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3 Executive Functions for Teens Struggling in School

Written by: Kimberly Schehrer, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

The sad reality about our education system is that it teaches our children “what to learn” but not “how to learn.”


This results in our teens failing in their studies and outside lives.


If parents play an active role in making sure their teen develops executive function skills, this will not be the case.

What are Executive Function Skills?


Executive functions are self-regulatory skills that enable people, in this case, teens, to achieve their goals and ambitions. Most teens with ADHD have executive function disorder, but so do many people without attention deficits.


For teens to become effective learners, they need to learn to:

  • Pay close attention

  • Follow instructions

  • Plan and prioritize

  • Keep on track

  • Manage time

  • Control emotions

  • Organize their thoughts

  • Start and finish tasks efficiently, etc.


We are living in an era where our teens report feeling more stressed than their parents.


With their executive functions not well developed, they are likely to succumb to all that life throws at them.


Learning to learn can make all the difference with getting great grades, self-confidence, motivation, and even is a staple for college preparation.


How does Poor Executive Functioning Affect Your Teen?


Poor executive functions are often at the root of poor academic performance—specifically, poor planning and organizational skills.


As time goes by, their self-esteem declines due to missed assignments, slipping grades, and lack of flexibility to handle setbacks.


They start to become unmotivated or, worse, non-compliant.


They are more likely to turn to rebellion and substance abuse to numb the pressure and pain of believing that they are worthless and have no direction or purpose in life. When really, they haven't been taught the skills to learn effectively and efficiently for better grades, resilience to setbacks and pressure, and to regulate their emotions.


Some teens struggling in school begin to believe that they are stupid (They often say this in the initial session of working with me) or "not cut out for college."


This shows you how important executive functions are to your teen’s success in school, work, and life.


The Three Most Important Executive Function Skills for Teens


The brain develops from the back toward the front. So, the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive functions, is last to fully develop. In fact, the prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed until the approximate age of 25.


Parents often assume their teen’s skills will develop as they role model effective executive functions. While parents do serve as their teen’s “external drive,” the objective should be that teens internalize the skills and strategies to become self-directed, independent learners.


Your role as a guide is critical in giving your teen “brain-building tools” that will help them in school and beyond.


Here are 3 important executive functions you can help your teen develop:


Organization skills

Organization skills help your teen to efficiently organize or arrange thoughts and materials in an orderly manner.


Being organized is essential for your teen since it helps them to:

  • Have mental clarity and improved focus

  • Set and achieve goals

  • Keep track of assignments, and improve accountability.

  • And reduce their stress levels.


Students are often bombarded with lots of homework and extra-curricular activities (at least before COVID), but they are not taught the fundamentals of being organized.


It is never too late to evaluate your teenager’s organization skills and develop the necessary strategies to be successful.


Time Management Skills

Our second executive function skill is time management, which helps your teen:


  • Start and complete tasks

  • Set priorities

  • Submit work on time

  • Plan effectively for the short and long term

  • And break down a complex assignment into manageable chunks.


When assignments are turned in by the due dates, your teen learns the importance of dependability and the positive impact on their academic and work performance.


Acknowledge your teen for completing their assignments and turning them in according to the due dates.


Refrain from expecting a perfect or high score, at least initially. They need to meet deadlines and understand schedules first.


This may seem counterintuitive. Yet, aiming for perfection can lead to not finishing assignments in a timely manner, and points are taken off for not meeting the deadline.


However, if your teen completes homework with a reasonable amount of effort and meets the deadline, they can receive a higher score.


Accountability


Teens need to know that any action, also known as a choice. They decide to take has a consequence—an important life lesson.


The third “behind-the-scenes” skill you need to teach your teen is being accountable.


Your teen possessing this skill will ensure that they are trusted and respected.


Teaching your teen to be accountable is easier said than done. This is the reason they should see you do it first.


You need to breed a culture of personal accountability in your home. For example, make sure everybody knows and abides by the house rules. Let them know that privileges are contingent upon effort and follow-through, which impacts their performance. However, be willing to listen and negotiate in special circumstances.


Teens with ADHD, and certainly for middle school students, develop a weekly check-in with their teacher. I have seen many times where the student completes homework, needs a prompt to place their homework in their backpack, and then they forget to turn it in.


Students may think they’ve turned in their assignment with remote learning only to find out later that they didn’t upload it correctly. By being in communication with their teacher, you can ensure their homework was turned on time.


Teens need encouragement to check their online student portal each week, independently, to ensure all their assignments have been accounted for by their teacher.


Let your teen know that checking their grades and assignments weekly is as much about their responsibility as it is to verify that their teacher hasn’t overlooked an assignment.


They need to know that teachers make mistakes too. By checking the system each week, they are holding both themselves and their teacher accountable. If there was a mistake, it is more easily resolved while still fresh in everyone’s mind than after significant time has elapsed.


Personal accountability not only keeps your teen’s conscience in check, but it helps them to feel more empowered and in control of achieving their goals.


Mastering executive functions is the key to unlocking your teen’s potential. Once they have these fundamental skills, they can more easily apply accelerated learning techniques to learn more effectively and achieve better grades with less effort.


Every teen is brilliant in their unique way. If their light isn’t shining bright, it just means they haven’t mastered executive function skills and effective learning strategies.


For more information, follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and visit my website!

 

Kimberly Schehrer, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Dr. Kimberly Schehrer is a Teen Breakthrough Expert, International Bestselling Author and Founder of Academy for Independence. For over 20 years, she has been working with teens to accelerate their learning strategies, improve their executive function skills, and increase their self-esteem. Parents love how Dr. Kimberly helps their teens succeed with remote learning and adapt to today’s unprecedented times. Teens love how Dr. Kimberly is easy to talk to and helps them to believe in themselves to get results they’ve never imagined. Through individual coaching, tutoring, and group programs, she teaches tweens/teens how to improve their grades and have a competitive advantage for college. Check out her podcast, Raising Unstoppable Teens.

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