Some kids are messy, and it does have an impact on school performance if they cannot find the work they’ve completed, or if their organizational skills are so poor they cannot locate teacher-created assignments, and they cannot assemble their essential tools and materials in a timely fashion. The mess takes up too much time and too much mental space. (Who wants to cook dinner when there are dirty dishes in the sink, the dishwasher hasn’t been unloaded and the garbage needs to be taken out? The task is magnified by the mess.) Ditto homework. Kids do not have the energy to dig themselves out of a garbage heap in order to tackle challenging tasks–so things pile up, and all those beautiful school supplies you bought him are now just a part of the problem. There is no hopefully gleaming binder, no brilliant color-coded folders. After all, it’s nearly March…and these objects have all gotten pretty tired…and so have you!
So, what to do? Obviously the backpack filled with grime, old apple cores and power bar wrappers doesn’t spark joy. But is it right to chuck it? His phone screen is broken. That’s not a joyful site, but you already got it fixed for him twice. Isn’t there a lesson to be learned here?
First, take a deep breath. Like all lessons, this one is best learned over time and with whatever compassion/humor you can muster. Have him empty the book bag completely. Tell him you won’t shame him. You can vacuum inside it, if necessary. Help him wash it so it looks pretty good. There are all kinds of sprays, and Mr. Clean Magic Eraser may even scrub those disgusting doodles off the binder. Salvage the larger, more expensive items, but do invest in new folders. I personally prefer clear plastic envelope style folders because kids can see what they have in there! In fact, clear plastic everything can really help disorganized kids, and they can be color coded with Sharpies if necessary. Naturally, writing implements can also be purchased anew. I like gliding and thicker pens for kids with poor handwriting–nothing makes life harder for a kid with poor small motor skills than nubby pencils and cheap plastic pens that are too skinny to get a decent grip on.
The phone screen is another matter. I do like to use phone timers and phone calendars as back ups to paper planners, and my personal experience is that the glass fragments eventually work their way into the guts of the phone. He may need to pay you back for that one—but do choose your battles! He’ll be more respectful about the expensive stuff, if you agree to refresh the cheaper things.
Isn’t buying him new supplies simply “enabling” this gross-out behavior, you ask? Many parents have this concern. My answer is usually that the young teen’s response to his own squalor is rarely to change his habits, so he is not learning through natural consequences. What is happening is, consciously or not, he feels ashamed of his situation and simply does not want to look at how bad it’s gotten. I think we’ve all been there! So, no. I don’t think buying new supplies a bit more than halfway through the year is enabling grossness. It’s demonstrating that people generally tackle work with more ease and a better attitude when they do not feel shame about the state of their things. Hence, clean houses stay clean, and messy houses stay messy.
Only change brings change.