How to Handle a Disorganized Teen


Whether your teen considers his room clean when it looks like only one bomb went off, his bathroom isn’t any better and his idea of organizing his schoolwork is to wad it up and toss it into his backpack, his disorganized lifestyle might mean something completely different to him than it does to you. According to Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D., author and Texas-based psychologist, your teen’s disorganized lifestyle might be his way of asserting his independence and individuality, while to you it feels like disrespect for your rules. Either way, being disorganized is not beneficial in any way.

  • Let your teen make the overall decision as to how her bedroom is arranged, advises Ann Pleshette Murphy, the parenting contributor for "Good Morning America.” While she is required to respect household rules and keep her bedroom neat and organized, it’s still her room and she needs the independence to decorate it in her own personal style. For example, require that she keep her clean clothes folded and/or hung up. You can also tell her that her homework and school supplies are always to be placed on her desk to prevent her from rushing each morning trying to locate all that she needs for the day ahead. But you cannot tell her she has to use your method of filing for her homework and school books or your decorating ideas for hanging her posters.

  • Set expectations for cleanliness. According to Murphy, you cannot expect perfection. By requiring your teen to have perfect hospital corners on his sheets and so much neatness that you cannot find even a speck of dust, you’re setting everyone up for failure. Instead, come up with basic rules such as making the bed each morning, not allowing food or beverages in the bedroom and maintaining a clear floor in case of emergency. As far as being organized when it comes to his papers and homework, try taking him to a stationery or office supply store to choose some binders, folders, labels and any other items that will help him separate his papers into the appropriate places. This allows you to help him become a little less disorganized while still allowing him to have the final say in how he will arrange his belongings.

  • Supervise the cleaning of the mess, advises Pickhardt. For example, if you want your teen to keep her room neat – it doesn’t have to be perfect, just neat – keep on her about it. Remind her every time you see her. Check in on her to ensure she’s making her bed each morning and make your way in there each night to ask her if she’s remembered to toss her dirty clothes into the laundry rather than into a corner. Make it a habit to suggest to her that she file her supplies and work in an easy-to-locate manner anytime she is running late thanks to her misplaced English essay or missing math book. The more you remind her about it, the more likely she is to do it of her own accord in the future, perhaps because it turns into a habit or simply because she’s tired of listening to you nag. Either way, the mess gets cleaned up.

Tips & Warnings

  • Stress that there are consequences if your teenager fails to keep his room neat and clean. Tell him what he can expect if his room and homework are not kept in an organized manner. For example, if he fails to maintain the cleanliness of his room, you will take away his phone privileges for a day.
  • If he repeatedly misplaces the car keys despite the rule that all keys should be placed on the hook by the door, take away his driving privileges for a day. You can enforce consequences such as no television when the remote is misplaced or no computer time when the laptop isn't in its appropriate location after your teen uses it.


  • Photo Credit James Woodson/Digital Vision/Getty Images
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