more you need to drink to stay awake. And if you drink coffee less than six hours before going to bed, you’re more likely to have trouble falling asleep. [5]

That’s why a short nap is a much healthier and more beneficial option. Another thing you can do (if you’re not a nap person, or you just can’t fit one in) is some brief exercise. It can be anything – sit-ups, squats, a short run – anything to get your heart rate and adrenaline up. After it, you’ll feel much more awake and without any of the side effects of energy drinks or coffee!

Helpful tips for a better sleep

Now that we’re at the end of our sleep-conversation, here are some helpful tips to make you feel more energetic and functional in the morning.

Growing up, adolescents start craving more and more independence, and one of these acts of independence is setting their own bed-time. And while this surely helps you feel more mature, it can often create issues when it comes to a sleep schedule. As mentioned before, it often means going to bed later and sleeping less. But if that is to be expected due to changes in the brain, how can it be countered?

Ideally, you will set your own bed-time no later than 11 p.m. If you do this enough times, your brain will rewire to accommodate the new sleep schedule. Next, you should try to create a relaxing pre-sleep atmosphere. It can be meditation or listening to some light and slow music, but the most important thing is – no loud noises and no screens! The best thing to do is to read a few pages of a book.  It’s been shown that people who read before bedtime fall asleep faster and have a more quality sleep, than those who don’t. [4]

Finally, your sleep schedule should be consistent, no matter the day. An additional problem for adolescents is they tend to sleep much longer on weekends. It’s impossible to live on quality weekend sleep only – sleeping regularly every day is the way to go. Sleeping longer on weekends only confuses the body and it can’t revert to the weekday sleep schedule until, say, Wednesday. But just when it gets the hang of it – boom, it’s the weekend again! [1]

Following these rules, you shouldn’t have too many problems with sleeping, learning, or performing. But if you notice some problems still remain, experts are just a click away from helping you with that.

by Jelena Jegdić

 

References:

  1. Bonnet, M.H. (1985). Effect of Sleep Disruption on Sleep, Performance, and Mood
  2. Curcio, G., Ferrara, M. & De Gennaro, L. (2006) Sleep loss, learning capacity, and academic performance. Sleep Medicine Reviews 10, 323–337
  3. Walker, M.P. et al. (2002). Practice with Sleep Makes Perfect: Sleep-Dependent Motor Skill Learning. Neuron, Vol. 35, 205–211
  4. Carskadon, M.A. (2011). Sleep in Adolescents: The Perfect Storm. Pediatr Clin North Am; 58(3): 637–647
  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nn42RC1zT_A
  6. Seifert, S. M. (2011). Health Effects of Energy Drinks on Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults. pediatrics.org/cgi/doi/10.1542/peds.2009-3592
  7. Naitoh, P., Englund, C.E. & Ryman, D. (1982) Restorative power of naps in designing continuous work schedule. Human Ergol.,11, Suppl.: 259-278
  8. Gillberg, M. et al. (1996). The Effects of a Short Daytime Nap After Restricted Night Sleep. 19(7):570-575
  9. http://jap.physiology.org/content/110/5/1432.full

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6 Tips to Support Self-Awareness Development in Teens

by Milena Ćuk,

Life Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-training

“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”
― Lao Tzu

Research has shown that a high self-awareness score is a crucial predictor of overall success. Acclaimed psychologist Daniel Goleman points out that self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence and that mastery of emotional self-awareness is a key attribute of successful leaders

Why is self-awareness important for teens?

Who am I? What makes me special, a unique human being, different from others? What do I want from my life? Why do I feel like this? What made me react like this? These are just some of the questions adolescents ask themselves.

Answers to such questions build the foundation of a teen’s self-awareness. Practically speaking, being self-aware means we are able to understand our thoughts, emotions, beliefs, traits, and motivations and perceive how they affect our performance.

This skill develops naturally over time through experience and maturity. However, since  it is crucial in taking ownership of our lives and the direction we choose, we all need to foster it in ourselves and in our children.

There are a variety of practices and exercises to help you enhance self-awareness as you guide your child’s development, and we describe these below. Your teen doesn’t have to choose only one as they begin to discover which of these practices resonates the most with his/her unique being. Each can become a habit of daily routine, which is the best-case scenario.  And remember, it’s  good for all of us to be open to applying them in our own lives. Let’s not forget that we thrive together with our kids!

Time and space for self-reflection

We live in a busy world where speed and multitasking have become the norm. However, our brains haven’t evolved fast enough to catch up and process all the information and impressions inundating us daily. Sometimes (ideally each day) we need to slow down, pause,  be still, and be left quietly alone for self-reflection because this will ground us in reality.

This applies to your teen as well, especially after busy day or week. If your teen is more introverted, he prefers to spend time alone and you should respect his need. However, you might suggest that exploring and learning different ways to self-reflect could be beneficial for him. If your teen is more extroverted and doesn’t like being alone, you should teach him the advantages of slowing down and self-reflecting every now and then.

This could mean taking a walk outside or just sitting or lying down in your room and doing nothing. Though it may appear we’re doing nothing, we are consciously and subconsciously processing information and getting closer to our true selves.

You can simply offer a  gentle suggestion. For instance: “Honey, why don’t you go for a walk, write in your journal, or just spend some time processing this so you can figure out your true feelings and what you should do next.”

Keeping a journal

This is another form of self-reflection, but it is especially beneficial for teenagers.

Writing our thoughts down can help us explore what is going on in our minds – what we think, how we feel, what inspires or frightens us. Writing provides a sense of clarity especially for confusing and complex feelings we don’t yet understand.

For the emotionally loaded or conflicted experiences teens face as they grow, writing a journal is particularly useful since it provides a safe space for expressing their feelings, and there is a greater chance that creative solutions will emerge in the form of new decisions and actions.

If you had a diary of your own when you were young, you can share it to encourage your teen to start his own.  Journals can take many forms. Besides the classic diary, they can combine words with drawings or images if your teen is more visually inclined.

Mindfulness practices

Mindfulness practices develop full awareness in the here and now, promote non-judgmental observance and acceptance of our inner thoughts and feelings and help us release and overcome emotional pain. Watch this short movie to find out how mindfulness empowers us.

Inspired by the wisdom of the East, particularly the Buddhist tradition of meditation, Jon Kabat-Zinn was one of the first to introduce and adapt mindfulness practices to the Western world.

Due to its proven clinical effects on stress reduction, enhancement of self-awareness, inner balance and general well-being, a variety of mindfulness techniques has been developed for application in daily life and school programs.

You can find available mindfulness programs in your area or even find some guided online sessions and practice it together with your teens.

Emotional learning

Emotional awareness, understanding why we feel a certain way and knowing how to handle these feelings is crucial to success and happiness in every aspect of our lives.

Psychotherapist Claude Steiner defines this ability as “emotional literacy”. We learn how to manage our emotions, develop empathy for other people, repair emotional damage when we’ve done something wrong, and succeed in interacting with others effectively.

The importance of emotional awareness has brought emotional learning programs into schools and hopefully your children have already had the opportunity to develop this competency. If not, look for available lectures and workshops in your community that are oriented towards developing emotional awareness and literacy, either for youth or adults. Let’s not forget that as parents, we are pivots of our children’s emotional health and emotional learning, and personal development should always be a priority.

You can also check available online programs. Here you can find more about emotional literacy and even download a full book by Claude Steiner. In one of our previous articles, we wrote about how we can enhance teen’s emotional development through the use of movies.

Learning to have an accurate self-image

Self-image in teens can often be biased or fluid and they need to learn to evaluate their own strengths and limitations objectively. Constructive feedback, both positive and negative, is essential in learning this ability, which is part of self-awareness and development in general.

Foster an atmosphere in your family where providing honest feedback is natural both for you and your children. Here you can check some of the principles to deliver effective feedback.

Try this interesting exercise along with your teens from time to time. Each of you should write down three positive and three negative aspects of yourself. These can be your personality traits, habits, abilities or physical appearance. Then share and discuss what you all wrote down, suggesting how strengths can be used and limitations overcome.

Pay attention to how realistic your teen has been in his/her estimation. Has she written positive or negative first? Did she have problems listing positive or negative qualities? These indicators, if any, will be the basis for your further interventions.

The mind-body connection

Long a tradition in Eastern cultures and advocated widely by current holistic practitioners, mind-body awareness or the ability to “listen” to your body through sensory experiences can enhance the development of full self-awareness.

Besides yoga, there are numerous practices that can help us integrate mind-body experiences.  Some are spiritual in nature while others are more physical. Free dance practices with elements of improvisation, such as 5Rhythms, Open Floor or Authentic Movement, also referred to as “moving meditation”, are good examples. All these can help us focus on our inner selves,  become rooted and more fully present.

So if your teen is more inclined to work through his thoughts and emotions  through body/movement, seek out those activities and practices that best match his channels of communication with himself.

“Know thyself” – it was inscribed at the Delphi temple. This virtue was as valued in ancient times as it is today. Let’s help our kids acquire this wisdom and prepare them to be able to lead fulfilling lives.

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References and useful links:

  1. Self-Awareness: The Foundation of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
  2. New Study Shows Nice Guys Finish First by Shari Lifland (American Management Foundation)
  3. How Mindfulness Empowers Us: An Animation Narrated by Sharon Salzberg
  4. Emotional Literacy: Intelligence with Heart by Claude Steiner (2003)

USING MOVIES TO HELP ENHANCE YOUR TEEN’S EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT

by Milena Ćuk,

Life Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-training

Old civilizations had myths and stories to learn about the mysteries of life; we have movies.

Movies are an important part of youth culture and as such are recommended to parents, teachers, and counselors as valuable tools in addressing the emotional and social needs of teens. Moreover, videos and movies have proven particularly effective in working with gifted children and adolescents.

If you’d like to use movies as a bridge to talking about important life and developmental issues your teen is facing, you’ll find in this article how the strategy works, how you can guide the process, what questions you can ask, etc.  We’ll also show you how you can use the Harry Potter stories to address the emotion of fear.

Called video-therapy or cinematherapy by some authors, this strategy is similar to the more widely recognized approach known as bibliotherapy and actually, relies on its rationale and process. While reading a book or watching a movie, we initially experience identification, where we recognize similarities between ourselves and the characters in the story (in this case, a movie). Then comes catharsis, where we are touched by specific happenings in the movie and we react emotionally. Insight dawns when we realize that we’ve reacted emotionally because of a particular issue from our own life that we connected with the character or situation in the movie.

Frequently, we’re not aware of why we are so moved, and that is where talking about it later can help us gain insight and integrate this new understanding into our life experience. Reflection on the movie and conversation about it afterward can also help us explore our needs, desires, fears, inner conflicts, patterns, values, aspirations, etc. Moreover, it can help us learn new coping mechanisms which we can then apply in solving our current life challenges.

This is especially important for teens since apart from any inspiration or life lessons they might glean, certain movies can help reassure them they aren’t isolated and alone with their needs and problems.

There are two ways you can use movies to boost teens’ social and emotional development. You can ask about a movie that had a significant impact on them and you can choose a movie to watch together – one you consider to be particularly beneficial for their development.

ASKING ABOUT A MOVIE

This approach is helpful in gaining a better understanding of teens’ inner world – their self-image, current dilemmas, and general aspirations in life. Here are some examples of questions for opening a dialogue:

What is it about this movie that inspired you so much? What did you learn from the movie? These may be basic questions but the experience of listening to your teen’s responses and opinions can be enjoyable as well as instructive. That’s how I found out from my teen niece (15), a valuable assistant in writing these articles, why she’s so inspired by the movies Whiplash (2014) and Cyberbully (2011). She aspires to achieve excellence in what she is good at – the movie cautioned that this drive may sometimes come at a cost. Her second choice showed her how our activity on social networks can affect the lives of others, the pitfalls of trying to satisfy our emotional needs through the virtual world, and the importance of true friends and family support. Besides, I found out about some applications popular these days among teens that I haven’t heard of before, so I think I’m now fairly well up to speed!

In one of our previous articles, we offered practical suggestions to help parents tackle important life issues with their teens in informal, constructive ways (4 Ideas to Get Closer to Your Teen). Remember, don’t push and let the discussion take its natural course. However, if you notice that you’ve captured your teen’s attention, that he/she is thinking and is willing to continue and go deeper into the conversation, here are some aspects that you can explore:

Favorite character

Who is your favorite character? Why? Describe his/her personality and abilities. Do you find any similarities between this character and yourself? And differences? Does he/she have some traits or abilities that you would like to have, too? In which specific situations would you need these abilities? With these questions, you are opening a space to discuss your teen’s needs, troubles or aspirations and possibilities for development.

People/behaviors they don’t like

Are there some characters that you disliked? What was it about them that you didn’t like? Are there people in your circle who have similar characteristics? How do you feel when you interact with them?

Situations that provoke emotions

Was there some situation in the movie that provoked strong emotions? What was it about this situation that made you sad/angry/enlightened…? Strong emotions are always in play when we reflect on something truly important and valuable to us. If you’ve been able to get your teen to talk about it, your efforts have been successful. Use this experience wisely.

Follow-up activities

If your teen is open to role-playing, you can even use theater and improvisation techniques as follow-up activities. For instance, your teen needs more confidence in the classroom. Let him be a director and set up a scene that mirrors the real situation he wants to change. He can give roles to you, to other members of the family; even puppies, dolls, pillows, etc. Then, encourage him to imagine that he is like this chosen character, to take some of his abilities and to act, empowered, in the chosen scene. You can make variations together and have fun. Ask him how this acting made him feel and how he can apply it in a real situation. This tactic, especially when used with superheroes, has been extremely effective in the workshops for personal development that I run.

Of course, these are just examples of questions and follow-up activities for guiding a process of learning from a movie. You will use the ones appropriate for the given situation and your teen’s sensibility and readiness to participate.

CHOOSING A MOVIE: HARRY POTTER

The other way to use movies as a means of addressing the emotional needs of teens is for you yourself to select a movie which addresses particular themes or issues you consider significant for your teen’s development. Then, after watching the movie together, you can talk about it with each other, channeling the conversation to the themes most beneficial to your teen’s development.

Let’s take the example of the Harry Potter movies, as most of us are familiar with the story. With all due respect to those who value its original written form, the motion picture adaptations can serve this purpose effectively. There are plenty of themes important to teens elaborated in the story of Harry Potter: friendship, life challenges, loss, failure, danger (even encounters with evil), the school environment, relationship with authorities, competition, fighting for a greater cause, etc.

A particularly useful feature of the story lies in its exploration of the emotion of fear and more importantly, how one can handle it. This is always a timely topic, especially during adolescence with all its manifestations, such as low self-esteem, insecurity or anxiety.

Harry Potter embodies all the characteristics of the hero, one of which is his ability to plumb the deeper and darker chambers of his being and squarely confront his fear. How to find strength in difficult times when we are vulnerable is an important lesson in preparation for adulthood.

You can discuss with teens how Harry Potter and other characters reacted when faced with serious obstacles or dangerous, even evil creatures. When faced with danger, is their usual reaction more similar to Harry’s, Hermione’s, Ron’s, another character’s behavior, or some combination? Ask them to recall how fictional characters managed to handle dangerous creatures. What helped?

Of course, you should always try to connect insights from the movie to the life of your teen and how he/she can incorporate those lessons into his/her life. What is particularly useful is that the Harry Potter story offers concrete strategies for handling fear. Yes, I’m referring to the Patronus and Riddikulus charms. As the story goes, these charms can protect you from dark creatures such as Dementors and Boggarts, who are nothing more than personifications of our fears.

It is well known that a strong positive emotion, such as love, is an antidote to fear. Also, the presence of a trusted, loving person can calm the fear response. Seeking help from the spiritual realm, whatever our belief system, is invaluable, too. In a way, all these elements are contained in the Patronus charm, which works by evoking the happiest memory from one’s life and concentrating on it. Done correctly, this will create a positive force in the form of a sacred animal (totem), a spirit guardian, which will protect us from the scary Dementors. You can practice Expecto Patronum! with your teen so that each of you, using your imagination, can find a source of strength and support to help you fight the dark creatures of your life.

Similarly, the Riddikulus spell is also a beautiful metaphor for a technique that is sometimes employed in a therapeutic session – the gift of humor. Humor is a powerful tool in fighting fear. When we are anxious and tense, there’s nothing better than a good laugh to immediately ease our distress. It’s good to be able to bring out the clown in ourselves to help us see a stressful situation from a funny, absurd angle. Practice Riddikulus with your kids when appropriate or let them teach you if you forget how to do it.

The real “magic” is the strength the characters muster from the inside. This can apply to parenting as well.  We are here to boost your real “ magic” of parenting. If you need any kind of advice related to the emotional development of your teen children, you’ve come to the right place!

Sources:

  1. Greenwood, D. & Long, C. R. (2015). When Movies Matter: Emerging Adults Recall Memorable Movies. Journal of Adolescent Research, Vol. 30(5) 625–650
  2. Milne, H. J. & Reis, S. M. (2000). Using Video Therapy To Address the Social and Emotional Needs of Gifted Children. Gifted Child Today, Vol. 23, Issue 1, pp. 24 – 29
  3. Hébert, T. P. & Speirs Neumeister, K. L. (2001). Guided Viewing of Film: A Strategy for Counseling Gifted Teenagers. The Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, Vol. XII, No. 4, pp. 224–235.

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PROCRASTINATION AND TEENS – HOW CAN WE HELP?

by Milena Ćuk,

Life Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-training

“Much of the stress that people feel doesn’t come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what they started.”

David Allen

Have you ever spent hours staring at a blank page trying to write a meaningful paper or e-mail, etc.?  Have you ever postponed a boring or unpleasant task until the last minute when you couldn’t put it off any longer? Have you ever caught yourself doing all sorts of unimportant activities such as washing dishes or rearranging the furniture instead of getting started on a pressing obligation? What was your favorite time zapper when you were a student yourself?

Let’s face it – we’ve all procrastinated. If you want to help your teen avoid becoming a chronic procrastinator, we suggest you start by admitting that you’ve dealt with this issue as well. We hope that gaining a better understanding of the underlying causes of procrastination and following some of the tips we suggest, will enable you to help your teen overcome the habit.

So, what is procrastination?

Authors Olpin & Hesson (2013) define procrastination as the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished. While delaying tasks from time to time is nothing to worry about, it becomes a problem when transformed into a habit and starts to affect important aspects of our lives – academic, professional and personal. Or,  as Alyce P. Cornyn-Selby put it: “Procrastination is, hands down, our favorite form of self-sabotage.” Fortunately, each habit is learned so it can be unlearned as well.

In order to understand a teen’s mind and world better, I asked my 15-year-old niece about her experience with procrastination as it related to schoolwork. This is what she told me:

I used to have a lot of problems with this pro, pro… Now it’s much better, but back when I was routinely putting my school obligations off, it was always when I was up against more complex tasks; when I knew the work would be more difficult and that I’d need more time to complete it. Why was I acting like this? Because I didn’t want to face it. I didn’t want the burden. It was easier to leave it to the last minute. I could force myself to study only when it was urgent and when I knew that I couldn’t postpone it any longer. Deadlines, actually, are a great help in this! And while I was waiting till that very last moment, I was usually hanging out, watching movies, a TV series on the Internet, or just lying down and doing nothing.

According to psychologist Linda Sapadin, author of the book How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age: 6 Change Programs for 6 Personality Styles, my niece fits the Crisis Makers style of procrastinators. Crisis Makers, addicted to the rush of high emotion, wait until pressure mounts to take action. Other styles are: Perfectionists (afraid of making mistakes, they waste tons of time unnecessarily focusing on details); Dreamers (lack initiative and fail to translate their big ideas into action); Worriers (afraid of change, they’re focused on worst-case scenario); Defiers (may be openly rebellious or passive-aggressive, defy authority or avoid making agreements and often don’t do what they promised); Pleasers (have problems setting priorities and saying “No”, so they make the job harder than it needs to be).

It is very important to first identify the root of the procrastination since this is the key element in pursuing the ongoing battle against it. For instance, if you realize that your teen’s perfectionism is the reason he’s putting off his school obligations, you should focus on helping him overcome his fear of making mistakes, as well as talking to him about time management and related coping skills.  Reassure him it’s okay to make mistakes; teach him that perfection is an illusion, the enemy of the good; advise him just to keep moving, not to get bogged down in details and lose focus on his main objective.

We should acknowledge that chronic procrastination is not a simple matter of time management or self-discipline but a complex psychological and/or neurocognitive issue (Burka and Yuen, 2008). These authors suggest that procrastination is a strategy people use to manage other issues, for instance: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of feeling controlled, or fear of facing reality.

Also, in this high-tech, digitalized age we live in, the accessibility of gadgets and the virtual worlds we tend to inhabit (this applies especially to teens) are not helping us win the procrastination battle. On the contrary.

You can read about the advantages and disadvantages of technology in one of our previous articles: Education and Technology: A Match Made in Heaven or Hell?

So, what to do if you recognize that your teen has a problem with procrastination?

I asked my niece what has helped her. She said:

When I was younger, my parents would keep reminding me to study but it didn’t work. I would pretend to study in order to please them but in actual fact, it was waste of time and I’d end up cramming anyway. Now that I’m in high school, I realize that everything depends on me. My subjects are more complex and since I want good grades, I’d exhaust myself staying up at night with mountains of schoolwork. And I was tired during the day, both in class and during training (volleyball). I realized that procrastination makes me tired and leads nowhere. I now try to organize myself better and study more consistently. And it’s funny – it is not as hard as I used to think. I think that’s because I made the decision on my own, nobody forced me to. It wouldn’t have worked if anybody else tried to force me or to organize my time for me. I had to do it for myself.

We can learn a lot from our kids, don’t you agree? However, it is also useful to get empowered through reliable sources. There are comprehensive and detailed programs developed in order to overcome the habit of procrastination. For your information, you can check the references at the end of the article.

In a nutshell, these are our suggestions:

  • Talk openly and without criticism about the issue of putting obligations off. Show empathy. Through talk and through time it is more likely that a teen will gain insight about how procrastination is affecting him and whether and what he wants to change.
  • Remember your own experience with procrastination and how it made you feel. Share that with your teen. What tasks nowadays do you hate to do and tend to put off? You can talk about it as a common problem and search for solutions together.
  • Share what worked for you when you struggled with procrastination. It doesn’t mean it will work for your teen, but it’s a good start. Praise his efforts to beat the habit.
  • You should figure out what is at the root of his/her procrastination. Underlying reasons need to be addressed, such as any kind of fear, resistance, perfectionism, etc. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from a coach or therapist if you estimate that it is needed.
  • Help him/her learn how to study and how to plan his/her time.
  • Help him recognize his favorite time zappers – how he usually deflects when he procrastinates (social networks, TV, video games, surfing the Internet, oversleeping, panicking, etc.) and make a deal that he try to overcome these impulses during study time. That is where time management skills are important.
  • Encourage him to ask for help if he doesn’t understand the subject matter or doesn’t know how to do his homework.

One of the first authors of self-help books, Robert Collier, has suggested:

“If you procrastinate when faced with a big difficult problem… break the problem into parts, and handle one part at a time.”

This strategy is well-known and is recommended in all manuals for overcoming procrastination: to break a bigger task into smaller, measurable actions with a realistic deadline for each of these smaller actions.

The other one well-known tip for more demanding tasks is to hit the most difficult (or the most unpleasant) part first, if at all possible. As the pioneer in the personal development field, Dale Carnegie observed: “Do the hard jobs first. The easy jobs will take care of themselves.”

Help your teen recognize what motivates him and what gives him energy. Teach him to use these as rewards for maintaining self-discipline and progress in the adoption of a new habit. It is easier to go through unpleasant tasks if we know that we will be rewarded afterward.

Teach your teen to deal with details at the end. For instance, if he is writing a paper, teach him to write the main parts first, to keep moving and to leave dealing with details last.

While these are general tips to deal with procrastination, keep in mind that each person is unique and tailor your approach to what works best for your teen.

Need additional support in helping your teen overcome procrastination? Don’t hesitate. We can help. 

Schedule a FREE CONSULTATION with one of our Coaches:

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References and useful links:

  1. Procrastination: Why You Do It, What To Do About It Now, by Burka, J. B. & Yuen, L. M. (2008)
  2. Stress Management for Life: A Research-Based Experiential Approach, by Olpin, M. & Hesson, M. (2013)
  3. Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age, by Dr. Linda Sapadin http://beatprocrastinationcoach.com/
  4. Procrastination and Science, including quotes related to procrastination https://procrastinus.com/
  5. Award winning video by John Kelly about examination of procrastination https://vimeo.com/9553205
  6. TED Talks: Tim Urban – Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator https://www.ted.com/talks/tim_urban_inside_the_mind_of_a_master_procrastinator#t-831583

4 IDEAS TO HELP YOU GET CLOSER TO YOUR TEEN

by Milena Ćuk,
Life coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-training

This article is about finding acceptable common ground between teens and their parents and offers practical suggestions to help parents tackle important life issues with their teens in informal, constructive ways.

If you have a teenager at home, you’re witnessing a unique process your child is going through – the transition from childhood to adulthood, which manifests itself psychologically, emotionally, physically, and behaviorally. Nowadays you may find it difficult to get close to your son or daughter. Activities you used to enjoy together no longer interest them. And when your teenager seems distant, you aren’t sure why. Are they in love? Worried about schoolwork? Fighting with a friend? Could it be something even more serious? Or perhaps they’re simply off in their own world.

Problems adolescents are facing may seem trivial to us but insurmountable to them. And that is why talking things over with a caring, supportive adult may help alleviate their stress. Also, they may get stuck in very serious problems because they were ashamed to ask for help in the first place before the situation got out of hand. That’s why it is important to create an atmosphere of trust in your family, to have an understanding with your children from their earliest childhood that they will come first to you for help if they are confronted with a situation they cannot handle, or if they experience any form of intimidation such as bullying, etc.  True, we should acknowledge that some teens need space to work through their private issues alone and are reluctant to share their thoughts when we might want them to. Be patient, and reassure them you are always there for them. They will open up when they are ready.

If you are reading this article we’re sure you’re doing your best as a parent. So rather than simply addressing strategies here to help teens solve their problems we will focus on that moment when you sense that your teen has become withdrawn, when you find it more difficult to get close, to talk, be more included in their lives and to understand better what is going on in their inner world.

Each of the suggested ideas is just an example. First, ask your teen if he/she is willing to participate, to modify or to suggest something else.

1. Let’s talk about role models!

Role model, idol or hero – definitions don’t matter here. The idea is to talk about people who inspire us, whom we admire and are drawn to emulate. So, to open up a dialogue with your teen we suggest you talk about people who inspired you when you were growing up, the traits and abilities you admired in them and why you sought to follow their example.  This could be a family member, a fictional character, a celebrity – anyone at all. Now, invite them to name someone who inspires them. In opening up about how you thought when you were their age, you open space for connection and further sharing with your teenager. This could be done anywhere – at the dinner table, in the car, or waiting in line somewhere.

If you want this activity to be meaningful, you have to show genuine interest! Listen carefully. Don’t judge your teen’s choices even if you don’t like them. Talk about it! You can learn a lot about their needs and aspirations through this conversation, and perhaps find out more about the social media pressure kids are exposed to nowadays, the pressure to be popular, pretty, successful, rich, and so on. You can use this opportunity to talk about different ways to fulfill the need to be accepted and loved; how to restore positive self-esteem, or about the value of things money can’t buy.

2. Volunteering together in the community

Being involved in working for the same cause brings people closer. Talk with your teen about causes they care about and suggest you do something about it together. You could join a local organization or initiative that works with kids, homeless people, animal shelters, the environment, etc.

Even better – why not come up with a project of your own? Maybe there is a poor family in your neighborhood you can help with food or clothing; a local lake you could help clear of plastic bottles; or a local community center that needs painting and renovation.

Just look around – there are so many worthy projects you can take part in with your teen and the sense of accomplishment which follows is priceless.

Then again, encourage teens if they want to organize a volunteer effort with their peers. Offer your support – a place to meet, food, transportation, t-shirts, etc. This shows them you want to support their individual efforts, too.

It’s best to let teens take the lead in this while you act as an assistant. While you’re working alongside them, you’ll have the chance to talk about all sorts of things including private issues that are on their minds.

Besides strengthening bonds with your teen, community engagement has multiple benefits for young people. It nurtures their ethical and social values, expands connections with other people, enhances their self-confidence and fosters a proactive approach to life.

3. Movie Night

Old civilizations had myths and stories to learn about the mysteries of life; we have movies. Although children and teens are spending too much time parked in front of the screen and certainly should be encouraged to go outside and take part in other activities, the benefits of high-tech can and should be used for educational and yes, for family bonding purposes.

So why not organize a movie night with your teen every now and then? Sit down with them and agree on a movie or movies you could watch. Perhaps you could include your teen’s best friend every now and again. A friend nearby is comforting.

Encourage discussion about the movie when it’s over. Why it was chosen, what you learned from it, who your favorite character was, etc. Don’t push – let the discussion take its natural course.

Let’s use our love of stories and the abundance of available movies to our advantage to connect us with our teenage children. And of course, provide food you all like. Food brings us together, too!

4. Sharing your passions

Were you a passionate collector of tapes, of rock magazines? Maybe you kept a notebook with inspiring quotes, drawings, and your own thoughts. Or you had a special box of memorabilia; movie tickets, photos, postcards. Maybe you had a special hobby. If you’ve kept treasures like these over the years, now is the time to dust them off and show them to your teen, if you haven’t already done so. This can be a precious, intimate moment. A collection you created with passion carries the essence of your spirit. It is a reminder of who you really are, and when you share it with your teen it invites them to share a passion of theirs or to discover a new one.

There’s a story behind each passion. Stories connect people, so use them. You could broaden this activity to include grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. This could make for a great extended family bonding experience.

Help teens nurture and develop their passion. They may want to build bird houses or shoot a movie. Great! Engagement in activities that fulfill them benefits their mental health and could be crucial for their career. And you will be there as their supporters. Remember to keep these collections and passing passions to share with your teenagers after they have reached adulthood. We all love to revisit those times gone by and we appreciate our parents saving these memories for us.

Have you found these ideas useful? Share your thoughts and experiences!

If you need any advice on the parent-teen connection, you’ve come to the right place!

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