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Why Teens Procrastinate and Six Ways Adults Can Help


Is your teen’s procrastination driving you insane? This article helps to explain procrastination, how it shows up in adolescents, and what adults can do to help teens stay on track.

What Is Procrastination?

Procrastination is driven by a variety of thoughts and habits, but in essence – we avoid tasks because we do not believe we will enjoy doing them and want to avoid negative emotion associated with the task. We can also procrastinate out of fear that we won’t perform the task well, or because we are distracted or fatigued.

20% of the population identify as procrastinators. Some individuals avoid difficult tasks and may deliberately look for distractions, which can be a reflection of personal struggles with emotional regulation and self-control.

Procrastination can go hand in hand with perfectionism. For perfectionists, it may feel psychologically more acceptable to not take on a task rather than face the possibility of not doing it well.

Why Do Teens Procrastinate?

Procrastination can weigh heavily on an adolescent’s life satisfaction and mental health. Research shows that adolescent academic procrastination is related to self-regulation, self-efficacy, motivation, perfectionism, and parenting. It can also be linked to depression, anxiety, negative emotions, and negative life events.

Procrastination is not unusual in adolescence, given the context of cognitive and social development. Young adults experience a desire for increased independence and decreased supervision. That, paired with the instinct to pull away from parental authority, can create opportunities for distraction and procrastination. Additionally, the internet, including smartphones and online games, presents new ways for young people to procrastinate with ease.

Clinical psychologist and Psychology Today contributor Dr. Alisa Crossfield writes, “Procrastination isn’t a personality flaw or a time-management issue. It’s a way of coping with challenging emotions and negative moods induced by certain tasks — boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, self-doubt, and more. We procrastinate because our short-term need for a better mood outweighs our long-term need to complete the task. This need is even greater in adolescents whose emotions are less manageable. Many teens use procrastination as a maladaptive way to ward off unpleasant emotions.” (

How to Help Your Teen:

  1. Ask: What emotion are you avoiding?

Now that we understand procrastination has much to do with unresolved emotions, it is important to help the young person process the feelings that the task brings up. If the adolescent can identify the way the impending task makes them feel (or what it brings up for them), then the adult can help the teen process how they’re feeling and regulate before getting to work.

  1. Practice: Self-compassion and coping skills

Self-forgiveness and compassion are essential to overcoming procrastination. It is important for the adolescent to have compassion for themselves in the struggle that they are facing. Positive self-regard will help them be more amenable to finding positive solutions to their problems. Additionally, practicing coping skills like deep breathing, journaling, somatic practices, etc. can give the teen means of processing the emotion they are currently feeling.

  1. Mind language

Refrain from using the words “lazy”, “bad”, “undisciplined” when speaking about your adolescent’s procrastination. It is easy for the teen to internalize that language and integrate it into their inner self-critic or self-doubter.

  1. Minimize distractions

When approaching the task at hand, specifically if it is school related, it is important to limit distractions. A distracting workplace will make it difficult for an adolescent to complete their homework. Make sure they are in a quiet space with limited sight or sound distractions. Remove digital distractions from the space when possible.

  1. Break down longer tasks

If a task feels too large or overwhelming to handle, procrastination may come up. Help your teen break down large tasks into smaller action steps. Create a to do list containing action steps to completing the task, and cross things off along the way.

  1. Implement accountability measures and rewards

Creating check-ins or deadlines around tasks may help your adolescent complete tasks in a more efficient manner. It also allows them to feel supported in the completion of the task by a helpful adult. Celebrate the completions of small steps, tasks, or goals with some sort of small reward or incentive. The accountability and reward measures can help motivate your teen to complete the task.

Tips to Remember

  1. Action comes first, motivation comes second. Just get started.
  2. Make a specific plan (even for the simplest task).
  3. Little steps make for big wins.
  4. Substitute negative thoughts for positive ones.
  5. Give yourself credit for what you accomplished!

Want to learn more about helping teens who struggle with procrastination? Check out our accredited life coaching programs and trainings for more information.

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