Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sleep Deprivation and Teens – a Postscript



Should parents and teachers of teenagers be more active advocates for a later starting time of school in their school systems? Chronobiological research and trials of later starting times say we should.

In his 2012 publication[1], chronobiologist Til Roenneberg adds considerable weight and science to reasons why all schools with teens should be taking this seriously. Roenneberg describes individual ‘chronotypes’ amongst humans based upon research on different sleep patterns of individuals during working days  as well as on days when there is no schedule or work demands.

“In fact, each of us possesses a different chronotype — an internal timing type best defined by your midpoint of sleep, or midsleep, which you can calculate by dividing your average sleep duration by two and adding the resulting number to your average bedtime on free days, meaning days when your sleep and waking times are not dictated by the demands of your work or school schedule. For instance, if you go to bed at 11 P.M. and wake up at 7 A.M., add four hours to 11pm and you get 3 A.M. as your mid-sleep...” Maria Popova (2012)[2].

It is this mid-sleep score that differs so much during the teenage years.

“Young children are relatively early chronotypes (to the distress of many young parents), and then gradually become later. During puberty and adolescence humans become true night owls, and then around twenty years of age reach a turning point and become earlier again for the rest of their lives. On average, women reach this turning point at nineteen and a half while men start to become earlier again at twenty-one … [T]his clear turning point in the developmental changes of chronotype … [is] the first biological marker for the end of adolescence” Til Roenneberg (2012)[3].

The evidence points to the teen’s biological need to go to sleep later, and thus rise later. Roenneberg cites worrying research that points to many teens experiencing narcolepsy during the day and that despite their bodies needing a full 8 to 10 hours sleep our social demands of them are making this impossible during the working week.

If teens are to reap the benefits of a full night’s sleep, this has serious implications about the optimal learning environment a school does or does not offer. 

The debate around taking action as a result of research findings started around 2009, and some schools have already reaped the benefits of adapting their timetables to suit their students sleep patterns.  It should be noted that in the example quoted below, New Zealand secondary schools begin between 8:30 am and 9:00am, (finishing around 3:15pm) unlike their counterparts in other countries which may start as early as 7 am.

“...a study has found if teens start the school day after 10am they're likely to be more alert, get more sleep and be in a better mood.
Thanks to almost 700 Year 9, 11 and 12 pupils at Wellington High School, researchers now have the first scientific data about how New Zealand teenage sleep patterns can benefit from schools changing their start times...
The later start time of 10.15am, introduced in 2002, reflects the findings of other research which shows teenagers need eight to nine hours' sleep a night.  - Susan Peperell (2010)[4].

However, there is a warning in the same article with further research cited that parents and teens need to be aware of:

“But here's the catch: teens with iPods, MP3 players, computers or gaming consoles in their bedrooms are getting less sleep – and the more technology they have, the less sleep they're getting.
Those are the findings of a study conducted by Massey University's Sleep/Wake Research Centre that compared the results to an earlier study carried out before Wellington High changed its start times for senior pupils.
 “Susan Peperell (2010)[5].
I would urge a full reading of Peperell’s article and Til Roenneberg’s book.  I’d also encourage some serious discussion both around your dinner table and in your schools. Perhaps this is an issue that gifted teens, as leaders, can take to their community as advocates for their peers.

If your school has changed its start time from earlier to later, I would be most interested in hearing from you.  Please feel free to add comments to this blog or email me  


[1] Til Roenneberg, (2012), Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You're So Tired. Boston,MA: Harvard University Press.
[2] Internal Time: The Science of Chronotypes, Social Jetlag and Why You’re So Tired by Maria Popova, available 
[3] Til Roenneberg in Time: The Science of Chronotypes, Social Jetlag and Why You’re So Tired by Maria Popova, 11 May, 2012, available 

[4] Susan Peperell, Sleep in, Start School Later Works for Teens. News item, 5 Sept 2010. Available  http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/wellbeing/4096887/Sleep-in-start-school-later-works-for-teens
[5] ibid.



© Sonia White, (M.Gifted Ed).  Author, Teacher, Gifted Education Consultant (2012), www.giftedconsultant.ac.nz  

This article is part of a series on how parents can help their gifted teens get the best out of their high school years.

To read preceding articles on this topic click on the links:

Parents of Gifted:  2. Does your teen know you love them 'warts and all'?

Parents of Gifted:  3. Promote sensible risk-taking

Parents of Gifted: 4.Teach your gifted and talented teen to prioritise

Sonia White is a parent, teacher, author and gifted education consultant.  She has many years of experience working with gifted learners of all ages.
To receive links for future articles on this topic, you can subscribe to Sonia's blog by email, RSS feed, or as a member of Blogspot. 
Follow Sonia on Twitter: @SoniaWhite_  or Facebook: http://tinyurl.com/6nocuo7   




Tuesday, June 26, 2012

6. Life Balance and Gifted Teens – an Oxymoron?


10 ways Parents of Gifted Teens can support them in high school (continued)



Parents of gifted teens may well feel that coupling the phrases ‘life balance’ and ‘gifted teens’ is an oxymoron! They may have watched their teen become totally immersed in their latest passion, sometimes only surfacing for air when ultimatums are issued. They may have become used to the fact that their teen swings between surviving on far less sleep than seems healthy to not emerging from the heap of bedclothes in their cave until almost dinnertime.  Or they may have gotten used to the fact that their previously garrulous son or daughter has become as communicative as a Neanderthal.  They may have trained themselves not to grind their teeth when observing the inordinate amount of time their teen spends on exercising the “blackberry thumb” (smartphone texting). They may also be concerned that not enough time (or conversely, too much time) is spent studying.

One of the key descriptors of giftedness is “passion”.  Passion for learning and mastering whatever it is that has taken their interest. Another descriptor is “intense concentration”.  These twin attributes are part of the stuff of their potential genius, but they can come at a cost to both physical and mental health. Given that contrary to our teens' own belief that they are bullet proof and that their parents know nothing, it falls upon us to be older, wiser and infinitely more boring.  We need to help them find the right balance.

Intense concentration has a resulting need of relaxation.  

As parents we need to both respect that, and at times even enforce it. (Now that sounds somewhat paradoxical!) Allow your gifted teen the time to ‘mellow out’ and participate in mind-bogglingly inane activities – it is a way of tuning out.  Playing computer games gives the intellectual brain a break.  So does bouncing a ball around the yard, or stretching out on the couch clutching the remote and sporting headphones with the apparent ability to listen to two things at the same time.  The focus here is on balance though.  An inordinate amount of time ‘relaxing’ isn’t healthy either!

There needs to be a healthy balance between physical activity and mental activity.  

Encourage regular involvement in sport or physical activity.  Not only is this developing a healthy lifestyle for his future, it will actually have a positive effect on his learning.   Brains starved of oxygen do not function so well, especially when sitting for long periods.  

Sleep deprivation.  

Scratch the surface of most high school teachers and you will find that they are concerned about the number of high achievers with sleep issues.  They see these students struggling to stay awake in class, especially in the mornings, and immediately after lunch.  And no, it’s not boredom, it’s actually lack of sleep (and sometimes the wrong lunch).  We know that growing bodies need sleep but paradoxically we are biologically wired to become night owls during our teenage years[1]Unfortunately these are the very years that our children want to push the boundaries, assert their independence and ‘prove’ their maturity by staying up late.

There is a general acceptance that some young gifted children sleep less than their peers.  Do they sleep less because they physically need less sleep or simply because they suffer from insomnia because of an overactive, creative mind?  It may be a moot point.  The fact is, as they move into their teens, growing bodies and brains need more sleep but they get less. School systems that demand an early start of teens whose bodies are biologically clocking in at a different sleep rhythm compound the problem[2]. Further, the prevailing societal view that sleeping little is a badge of honour to which one should aspire, is a misguided one which needs to be de-bunked. 

Some teens compound the problem by pushing themselves to stay up later and later.  What they seem unaware of is the damage that sleep deprivation can cause, both in the short and long term. One gifted teen I worked with was awake until at least 2am every morning. Anna[3] had every moment of her day filled with work from waking up a 6am until about 10:30pm at night. Work consisted of school work and study, extra tuition in other non-school-related subjects after school, and helping parents in their restaurant.  By the time she retreated to her room at 10:30pm she was craving social contact and relaxation.  So she sat on the internet chatting until at least 2am.

Ah, Sleep! perchance to dream...
Information is an important factor in changing behaviours.  Anna read the information I gave her about sleep deprivation and we discussed it together.  Then we looked at her weekly timetable, and shared it with her parents in a round table discussion.  As a family they made decisions to change things. But most importantly, Anna had ownership of the changes because she now understood what sleep deprivation was doing to her mind and body and she wanted those changes. After changing her sleep habits, Anna was delighted to report that she found her mental alertness during school and studying hugely improved.  Interestingly, she said she hadn’t realised that there was anything wrong with her sleep-deprived performance – until she looked back from a sleep-healthy perspective and saw the difference.  


What you and your teen need to know about sleep deprivation[4]:

Too little sleep may cause:
  • Memory problems
  • Impaired alertness and productivity
  • More likelihood of accidents, fatal mistakes and poor quality of life
  • Blurred vision, slurred speech, muscle weakness, headaches and general irritability
  • Weight gain - those not getting enough sleep every night tend to develop unhealthy food cravings to compensate for their tiredness
  • Depression
  • Weakening of your immune system, with increased likelihood of becoming sick
  • Higher risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
  • Increase in perception of pain
Understanding the chronotypes of teenagers as described by chronobiologist Til Rennenberg (see  [1] below) will help us as parents realise that laziness is not the reason that our teens sleep late.  Similarly, understanding the need for sleep and the effects of sleep deprivation will help our teens realise the importance of getting enough sleep.

Growing bodies and minds need the right amount of nutrition

Breakfast is not a meal to be skipped.  Your teen needs to be aware of the importance of fuelling the body at the beginning of the day so that like a well-oiled and primed engine it continues to perform throughout the morning.  Understanding healthy food options and choosing wisely is another life skill that is really important.

I can just hear some of you saying “Sure – you try telling my teen what to eat – not a chance!” Perhaps it is about picking the motivation: are they keen to be really good at a sport or a particular field of endeavour?  Talk to them about endurance – find some role models in their field of interest (real life or biographies) as examples for them to find out how they were successful in their endeavours. The fact is that excellence and mastery requires physical endurance as much as mental endurance. Use these champions or experts as examples, as well as those rising stars that failed, and why. Eventually bring the discussion around to sustaining effort over long periods, what ‘burnout’ is and how important it is that we nurture our body as well as our minds because that is the carriage that is going to get us there. Information is gold.

We sometimes joke in the teaching world about the difficulties of teaching the ‘graveyard shift’ after lunch.  This is not something peculiar to just teens.  Eat the wrong food at lunch time, and your eyes and brain are begging for a ‘nod off’.  Foods high in sugar, and simple carbohydrates that convert quickly to sugar rob the brain of its alertness and create drowsiness as the sugar rush increases the blood sugar levels more than normal.  Encourage your teen to choose proteins and low GI foods when they make or buy their lunch. http://www.wikihow.com/Avoid-Feeling-Drowsy-After-Lunch has some good suggestions as a starter.


You are not powerless as a parent to ensure that your gifted teen gets the best they can out of high school.  From the moment they rise in the morning until the moment they fall asleep their behaviours have an impact upon how well they do at school.  How well they sleep, eat, exercise, and maintain a healthy life balance is something that you can have an impact upon, and something that the school can do comparatively little about. ‘Gifted teen’ and ‘Life Balance’ need not be an oxymoron!





[1] German chronobiologist Till Roenneberg in Internal Time: The Science of Chronotypes, Social Jetlad and Why You’re So Tired by Maria Popova, available http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/05/11/internal-time-till-roenneber/  
[2] Ibid.
[3] Not her real name



© Sonia White, (M.Gifted Ed).  Author, Teacher, Gifted Education Consultant (2012), www.giftedconsultant.ac.nz  

This article is part of a series on how parents can help their gifted teens get the best out of their high school years. 


To read preceding articles on this topic click on the links:

Parents of Gifted:  2. Does your teen know you love them 'warts and all'?

Parents of Gifted:  3. Promote sensible risk-taking

Sonia White is a parent, teacher, author and gifted education consultant.  She has many years of experience working with gifted learners of all ages.
To receive links for future articles on this topic, you can subscribe to Sonia's blog by email, RSS feed, or as a member of Blogspot. 
Follow Sonia on Twitter: @SoniaWhite_  or Facebook: Sonia White Gifted Education    





Wednesday, June 20, 2012

5. Have High Expectations of Your Gifted and Talented Teen


10 ways Parents of Gifted Teens can support them in high school (continued)

A home does not have to be a wealthy home for gifted individuals to thrive! What is needed are parents and family who value learning.

Valuing learning is not the exclusive domain of the middle class or wealthy. For example, not many people know that the Tongan people have more doctorates per head of population than any other culture in the world[1].  This small, rich Pacific Island culture, while not economically wealthy, has high expectations of their people although they do things a little differently from other cultures.  When the teen leaves school, he or she stays home and cares for the babies and small children of their older brothers, sisters or cousins while they are studying at University. As they get older, it is their turn to study and gain their qualifications, supported by the other members of the extended family.  This is a culture that values learning, and has an expectation of ‘giving back’ to the community.

Research shows that one of the key ingredients needed for gifted and talented students to achieve highly is that they come from a supportive home environment that has high expectations[2].  The other ingredients necessary have to do with the inner qualities of the student, and provisions within the school environment, but the major ingredient that parents can bring to the table is their expectations of their child during their high school journey and beyond.

Not all gifted and talented students have high achieving[3] parents against whom they can model themselves.  Some come from backgrounds where it is frowned upon to be a high achiever, and this may be actually discouraged (perhaps subconsciously) by parents who cannot envisage the type of world that high achievement may project their son or daughter into.  Not only age peers, but adults can be dismissive of the world of possibilities that could open up for their gifted teen.  It is an alien world to them. They may even fear it or feel threatened by it. The ‘culture’ of the neighbourhood may not place value upon academic success. Such students can struggle to stand against the tide of opinion, but a teacher or mentor who believes in them can make all the difference.

Surely gifted kids have enough pressure put on them already by parents and teachers?

That depends upon your definition of ‘high expectations’. There is a difference between high expectations and pressure to perform.  Let’s unpack each of them.

Pressure to perform: where pressure to perform is the dominate message coming from parents. 
These parents may see every single step in the learning journey as crucial.  They place emphasis upon constant high achievement.  They may micro-manage their teen, rather than encourage them to become independent learners who set SMART goals and implement them.  In these pressure situations students can feel that unless they are highly successful they are letting themselves down, and that their parents and teachers will like them less for any perceived ‘failure’ to achieve. This belief, while it may temporarily encourage the students to work harder, does not reinforce the behaviours of an autonomous learner. It feeds the anxieties of the gifted perfectionist, and is generally counter-productive.

On the other hand, Parents who have high expectations                           

Value learning
Parents value the wisdom and knowledge that continued learning brings, not only as a future insurance for employment, but in the benefits it brings to their community and society.  They value learning for its own sake and take an interest in their teen’s interests and passions.

Have a belief in their child’s ability to do well in life, and communicate this to them. Frequently.  
Research indicates that underachieving gifted students have been ‘turned around’ by having someone who believes in their ability to succeed. Sometimes parents can be tempted to excuse underachievement with comments such as “well I never did well in exams either” or “I’m not surprised she is no good at [x subject / school] neither was her father.”   This is counter-productive and sends the message that the parent has no faith in their teen’s ability to surmount obstacles. Also, your teen is being educated in a different world to you, so comparison is not necessarily valid.  Some teens are quick to pick up on an excuse to drop out of the hard yards, because they have yet to learn the rewards of sticking with the long haul.  Rather have faith in your teen’s eventual success in their life-long learning journey and be there to pick them up when they lose faith in themselves.

Makes sure their teen knows that there is an expectation that they will develop and use their gifts and talents.
This means their teen knows it is not okay to squander the ability they have been given, and that with the privilege of having that talent in generous quantities comes the responsibility to put it to good use. Many cultures and religions would add the expectation that it should be put to good use in the service of others – their community or society. Many gifted individuals are driven by a passion to ‘make a difference’ in their world, so this expectation need not be the cause of conflict.

Understand that a learning journey and building mastery takes time.
Just as a small step forwards is not a major achievement, a small hiccup or backwards step is not a failure. Their teens know that it is their continued application and their ability to rise above disappointment or less-than-desirable outcomes that is admired by their parents, not just the award.

Understand that there is always going to be others out there who have more talent, and who are more gifted.
These parents measure their gifted teen by qualities such as perseverance, self-control, a growing self-efficacy and against their individual progress rather than against the grades and success of others.
           
           
Helping them bridge the gap between teen and adult does not mean you 
should become a doormat upon which they scrape their feet as they pass over! 
Parenting gifted teens is not for the faint-hearted! You need to be there for them when they want to throw in the towel, listen to the problems and issues they are facing and apply your parental wisdom in discussion with them as to their options, choices, and the consequences of those choices. Work with them to help them make informed decisions: help them find the experts and mentors who can give them the advice that is needed. (Their high school is sure to have personnel who can do this, but also seek assistance from people in the community). It takes a whole village to raise a child;  you are not on your own.

Above all, don’t lower your standards! Helping them bridge the gap between teen and adult does not mean you should become a doormat upon which they scrape their feet as they pass over! That sends a message that you don’t believe they can achieve.  Having realistic, high expectations of our gifted youth reaffirms our faith in their eventual success as they pick their pathways on their chosen journeys.




[1] Dr Timote Vaioleti, University of Waikato
[2] Factors Affecting the Achievement of talented urban Students (Reis, H├ębert, Diaz, Maxfield, Ratley (1995) Case studies of talented students who achieve and underachieve in urban high school. Storrs, CT: NRCGT
[3] I am not only referring here to highly successful academics.  It should not be forgotten that high achievers come in every field, from farming, to the arts, to community leaders and beyond. It is the behaviours of high achieving parents, in whatever area, that make parents excellent role models. So don’t count yourself out!


© Sonia White, (M.Gifted Ed).  Author, Teacher, Gifted Education Consultant (2012), www.giftedconsultant.ac.nz  

This article is part of a series on how parents can help their gifted teens get the best out of their high school years. 

To read preceding articles on this topic click on the links:

Parents of Gifted:  2. Does your teen know you love them 'warts and all'?

Parents of Gifted:  3. Promote sensible risk-taking




Sonia White is a parent, teacher, author and gifted education consultant.  She has many years of experience working with gifted learners of all ages.
To receive links for future articles on this topic, you can subscribe to Sonia's blog by email, RSS feed, or as a member of Blogspot. 
Follow Sonia on Twitter: @SoniaWhite_  or Facebook: Sonia White Gifted Education    


Monday, June 18, 2012

4. Teach Your Gifted and Talented Teens to Prioritise


10 Ways Parents of Gifted Learners can support them in high school (continued)

“This is madness! I can’t cope with all this! They’ve got it wrong, I’m not gifted.” (But they haven’t got it wrong at all.)
 “I need to spend more time on this otherwise I’ll not get an A.”(Then they don’t hand it in at all.)
“I ran out of time in the exam – that lost me a lot of points.”
“I don’t have enough time/ can’t finish it by then” (followed by “Can you write the teacher a note?” or “I’m sick, I need a day off!”).
“Don’t bug me! I work better under pressure! I’ve got a whole week to finish that.”(And they do!)

Sometimes our gifted teens are so like us it is scary, and sometimes it seems as though they are so different they may as well be another species - which is also scary!  Do you find yourself frequently running late, with deadlines that you know you can’t possibly meet? Or are you a super-organised person who works well to deadlines and has almost everything completed ahead of schedule? If so, were you always able to do this, or did you begin to master that skill as an adult? I’d suggest it was the latter.  Some gifted teens pick up these skills almost by osmosis, but many don’t.  We can’t assume that because they are gifted they will know how to prioritise and manage their time.

Stress and work overload can often be part and parcel of giftedness for several reasons:

Gifted and talented are very different from one another.  Their response to stress of workload can be just as different.

  • Some who are multi-talented are in great demand by teachers; the student who hasn’t yet learned to say ‘no’ can be selected to participate in special programs by several different teachers, none of whom are necessarily aware of that student’s commitments or workload.  These students need help in prioritising.  However, as they mature, some gifted students do thrive on quite a heavy workload. These are the ones who have learned to prioritise, and to say ‘no’ without being aggressive.  But it is important that we parents still keep an eye on their level of commitments and state of health.
  •  Some gifted try to do everything at a level of ‘perfect’, and then become overwhelmed by the amount of perceived work they need to do.  They may crumple under the workload, or procrastinate because the task seems too big, and they are scared of failure; or they may just give up and not attempt it at all.  Perfectionism is a common trait amongst gifted:  it can be the driving force for mastery and excellence, and as such is a healthy trait.  But when perfectionism holds a person back from making the most of their opportunities, or affects their physical or mental health, it becomes unhealthy.  Understanding healthy versus unhealthy perfectionism is so important it is a topic of for future blogs.
  • Some gifted are twice exceptional (2e): they may have identified or even unidentified barriers to learning success such as a poor short term memory or organisational problems.  It is really important that these students have these correctly diagnosed so that they can adopt appropriate strategies to compensate for these barriers, so they can still experience success.  Prioritising will be important for them too.
  • Some haven’t yet grasped the fact that high grades in every subject at secondary school level are no longer something they can easily pull off.  There are sophisticated skills involved that require mastery and a far greater input of time that they previously needed to put in:  for example, research, planning, ‘crafting’ and delivering their assignment in a manner appropriate to the subject domain and with the higher level of thinking that is expected at mastery level.  So they may ignore teacher advice on planning and implementing timelines, and drafts, they wrongly anticipate the depth of work involved and set themselves up for either a last minute panic and/or a lower grade.  The latter of course dents their self-confidence, and instead of realising that it was simply a matter of more work, or working smarter, they begin to doubt their ability to deliver.  


Learning to prioritise is a life skill.  I wish I’d had it when I was a teen!  There is a necessary step prior to prioritising:  Goal setting.  Don’t expect your teen to be enthusiastic about discussing this with you.  But if you can encourage discussion about this with either you or another adult your teen will find it easier to prioritise.

Goals have to be real, and achievable.  Your gifted teen needs to understand that it simply isn’t possible to achieve perfection in every single area of learning.  There aren’t enough hours in a day.  That would be like asking the General Manager of a company to be an outstanding in accountancy, sales, art, engineering, information technology, building maintenance, logistics, distribution, marketing, and advertising. One of the best lessons you can instil into your gifted teen (particularly the perfectionist) is the knowledge that it is okay not to excel in every area.  Support them in making the decisions as to which areas they wish to excel in, and which areas it is okay to just do okay in. Bring your own wisdom to the discussion, but help them make informed choices for themselves.

Successful learners use S.M.A.R.T. goals.  There is plenty on the web about these. Make sure your teen gets involved thinking about goals - it puts them in control, helps to determine priorities and is a key self-motivational tool.

Setting a long term goal might be as simple as “I want to graduate with a report that will make opportunities available to me in the areas that I choose to pursue”.   (It is normal for gifted students not to know in advance what areas they want to pursue because they are often multi-talented.  I believe that secondary school is about keeping doors and options open. However a few gifted students are very clear from an early age exactly what career they wish to pursue). 

Bear in mind that in pursuing goals, life balance is important. There needs to be a balance between homework, study, sports, hobbies, leisure, after school employment where it occurs, and socialising.  As an exercise, lay out a weekly timetable with your teen, filling times for each of these – from early morning through till lights out.  It can put things in perspective and highlight problems if there is an imbalance.  It may be that some of these things need prioritising!


Medium and short term goals spring from the question “what key things do I need to do to achieve my goal?” They need to be specific.  Once some medium-term and short-term goals are established, they need to prioritise, especially in the short term.  Some of the questions your teen can ask themselves in relation to the time they spend daily in specific areas of learning:

What tasks need to be done today / this week?
List tasks: homework and study in different subject areas. With practice, listing can be a mental checklist, but when things are in overload mode, it is better to write them down.
How important is this task, in relation to my goals? 
Know what is most important.  This is the most important skill.  What is a ‘must do’ versus a ‘would be nice to do?’ This is a question I find I’m asking myself on a daily basis, as my mind fills with all sorts of exciting possibilities and options, and I can easily get sidetracked, even though it is justifiable work. Gifted teens can have the same problem.
How much time should I realistically spend on it?
Should I do this to excellence level, or is it a task that I can simply complete to an ‘okay’ level and move on?
Which task comes first?
In what order should I prioritise these? What might need to be moved to the next day / next week?
What steps can I take if I am really overloaded?
Teachers will wear a request for an extension of time if it doesn’t happen too often, and if it isn’t part of a legally required deadline date.  If your overload is caused by serious family or health issues, it’s really important you see the person at school who is responsible for student welfare to discuss the problem.  This might be a Dean or a Head of Faculty – schools differ in who they appoint for student guidance.  They know that sometimes things go wrong, and students sometimes need support.  They are there for you.  Use them.

A word in support of your teen’s teachers:  teachers do teach their students how to prioritise.   Just like you, their parent, your teen’s teachers do try to instil wisdom, but sometimes teens simply don’t listen. Think about it:  what teacher wouldn’t want their students to be successful?  After all,  it makes the teacher look good! Most teachers I have worked with try to instil prioritising as part of time management skills.

Teachers teach prioritising as part of examination technique, for example.  They teach their students to read through the paper first, then to prioritise examination questions in order of their value in marks, and allocate an amount of time to each question. 

For example: 5 questions need to be completed in an hour, and they all require written answers.  Two are worth 30% each, another is worth 20% and two are worth only 10% each. The time spent on each of these questions should reflect the marks.  Sixty minutes in an hour – take off 5 minutes at the beginning for reading the questions, and at the end for checking. That leaves 50 minutes. The two 30% questions should receive about 15 minutes each.  The 20% question equals 10 minutes, and two 10% questions no more than 5 minutes each.  This ensures that the student doesn’t waste time elaborating an answer that only requires a comparatively brief response.

Examination techniques necessarily vary from subject to subject. Many schools have subject tutoring groups prior to examinations.  It’s not your job as parent to know and teach these.  However, try asking your teen in conversation what he knows about examination techniques and how they differ from subject to subject.  Ask him which techniques he finds best.  You will find the answers fascinating, and it’s a subtle way of reinforcing the value of these.  You will find that he will also be quick to recognise those that he should have employed, post examination.  A lesson learned.  Don’t labour it; trust him to remember the lesson.  With luck it won’t happen again.

Prioritising is a skill. It is closely linked with goal setting and time management skills, both of which deserve further time and space.  At my age I still don’t always get prioritising right, but blending it into my daily work has become an instinctive habit which has removed a lot of self-inflicted stress. 



© Sonia White, (M.Gifted Ed).  Author, Teacher, Gifted Education Consultant (2012), www.giftedconsultant.ac.nz  

This article is part of a series on how parents can help their gifted teens get the best out of their high school years.
To read preceding articles on this topic click on the links:

Parents of Gifted:  2. Does your teen know you love them 'warts and all'?

Parents of Gifted:  3. Promote sensible risk-taking

Parents of Gifted: 5. Have High Expectations of Your Gifted and Talented Teen
Sonia White is a parent, teacher, author and gifted education consultant.  She has many years of experience working with gifted learners of all ages.
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