In the past 15 years, my work with children and teens has changed significantly. This change is primarily due to the changes in lifestyle and technology of the kids I work with. Fifteen years ago, the parents of my clients may have had cell phones, but the kids did not. They also were not plugged into Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media sites. They went to the store to buy their music on CDs and they read books by turning pages. Today’s children and teens have instant access to information, friends and videos on any topic imaginable. They communicate through email, text, tweet, and instant message. Chances are they have never mailed a letter and waited for a response. Although kids of this generation are more computer savvy and technologically advanced than I will ever be, they also have suffered the consequences of their immediate lifestyle. Their ability to live in the present has compromised their ability to plan ahead.
The ability to plan ahead is considered an “executive function.” The executive functions are a set of cognitive processes that are responsible for self-management and regulation. Without the ability to plan ahead, a child might have trouble completing homework, getting ready for school, doing chores, managing time, etc. As a psychologist who has been evaluating children for many years, I have seen a decline in planning abilities among the children with whom I conduct psychological testing. Typically children with problems in planning cannot prioritize their time enough to complete test items or may not leave enough room on a sheet of paper for all their answers. These issues often impact academic performance and may cause frustration for the entire family. With a compromised ability to plan, the result is disorganization.
In order to help children develop or improve their planning ability, I encourage parents to demonstrate the benefits of planning ahead. There are many fun projects that require planning that children of all ages can participate in. One of my favorite planning projects is planting a garden, especially a garden that yields fruit or vegetables that can be enjoyed by the family. Not only does it take planning to go to the store, purchase seeds, and plant them, but watering plants, keeping them free of bugs and other pests, and monitoring growth are crucial steps to success. All steps of gardening are important to yielding good results which adds to the value in this planning lesson. Other planning lessons include grocery shopping, budgeting money for a special item, baking or cooking, etc. Games that make planning fun include Monopoly, Chess, Checkers, Tic Tac Toe, and some card games, just to name a few.
Reports for school offer opportunities to learn about planning. With home access to the internet, today’s children often do not utilize the card catalog in the library. Although time consuming, the process of checking the library hours, going to the library, looking up an article or book, reading the material, and then writing the report require planning. When feasible, using the library helps children practice their planning skills as well as their patience.
Parents can model planning by planning ahead and budgeting family time well. Also, parents who are well prepared with directions when traveling, a list when going to the store, and enough time to get things done demonstrate good planning skills.
Finally, it is important to speak to children about planning ahead. Planning is not only effective, but can be fun as well. Parents can involve kids in the planning of a meal or activity and then review the planning steps. Pointing out the steps to planning an event or activity can make kids aware of this important process. Planning is a skill that can be learned in childhood, but is utilized throughout one’s entire life.
Dr. Golson is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in therapy with children, adolescents and families. She has been working with families in crisis and traumatized adolescents in New York for over 10 years. Her private practice office in Bayonne is located at 325 Avenue A. dr. Golson looks forward to answering any questions you may have regarding family issues, child behavior, or developmental concerns. You may submit questions or make an appointment with Dr. Golson via email to firstname.lastname@example.org by calling (201) 320-8660. You can also follow her on Twitter @drgolson.