Forgetful Teens – revisited

forgetful teen

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.


5 thoughts on “Forgetful Teens – revisited

  1. There is a book I bought several years back regarding the teen’s brain development. Both patent’s and both children have either been diagnosed with ADHD or ADD; so needless to say, I (mom) could never concentrate to read the book-just “snippets” here & there. I enjoyed both of your articles. You touched on natural consequences; which are very difficult to enforce; but are necessary. Sometimes it hurts, but I can go to my bedroom and cry or quietly wonder why parenting is so hard! We have our youngest beginning highschool in 2 weeks & your article was a wonderful reminder. My parents were of the mindset “you should know better”! I see my spouse wanting to “fix” their problems. And there”s me shaking my head wondering-how will they ever learn, if you do it for them?? Our elementary and middle schools used assignment notebooks which started the good habits early!! My 21 year old college student is on his 3rd expensive (same model) calculator! I cannot tell you how MANY times they have told me about last minute things. I’ve gone to any open store for that item needed. And I’ve marched my children back to their school locker or lost-&-found to find the item in question. I could only give them 1 or 2 requests-lest they’re so overwhelmed. I grew up with a beating in those situations! Electronic media is probably more of a harm than help. I like your idea of leaving cell phones, tablets and the like inaccessible at bedtime. We ate ALL guilty of letting them swallow our precious sleep hours!! Thanks again, Bravo!!!

  2. Thanks for your transparent and honest response, Patti. It sounds like you are doing your very best to support your children – parenting sure can be a tough job at times. And having several people in a household with ADD will add to the complexity of life.
    Let me encourage you to focus on the things you can tackle first and get those nailed down before you move on to new things. Often we can become overwhelmed with the task (whether we are parents or teachers); remember the old adage about ‘how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time’.
    I really like the fact that you are establishing some natural consequences for your children but doing that in a supportive way. Yes, get the items they need when they forget but be sure they go with you to the shop or the school. Maybe they are the ones who need to pay for the item from their own pocket money when it is a last minute request. I’m sure you’ll work out what is best for you and your individual family situation.
    Thanks for stopping by and visiting my blog, and for contacting me. I’d love to hear how things go for you and what you are finding works best.

  3. I have been reading more about the brain and how important these years are. I am so glad that research is out there! A question, though: why does it appear that teens get worse? My highly responsible son has missed four assignments this month– lost entire notebooks, done the entire problem set but missed one essential problem. This is unlike him. He beats himself up enough at home that I don’t want to add into it, but I also don’t want him to think its ok. He never missed a beat. Why does he seem incapable of details now when last year he seemed to have it together? (Thanks for the post, by the way.)

  4. Thanks for stopping by my blog, Kris.
    The answer to why your son may have got worse is complex and this is probably not the best place to explore it thoroughly. In simple terms (and in my understanding) the change can happen because of the hormonal changes in your son. For some adolescents, the impact might be minimal, for others it might be dramatic. Basically, your son’s brain is being basted in hormones and the result can be a dramatic. The result is that your son’s brain is being changed, pruned, developed and reorganised – a bit like a caterpillar changing to a butterfly. Somewhere in that process there is a mess of stuff that may not always work the way it did before.
    Now, please understand, that this is not the case for every teen and that there can be other factors at play, but we do know that change is inevitable in some regard.
    there are a lot of books on the teenage brain as well as good websites, so I encourage you to check them out.
    You might also like to have a look at this infographic which summarises some of the research:
    I trust that might help, and that you enjoy the wonderful rollercoaster of being the parent of an adolescent!

  5. Finding this today as I am blogging about my own frustrations with my pre-teen/tween boy with the forgetfulness/lack of focus going on. Would like to quote some of what you say and will link back to your site. I especially like your caterpillar/butterfly analogy in your above response. Puts it in perspective for me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *