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May 2005
“But I work better under pressure!”

by Annie Fox, M.Ed.

"Offer your services as a ‘consultant’ during this end-of-semester crunch. You can help your teen get organized so that he will be more in control (that’s a big selling point) and less stressed (something everyone wants)."
The balmy breezes of summer are just one calendar page away. But there are days when it feels like getting to Mars would be simpler than reaching the semester’s end in one piece. Finals, terms papers and end of the year projects are likely to be stressing out your middle or high school student. Add an upcoming prom, a play or concert with last minute rehearsals, and/or a post-season tournament and the pressure mounts. Maybe your teen is also looking at 8th grade or 12th grade graduation and dealing with anxiety about the transition into the “next chapter.”

With all this going on during the “merry month of May” and the early part of June, even the most even-tempered child can turn into an anti-social monster who is impossible to live with.

What about taking some time to relax and think about all this stress and what it’s doing to your child and to your whole family? Sounds good, Annie, but who’s got the time? Besides, we’re too stressed to think about stress!

Schoolwork is probably stressing him out the most.

I’ve surveyed over 1,000 students (ages 11-18) about stress and in answer to the question “What stresses you out the most?” the vast majority say “School.” An online survey of over 9,000 teens confirmed my findings. 43% of those kids said “Academic pressure” causes them the most stress.

If you’ve been reading these newsletters (and not lining your virtual birdcages with them) you’ve probably gotten some of my mantra by now: “When you’re dealing with short-term ‘life and death’ emergencies, your stress-response can help you survive. But ongoing stress only makes everything you’re trying to accomplish, day-to-day, much more difficult.”

Mom, Dad… you can do your teens a huge favor by helping them get organized so they’re less likely to feel overwhelmed and stressed by schoolwork. Try these steps and you’ll probably find that when summer comes, you’ll welcome it, as always, but not with the desperation of a parent whose kid has just experienced 4-6 weeks of end-of-semester hell.

  1. Talk to your teen about your desire to help. Acknowledge that this is a tough and demanding time of year.

  • Be matter-of-fact, compassionate and upbeat. You’ve had experience as a student. You’ve probably also had professional experience being on a deadline.
  • Share what you’ve learned about the seduction and pitfalls of procrastination.
  • Talk about strategies you’ve learned about time management that have really proved valuable to you.
  • Offer your services as a ‘consultant’ during this end-of-semester crunch. You can help your teen get organized so that he will be more in control (that’s a big selling point) and less stressed (something everyone wants).


  • Don’t demand the position of “Manager in charge of taking over my child’s academic responsibilities.”
  • Don’t say: “You always let things pile up. You never give yourself enough time to do a good job on your assignments. You need my help.” Part or all of that may be absolutely true, but what’s the message? “I, your loving parent, see you as a loser. Without me you’re going to end up in the same hole you always end up in.” That’s a vote of “no confidence.” Any self-respecting teen will resent you for butting in and resist any suggestions or help. (Yes, I know, he’s the one who will suffer from procrastination, stress, and poor grades, but it may be worth it to him because he knows he can make you suffer too.)

NOTE: If your teen already battles with low self-esteem, telling him that he needs your help to succeed will only succeed in bringing him down several more notches. Don’t go there!

  1. With your teen’s agreement, discuss all his upcoming assignments. Work together and make a comprehensive list of all of them. Ask the right questions.
For term papers or projects: 1) What’s your topic? 2) Do you know where you’re getting your research? 3) How many pages does it need to be? 4) Are you required to turn in more than one draft?

For final exams: 1) What’s going to be on the exam? (Material from the whole year or the current semester or just the current quarter?) 2) Do you have someone you can study with?

  1. Create a big calendar. Calendars are very concrete and always non-judgmental. Even taking into consideration the range in age and maturity level of middle and high school students… it’s pretty hard to deny the fact that if today is May 1st and on May 17th you want to print out the final draft of your history paper, you’ve got 15 days between now and then to get the research done, the notes taken, the first draft written, etc. That means you work with your teen to schedule days for all of the parts of the project. That requires looking at the calendar and working backwards from the drop dead due date.

  • Use different colors to mark the timelines for different school assignments that overlap, then prioritize. For example, an English paper due the same day as the math final might make your teen decide to work faster on the English so he gets it done early and has more time to focus on math.
  • Encourage your teen to be realistic about how much time each part will take. (That’s a consultant’s job.) If your teen says, “I only need one day to write a 12 page paper,” a good response on your part would be something like this: “That’s a lot of writing in one day. How about if you give yourself three days on the schedule to do it? Then, if you get it done all on the first day, you’ll be two days ahead of yourself.” Our son, a recovering procrastinator, actually told me in 10th grade: “Mom, I work better under pressure.” I totally believed that he worked faster under pressure but better? I never bought that for a minute.
  • Create a Daily Calendar. Each day, when your teen comes home from school, encourage him to look at the big Calendar and create a schedule for the rest of the evening ahead.
  • Schedule breaks (very important!). Breaks help keep stress levels down and serve as a reward for your teen’s ongoing progress toward completing the project.
  • Acknowledge mini-steps. A big project can be overwhelming. Breaking it down makes it more doable. Acknowledging the progress your teen is making is a great way to support his efforts and encourage him to “keep up the good work.”


  • Don't expect perfection. Time management is a life-skill and the part of your teen’s brain that handles long-term planning and impulse control are not yet fully developed. In other words, the schedule will slip, but he is learning the impact of choices and self-control as they relate to achieving goals.

What if your teen doesn’t want your valuable help?

If, for whatever reason, your teen won’t hire you as his time-management consultant then don’t force it. But don’t check out completely because he still needs you during this crunch period. Here’s how you can always be supportive:

  • Provide a clean, quiet study space
  • Have lots of healthy snacks available
  • Keep younger siblings out of the teen’s way while he’s studying, reading, writing
  • Offer lots of praise, hugs, and meals he enjoys

And don’t forget... summer is just around the corner.

In friendship,



Got a parent-teen problem you need help with?

Click here to Ask Annie


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