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Procrastination: The Hidden College Epidemic

A mother-son team weigh in on strategies for managing time more effectively.

Posted Oct 30, 2018

Whether your child is in college, high school or even middle school, they’ve likely experienced the crunch of studying for exams, finishing projects, or attempting to cram in different assignments. Most students are at some point guilty of leaving things to the last minute or just entirely skipping a reading to finish another more urgent assignment. But, it seems that as they progress into college, procrastination becomes even more of an art, allowing an increasingly large set of tasks to pile up until it is impossible to dig out of this hole without losing sleep, receiving poor grades or abandoning extracurriculars.

Maybe you’re the student (or parent) who thinks that the right college, teacher or mentor can solve this issue. But there’s a lot at risk for students who enable their procrastination to dictate their collegiate lives. Dr. Lisa Dissinger, a licensed child psychologist and parent coach, recently sat down with her own son Peter, a recent college graduate, to discuss time management and how we can prepare a child to avoid the pitfalls of putting things off until the last minute.

Pixabay, CC0 License
Source: Pixabay, CC0 License

Peter: So mom, you’ve worked with a lot of kids in your life. How does procrastination develop in young children? How can parents encourage their kids to be proactive in all aspects of their life?

Dr. Dissinger: Procrastination can develop for many reasons. If your child has a learning difference or may be strong in some academic areas, but not in others, it is natural to want to put off what is hard to start and/or to finish. Sometimes, it is a behavior that starts as a way to avoid what is difficult, like writing a paragraph or paper is difficult for many young and older students.

Peter: I can’t help but think procrastination is becoming more the norm for college students. Do you think that there’s something about our generation or the world we live in that is making this problem worse for us?

Pixabay, CC0 License
Source: Pixabay, CC0 License

Dr. Dissinger: Absolutely. Another reason so many students have developed the tendency to procrastinate is that academic tasks require sustained attention and effort, and an ability to not get distracted by their phones and social media. It is so important to manage these distractions, perhaps by making sure you have your child “park” their phone outside their room until they have finished their assignments or studies.

If we do not encourage our kids to practice this in middle school and high school, they will not be able to do it in college and will end up getting easily distracted and procrastinating on important academic tasks.

Peter, you have always been able to get things done in a timely fashion, whether it is a preferred or nonpreferred task. I am curious what has helped. Is it your time management skills?

Peter: I am no different than any other college student - there are certain types of assignments that seem daunting at first glance. I fight the urge to put things off by organizing smaller tasks for myself that allow me to accomplish a lot without feeling bogged down by work. By compartmentalizing, I was able to better manage my days and keep myself on schedule with all my assignments.

For instance, whenever I wrote a paper, I always took time to gather primary and secondary quotes, worked those quotes into an outline, wrote out my ideas, and only then did I actually write the paper. There are tons of ways to break down daunting tasks and I think every college student is capable of finding a time management system that works for them.

I want to emphasize that these habits did not just appear magically in college. I worked on them over time and had teachers who helped develop my organizational abilities. Mom, for a parent with a young child, how would you recommend they prepare their students to fight these procrastination urges? You can’t hand a five-year old an essay assignment on Shakespeare, but you must have experience in how to build time management in young children.

Dr. Dissinger: Building time management skills starts with making young children aware of time and giving them time limits to accomplish daily tasks. By doing this, a child will not only learn to tell time and to get things finished within a time limit, but to learn to estimate how much time each task will take without constant parent prompting.

In addition to parent instruction, study skills are taught throughout elementary and middle school. If your student does not develop time management and planning skills by the end of middle school, it is imperative to get your high schooler help before they go to college. Finding an executive function coach or study skills tutor would be one way to ensure your student develops effective strategies for planning and organizing academic tasks. Another option is to make sure your student gets connected to the learning support services when they arrive at college. Since there are many students who suffer from procrastination and poor time management skills in college, there are resources out there to help. Students just need to be aware of these resources and be willing to seek help when needed.

Peter: You make a great point, mom -- I think that’s a great thing to close on. College students are lucky enough to have incredible access to learning supports. The best thing you can do if your child is struggling at college is to encourage them to seek out help - it’s always there and usually, it’s free or very discounted!

Photo courtesy of Peter Dissinger
Dr. Lisa Dissinger and Peter Dissinger
Source: Photo courtesy of Peter Dissinger