Procrastination: a feature of anxiety in teens?

Dr Asha Pemberton
Dr Asha Pemberton

Dr. Asha Pemberton

For many parents, teen behaviour and procrastination go hand in hand. Procrastination refers to the intentional act of deferring tasks or decisions. Although this happens at every age, teenagers tend to demonstrate it frequently. Young people, in their daily lives often delay completing household chores, homework or even personal hygiene actions. This is a source of incredible frustration to parents, and is even often perceived as insolence or frank disrespect. It is interesting, however, to examine the reasons why tweens and teens procrastinate so frequently.

The illusion of time.

Young people live in the ‘here and now’. Early adolescents or tweens have literal difficulty processing concepts of the future and the ramifications of current actions. As a result, they become so embedded in the moment or their preferred activity that they can lose sight of other things that are required to be done. Parents describe that they seem to be completely obsessed or consumed with whatever they are doing, to the exclusion of anything else. While this feature is a normal part of literal or concrete thinking, parents should ideally demonstrate patience. Teens need consistent guidance regarding completing tasks on time and conversely need to learn from the consequences of not doing so. By adopting a more mindful and patient parenting approach, there is reduction in eventual conflict, stress or overwhelm. In addition, duties do not accumulate or become unmanageable.

Extreme optimism

Another reason that young people procrastinate is due to an overwhelming but often false belief that they have everything covered. This mind-set prevails in middle adolescence, a time during which young people feel invincible and powerful. Between the ages of 15 and 17, teens are developing their sense of identity and often with that comes a sense of bravado. While positive self-esteem and confidence are absolutely to be supported, parents must be careful to ensure that their teens have a realistic and practical sense of what they can accomplish. Those who have elevated and false senses of security are prone to mismanage their time and believe they can accomplish everything, only to be left struggling and frustrated. While this too is part of the normal developmental pathway, the approach of parents must change during middle adolescence. Resist the temptation to say “I told you so,” but rather model appropriate time-management and prioritisation behaviour as a guide.

Self-doubt, perfectionism and anxiety

Perhaps the most frequent but least acknowledged reasons for teen procrastination in teens surround manifestations of anxiety. Young people who doubt their abilities, fear failure or have self-induced pressure to perform tend to delay completing tasks for fear of not doing them well enough. Paradoxically, many high performing young people fall into this group, much to the confusion of parents and teachers. It can be frustrating for adults who recognise the ability of the young people, yet witness their seeming inability to complete or event commence tasks. For these young people, deeper inquiry is required to unearth their self-defeating thoughts and treat the underlying anxiety. While external pressures on young people are many in our world today, many teenagers inflict high levels of pressure and perfectionism on themselves. When anxiety becomes problematic, youth experience panic attacks, a constant sense of fear and worry that can literally paralyse their activities and development. Procrastination can be a subtle and emerging sign of anxiety that needs exploration when overall functioning is impaired. As we continue through the new academic year, be mindful of your teen’s behaviour in this regard. While some procrastination is expected, when it becomes applied to several aspects of life and accompanied by undue distress, expert guidance may be required.


"Procrastination: a feature of anxiety in teens?"

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