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Reasons why your teenager is riddled with procrastination

by Alison Lenehan

As a teenager, I often recall sitting at my desk late into the night, attempting to diligently complete my schoolwork. My little desk light (with the old fashioned bulb) was turned on for that many hours that the heat radiating off it seemed to resemble the midday heat of the sun. I also recall, back in those studious days, falling asleep at my desk, numerous times. Just for a few minutes until a noise or my own internal awareness snapped me back to reality in order for me to get on with it. This happened most nights, no doubt due to a combination of sheer boredom and procrastination (which unfortunately was an overly prominent part of my schooling years). However, if I was a school student today, faced with the exact same situation, I would not have a chance to nod off or sit there daydreaming for a few minutes before getting back on track. I would most likely have picked up a device or opened the internet on my laptop just to curiously peruse what better options I had. And just like that, at the click of a button, I would quite innocently enter into an all-consuming, never-ending and highly addictive world of mindless distraction on technology. The effort is minimal, time is instantaneous and impact is severe: our young people have too much distraction at their fingertips that breeds procrastination.

Procrastination, or chronic time wasting, is defined as our mental process of delaying or postponing something that must be done, often because it is unpleasant or boring. Is procrastination a serious problem, or is it a simple fact of everyday life, not only for teenagers, but us all?

Procrastination may be symptomatic of a psychological disorder and has been linked to a number of behaviours such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, irrational behaviour, and ADHD. It has also been found to have associations with guilt and stress. However, it is of significant concern when it comes to young people due to its association with poor self-management skills that can be detrimental for a teenager’s overall sense of achievement and self-confidence.

And the situation gets worse. Every time we are on social media and have a comment or ‘like’ awaiting us, research confirms this produces a dopamine hit in our brains (dopamine is one of our major neurotransmitters in the brain that makes us feel good). The boring school assessment cannot compete with that. But let’s not pretend the problem is limited to teenagers. Even as adults, our brains do not easily stay focused on a train of thought for too long without the ‘ping’ of an email or SMS coming through to snap us into distraction mode. Because finding out what our friends are up to is important. And rewarding.

One of the best strategies I have come across to manage ‘roadblocks’ in solving problems (a common cause of procrastination) is to log that problem into an agenda for ‘worry time’ to be worked on at an identified time in the future. Worry time is an efficient way to sort through problems for those who tend to become overwhelmed with their list of worries that fosters rumination and procrastination. Worry time makes a discrepancy between ‘worrying’ about and ‘thinking’ through a problem, the latter being the one conducive to solving the problem that would otherwise breed procrastination. For more info visit:


So, the next time you encounter a road block (or your teenager comes to you for help with one), get focused, turn the phone on silent and sit and ‘problem solve’ your way through the barrier until you genuinely identify a solution. Or if the time is not ideal to do that, log that item down on an agenda for your next worry time, over a snack or while on the commute. Because thinking through your most overwhelming barriers or problems when you are rational and clear headed is a simple and efficient way to move away from worry and stress and towards feeling more control over your life. And once thats done, return to Netflix as a reward for good self-management, but do it with the gratification that you have mindfully worked on a solution rather than sinking into a bad habit of worry and procrastination. It may sound basic, but for a chronic procrastinator, these simple strategies can be a game changer.

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