I’m Tired Of Micromanaging My Teenager

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 179 · Duration: 00:17:01

How Do You Set Limits With A Depressed Teenager?

What can a parent do when they have to micromanage their 16 year old for them to get anything done? We’ll talk about this and a whole lot more on this week’s podcast, I’m Tired Of Micromanaging My Teenager.

Today we’re answering a question from Susan from Boston, Massachusetts and Susan writes:

Dear Neil, 

My 16 years old son procrastinates almost all the time, especially with his schoolwork. Sometimes he forgets to do his assignments or he is doing them and forgetting to submit them. We get emails from his teachers about it. 

We tried positive reinforcement, we tried taking his privileges away and nothing seems to work. He is smart but he doesn't know how to work in a timely manner. He likes to go to school but his work ethic is not good at all. 

I am really tired of micro managing him. He will be an adult soon and I’m afraid if he can't manage his simple responsibilities now, he will not be able to manage complicated ones in the future. I talked to my husband to take him to a therapist, he agreed with me. When we told him about it he refused to go. I read your blog about it, I will definitely try it. In the meantime, can you please give me some advice on how to help him to drop procrastination and how to help him develop good work ethics. Thank you

Now to our Susan’s question:

Thank you for your question Susan, I’m sure thousands of parents relate to your question and are struggling with their older teenagers and wondering how they will be able to survive as young adults, when they can’t manage their basic educational responsibilities. 

Procrastination, not turning things in, and not even seeming to care are very worrisome issues for parents.Click To Tweet, so let’s get cracking here and see what I can offer about it.

You are describing two issues that are working in a negative way together; classic ADHD or at the very least underdeveloped executive functioning and related to that immaturity, and most likely a Parent-Teen Control Battle.  

If we focus on only one of these issues, we will fail for not having addressed the other one so we have to address both at the same time.  Let’s start with the ADHD if that is in fact the correct diagnosis, or at the very least, underdeveloped executive functioning. 

ADHD affects focus, impulse control, and sometimes - but not necessarily - hyperactivity.Click To Tweet  Often, youth with ADHD have difficulty with other executive functions as well so let’s review the five major executive functions;

1. Planning and organization
2. Focus
3. Impulse control
4. Flexible thinking
5. Emotional regulation

So you can see that each of these executive functions effects and are affected by the others.  For instance, with low impulse control, planning and organization can be impacted.  

So here we are Susan, your son needs to improve his executive functioning and that’s fine because, with work and an intention to improve in these areas, and some support to accomplish that, your son can improve and grow his executive functioning.  That’s because of neuroplasticity or the ability of the brain to improve with dedicated effort.  Just like

Working out the body can improve physical strength and conditioning; working out the brain can improve brain functioning.Click To Tweet  So issue number one here is specifically addressing the five major executive functions that your son needs to and can improve.  No shame, no admonition, no inadequacy; just the need to improve and there’s no shame in that.  We all have areas that needs improvement.  

Now for issue number two, which is you needing to micromanage your son’s work and getting fed up with that.  Absolutely Susan, as long as you are micromanaging or even over supporting and your son is avoiding or actively resisting his need to improve in these critical areas and take ownership of his educational responsibilities, he won’t improve.  In fact, if he puts his effort into avoiding responsibilities he’ll get really good at that instead of improving his ability to successfully manage his responsibilities.  That’s the Control Battle Susan, you try to keep him on task, he resists your efforts.  The problem of course is that they are your efforts trying to get him to improve instead of his.  

Now we don’t expect him to be able to step up and manage things successfully by trying.  Even trying to do his best, it will be challenging for him, but with effort over time he’ll improve.  

A couple of other things to consider here before we get our action plan.  You aren’t mentioning any specifically destructive behaviors such as drugs and alcohol, skipping school, or even endless video gaming and you do mention that he likes going to school and I assume he has friends and likes connecting with them.  You also mention that he’s smart implying that if he could apply himself, he’d do well. 

Does he have some interests that he pursues such as sports or music?  These would be good signs.  Does he have a job? Has he had a job?  Even if school is not his best area for success, how does he do at a job?  Does he show up on time and do his best?  These would be other areas to demonstrate a good work ethic.  

So our strategy should be to engage him in working on improving his executive functioning skills and to function more independently from his mother. 

So Susan, given that he is essentially a good kid, albeit an immature good kid, but a good kid, you can worry less than if he were an abusive, out of control kid with a substance abuse problem.  I think you can believe that if we do the right things, that he will too.  Maybe slower than we would like, but going in the right direction. 

Also, is COVID-19 pandemic an issue here? You say he likes going to school and many kids are “going to school” online and if that’s the case, it makes focus and staying engaged that much harder.  

Here are the elements of a successful strategy:

  1. Lower your frustration level because that will only invite and strengthen the Control Battle.  Instead, have faith in him and the process of his growing up, you parenting him into his young adult years.  You are not going to fix this, he is, so right now you can think that less is more.
  2. Talk with him about what he is thinking about for his future and what his plans are for getting the skills and experience to be successful with those plans.
  3. Let him know that you want to retire from the job of managing him and his school responsibilities.  That you would like him to be in charge of those.
  4. Talk with him about what executive functioning is and that while his development in these areas is somewhat behind, with effort, he can improve greatly. To that end, you would like to see a plan for how he will do that.  The plan needs to include:  
    • A way to keep track of assignments and due dates. 
    • Times every day that he will study, organize and do his homework. That should be one and a half to two hours every day for a high school kid.
    • Communicating with his teachers and knowing where he’s at in each class. 
    • What kind of help he will need from Mom as well as from others.

  5. Communicate with his teachers and let them know that you appreciate being informed and that you are working to get your son to be more responsible and to improve his organizational skills.  Ask if they have a way to support him in this area and hold him more accountable.
  6. Let your son know that until he gets the hang of things, his privileges including video gaming, going out, phone use all come after his school responsibilities and putting in the time and effort.
  7. Talk with him about getting a job.  That can be a very maturing experience for a young person.  That way it isn’t a parent or a teacher holding him accountable, it’s his boss and that can be life changing.

Susan, do you see how engaging in this way will begin to address your son’s executive functioning and end your control battle.  Both of those issues need to be addressed at the same time. 

Now if you get a sense from your son that he would in fact like to improve his executive functioning, get him a copy of the book, 6 Super Skills for Executive Functioning by Dr. Lara Honos-Webb.  It’s a fabulous little book that’s helping thousands of teenagers and young adults right now.  Dr. Honos-Webb really understands what kids are going through and talks to them in a way that’s immediately helpful.  Personally, I think every kid entering the 7th grade should have a section of their homeroom class focused on the book and kids can review it and use it all the way through college.  Any teenager struggling with managing their responsibilities should have and use this book. It can be a life changer.  

So parents and folks who work with parents and teenagers, so often the cause of under-functioning in teenagers is directly related to delayed development of their executive functioning and this under-functioning then becomes a struggle and then a full fledged parent-teen control battle.

When we focus on helping kids, proactively or remedially, grow their executive functioning, it can avoid or resolve a ton of problems. Improved executive function will enhance youth self-esteem and self-efficacy, and help kids believe they can create their own happiness and success.Click To Tweet

Thanks for tuning in today's listener and special thanks to Susan for her question. 

I do hope that this year finds you safe and vaccinated. Does it feel to you like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel?  I’m feeling hopeful so in the meantime, let’s all mask up, socially distance and take care of ourselves.  If we’re not good to us, we won’t have anything left for others and besides, you know you need it, with all you do you certainly deserve it, and you know something else, you’re worth it. Bye for now.


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