Teenagers are forgetful. It is a well-known fact.
But do we need to just accept that this is the case or is there something we can do about it?
Some time ago I wrote a post about forgetfulness in teenagers and it is one of the most visited of my posts. So I thought it would be good to revisit this important topic.
Firstly, why are teens forgetful? To quote from that earlier post…
The Prefrontal Cortex (the area of the brain which plays an important role in planning, decision-making, organisation and rational thought) is the last part of the brain to become fully developed.
So, to a degree, they can’t help it. It is a biological consequence of the developmental process of adolescence. But that does not have to be an excuse because the reality is we can (and must) do things that will assist teens as they move through the developmental stage.
Here are a few tips:
Scaffolded organisation: We all know that organisation is often the key to remembering. However what we can fail to do is provide the scaffolding teens need to become organised. Parents and teachers need to provide frequent and repeated hints and reminders about organisational structures. There is a careful balance needed, however, because we don’t want to take all of the responsibility onto ourselves – there must remain a level of natural consequence for the adolescent’s actions. But I worry for those young people who are left to their own devices when they really don’t have any devices to be left to! Something as simple as a diary (that is used) will help. Reminders and routines with responsibility. That, I believe, is the key.
Busyness kills memory: No matter our age, the busier we are, the harder it is to remember all that we must do. Consider what goes on in a typical teenager’s life, especially their social connectedness, and ensure that the priority balance is correct. The same applies for the extra-curricular activities in their life. Sometimes teachers and parents simply expect too much of students. Explain the too-busy risks to teens and help them make the tough priority decisions.
Increase the importance of memory: Talk through with teens the value of remembering. For some (and not all) it is simply easier to forget and deal with the consequences if and when they come along. But in reality, adolescence is a time of training despite and in spite of the quagmire of a reorganising brain. They can remember things and should be encouraged and congratulated each time they do. Help them to believe in their abilities and commiserate with them when they forget the little things. Definitely avoid chastising them for the little things. They need support not added stress.
Look for creative methods as prompts: Encourage teens to use mnemonics and rhymes and phone reminders and paper diaries (agendas) and friends and sticky notes and… anything that works for them. Try them all and have them see what works for the individual (and remember it might work this week and it possibly won’t work next week. That’s the fun of it all…)
Remind them that remembering reduces stress: There will be those students who will get caught in the stress of forgetfulness – or worse, in the stress-forget-stress death spiral. Gently help them understand (even as the world is closing in on them) that it doesn’t need to be this way.
Temper the technology: This will potentially be the toughest battle for parents, but limiting an adolescent’s access to technology will have an impact on their memory. The research I’ve read of late has been pointing to the fact that none of us (not even teens, despite their protestations) are as effective in multitasking as we’d like to think we are. Encourage them not to surround themselves with multiple devices when schoolwork is a priority. Technology can have an impact on sleep too, which will have a subsequent impact on memory. This can be addressed as simply as establishing a central location in the house where all the phone chargers are plugged in. Consequently, all of the phones (including the parent’s) will be there overnight. No 2am texting. No disturbed sleep. No tiredness impacting memory function. The same thing should apply to computers and TVs and iPods and… anything that becomes a consuming force in a teen’s life.
Allow natural consequences: How teachers and parents deal with the times of (inevitable) forgetfulness is vitally important. Find the balance between supporting but not rescuing. This ‘balance’ will change for each individual but it is important that every teen experiences the reality of their situations.
Forgive: It is important to finish with this! Remember, teens will forget. It is often because they can’t help it; it is biological. Support them, encourage them, care for them and accept who they are at this stage.
What do you to to support forgetful adolescents?
You can find out more about forgetfulness in teens by checking out an infographic elsewhere on my blog called Why Teens Forget.