A Conversation with a Teenager: Not a Contradiction in Terms

So many black garbage bags filled with assorted belongings lined my bedroom floor, that, at 16, I had to run down the hallway, take a flying leap over the doorjamb, just to land safely on my bed. Every so often, my father would enter my room, at his own risk, and gather up whatever detritus laid between his feet and the floor, stand the bags up like soldiers, and make his retreat. So, no, I wasn’t always this organized.

I know I was not alone in this experience.

Fortunately, it’s not genetic (or it skips a generation – my father’s desk never held fewer or more than three freshly sharpened pencils, a fountain pen, and an ink blotter). A certain young lady of my acquaintance agreed to be interviewed for her tips on keeping organized while attending high school.

Let’s begin…

Her room is always organized, but not always clean (most days, it is). Her desk has a shelf designated for homework supplies (textbooks, literature, pens, pencils, calculator, white-out, looseleaf paper). Her dresser divides her clothing by type and whether it’s designated for weekday or Shabbos: weekday tops, folded with a plastic folder so that everything is uniform and vertically stacked, every item easily seen. Each stack contains either long sleeve shirts or shorter sleeve shirts, with a separate pile for sweaters and a bin for shells folded into smaller squares.

The closet contains uniform skirts and Shabbos clothes, divided, along with sweatshirts, jackets, vests, and dresses.

Motzei Shabbos is chosen to make the week’s To Do List with tasks broken down into small increments to be able to check off items easily. Her forthcoming week is prepared on Sunday, by tidying her room for 15 minutes, ensuring that there are enough uniforms for the week (if not, she does laundry or irons). For lunches, she preps vegetables, makes dressing, and takes stock of items in the refrigerator for sufficient lunch supplies for the week. If necessary, she makes a shopping list. During the week, making lunch is easier because all needed supplies are there.

The young lady checks her homework schedule for the week and tackles smaller assignments ahead of time while designating specific times in her planner for larger assignments and tests. Sundays are also for returning and initiating phone calls, including to grandparents.

Thursday evening finds her helping cook for Shabbos and checking her planner to schedule babysitting jobs without falling behind in homework. “Fun activities are more fun when responsibilities are attended to because one can go out without stress or guilt,” she states.

“It’s important to pay attention to how your own energy ebbs and flows throughout the day; this way homework can be done when you are at your best, with a supper break if necessary.” One friend starts hers at 9:00 p.m. Another starts hers at 5:30 a.m.

“Try not to multitask at school. Take good notes to study from and be better prepared.  Try to find something enjoyable about every class so you’ll be motivated to study. Try to come up with a very good question at the end of each class to force you to pay attention better during class.”

“Walk to school in the morning – it’s a great way to get exercise given that students are normally sedentary all day. The walk also gets the brain awake so that I can pay better attention when I arrive. The drive home is used to unwind and quietly relax. Schedule time so you can say ‘yes’ to social or business activities (e.g. babysit for Shabbatons) without stress. Schedule study dates in advance to go over questions about material so that study time is more focused in preparing for the study dates.”

“Try to have a reasonable bedtime so that you can get up and have time to beautify, have breakfast, and not be stressed or rushed. I listen to music while doing housework.  I don’t have specific chores, but if I see that an area of the house (kitchen, playroom, laundry room) needs attention, I’ll just take care of it because it bothers me to see it in disarray.”

“On occasion, I help my married sister with her children – I just make sure to put it in my planner. If it’s important to you, you’ll find time to do it. If you can’t find the time, it’s not important to you.

“I give myself little prizes (visit with a friend, go out for pizza, read 5 chapters, listen to music) after doing things I don’t particularly want to do.  Come up with something you want to do to motivate yourself.”

“Every term in the year in school, I try to set goals to make things better. I try to pay attention to what works.”

“I focus on saying ‘thank you’ and try to be appreciative; it may be something small, but it makes a big difference to other people. I try to write “thank you” on test papers. After all, it’s hard work to teach, answer questions, prepare material, and mark papers. I am grateful that Morah Spira reminds us to go to mincha everyday. It’s probably not fun to have to go all around and remind people, but I appreciate it because sometimes I forget.  I also say ‘thank you’ to the person holding the door open. I appreciate Reb. Stern’s attention to the day-to-day goings -on of my life. It feels like she really knows us and wants us to do well.”

Mrs. Devora Farrell is currently qvelling and answering phone calls. She can be reached at (973) 919-7761

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