Executive Function Skills and Adolescence
During adolescence, executive function skills are not yet at adult levels, but the demands placed on these skills often are. Teenagers need to communicate effectively in multiple contexts, manage their own school and extracurricular assignments, and successfully complete more abstract and complicated projects. Here are some suggestions for helping teens practice better self-regulation throughout the daily challenges they face.
Help adolescents be mindful of interruptions (particularly from electronic communication such as email and cell phones). Multitasking may feel good, but there is strong evidence that it saps attention and impedes performance. If two (or more) tasks are competing for attention, discuss ways to prioritize and sequence.
Goal setting, planning and monitoring Self-regulation is necessary in any goal directed activity. Identifying goals, planning, monitoring progress, and adjusting behaviour are important skills to practice.
To focus the planning process, encourage teens to identify something specific that they want to accomplish. Most important is that the goals are meaningful to the teen and not established by others. For some teens, planning the college application process may be self-motivating, but for others, planning a social event may be more important. Start with something fairly simple and achievable, such as getting a driver’s license or saving money to buy a computer, before moving on to longer-term goals like buying a car or applying to colleges.
Help teens develop plans for steps to reach these goals. They should identify short- and long-term goals and think about what has to be done to achieve them. For example: If teens want their team to win the sports championship, what skills do they need to learn? How might they practice them? Identify some problems that might arise, and encourage the teen to plan ahead for them.
Taking on large social issues, such as homelessness, domestic violence, or bullying can be both appealing and overwhelming to teens. DoSomething.org and VolunteerMatch.org can help identify concrete actions.
How to Help.
Remind adolescents to periodically monitor their behavior and consider whether they are doing the things they planned and whether these plans are achieving the goals they identified. “Is this part of the plan? If not, why am I doing it? Has something changed?” Monitoring in this way can identify counter-productive habitual and impulsive actions and maintain focused attention and conscious control.