Help your teen tend to her cluttered room through the use of organizational tools.

How to Handle a Disorganized Teen

by Erin Schreiner

Teens are notoriously disorganized creatures. Their normal habitat is often a room strewn with clothing, cluttered with half-consumed bowls of food, and featuring odds and ends scattered about the floor. While it is easy to say that your teen’s disorganization is just characteristic of her age, dismissing it as something to be accepted is not a wise choice, particularly if your teen is exceptionally disorganized or if this disorganization manifests itself in poor academic marks. Instead of simply accepting the fact that your teen isn’t organized, do something to help amp up her organizational capacity.

Supervise your teen as she organizes rather than organize for her. If that trash heap that now rests where her room use to be has driven you to distraction, you may be tempted to bust in there and clean up the mess. Don’t, warns Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D., author of, “Surviving (Your Child’s) Adolescence,” in an article for Psychology Today. While cleaning the room may solve the problem in the short term -- and require much less effort than compelling your child to do it -- it won’t make a lasting impact.

Buy organization tools -- and make your teen use them. Purchase folders or a binder and dividers along with a planner. Show your teen how to use these tools to keep his school papers organized. To make the prospect of using these potentially lame tools more enticing, allow him to pick his own folders or binders.

Create a supplies list. Particularly if your teen’s disorganization leaves her falling behind in the classroom, helping her better understand what she needs for academic success will be exceptionally valuable. Make a list of supplies your child needs for every class, suggests Work with your teen to compose this list. Tape it to her binder or in another conspicuous place. To make the list even more useful, laminate it and encourage your teen to literally cross items off with a dry erase marker as she readies herself for the school day.

Inspect your teen's backpack. Your disorganized teen’s backpack is likely less a safe place for valuable papers and more a black hole from which nothing escapes. Help your teen empty out his book bag – completely -- at least once a week. Dump out everything from half-completed homework assignments to cereal crumbs, and sift through the chaos with your teen. Force him to shuffle the papers, giving him ownership of the process. Sit with him as he does this, providing him support in organizing these materials into folders or binders. As his organization improves, reduce the support you provide in this effort, making him complete the task more independently.

Encourage “to do” listing. Your disorganized teen may feel as frazzled as her room looks. Help reduce the degree to which she feels overwhelmed by encouraging her to list the things she must do. By creating lists of homework she has to complete, chores to which she must attend and tasks that require her attention, she can produce a reference for herself, states the National Center for Learning Disabilities. With this reference, tending to these tasks may seem less overwhelming.

About the Author

Erin Schreiner is a freelance writer and teacher who holds a bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University. She has been actively freelancing since 2008. Schreiner previously worked for a London-based freelance firm. Her work appears on eHow, and RedEnvelope. She currently teaches writing to middle school students in Ohio and works on her writing craft regularly.

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