How to Handle a Disorganized Teen

When it comes to handling a disorganized teen, let go of your own expectations. Just because you have a system of organization that works for you doesn't mean your teen should use the same system. Your goal is to ensure that he stays on track with his goals and schedule -- if he's doing fine, his method likely is fine. Handling a disorganized teen is as much about his disorganization as it is about your own expectations.

Ensure that when it comes to your teen, it's just disorganization and nothing else. According to the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, extreme disorganization could be a sign of attention‑deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD. Watch for signs of ADHD, which include difficulty paying attention or concentrating, impulsiveness and hyperactivity. Teens with ADHD also have trouble staying interested in any single activity for too long, so they might keep changing hobbies or switching tasks regularly -- this is not just your average teen-distracted mind. An inability to complete tasks could mean homework goes unfinished or tasks that get started such as cleaning the yard or organizing books never get done.

Pick your battles. According to a 2009 article in "Psychology Today," a disorganized bedroom is often a teen's way of showing her individuality and independence 1. If keeping an organized bedroom is important to you, then you'll have to take on the role of supervisor. Or you might decide that keeping an organized schedule or an organized school routine is more important than how his bedroom looks. If you try to take control over every aspect of this life, you might end up creating frustration on both your parts. Pick what's important to you.

Have a chat with your teen. Asking him if he feels overwhelmed. School and social obligations might spike during the teen years, making it difficult for a teenager to keep everything straight. If that's the case, you can either help him by eliminating some of his obligations or by reminding him when tasks need to be completed. Or ask him how he feels about the disorganization. If you allow him to identify the problem, he might be more willing to work on fixing it.

Help him find a tracking system that works for him. Some teens might do well with a calendar or a day planner, while others might prefer keeping a list. Or make it easier and get him a smartphone app that helps him get organized and keep track of his activities. When it comes to organizing is stuff, do the same. A filing system might help him keep track of his homework assignment or maybe get some closet organizers so he can set up his clothes the way he likes them.