Teaching Executive Function Skills to Young Adults

We often underestimate the ways executive function impacts us. It’s more than some buzzwords; executive function is critical to making and executing plans.

It’s one of those sets of life skills for teens that’s going to help carry them through early adulthood and beyond. Today we want to help parents and guardians better teach these skills to their teens, in a way that can be both fun and engaging.

The Basics of Executive Function

Let’s start with a simple but important question: What is executive function?

It’s a phrase we hear a lot in academia but it’s also one many parents only have a vague understanding of. At its core, executive function is the set of skills we need to execute plans. However, it requires more explaining than that.

Diving deeper, there are three main areas of these life skills for teens and adults, which work together to help us accomplish big tasks. These are:

  • Our working memory
  • Our ability to think flexibly
  • Our self-control

Weakness in one of these areas is going to make executing long-term plans much more difficult. Meanwhile, being strong in these areas tends to result not only in better scores academically but better life prospects in general.

Most experts agree these are pretty critical skills for children and teens to have. Developing them pays off in huge ways in almost every age category, including into adulthood, and lacking them can have major consequences.

While many people learn these skills naturally, not everyone does. This can sometimes result in someone feeling stupid or incompetent when they just need to practice their executive function skillset.

Why Some Teens (and Adults) Struggle

There are plenty of reasons someone might struggle with executive function. For example, over 90% of kids with ADHD struggle with executive function and this won’t go away as they get older without time and effort.

While executive function is an important set of skills, it is a learned set of skills, not something that comes completely naturally. In some ways this is good news; struggling with these skills now doesn’t mean it has to be forever.

If you want to help a teen or an adult in your life, the trick is finding an effective approach for them to learn these skills. We admit this can be easier said than done. Many already feel disheartened and might think further efforts are a waste of time.

For teens, it can help to try and get their teachers on board. Teachers who are cognizant of a student’s unique challenges can be a huge help in developing their executive function skillset.

There are also classes aimed at various age groups to help people develop these skills. Wherever someone is in their life journey, these courses can be a big help when nothing else seems to do much good.

For today, we want to focus on something a bit more granular. There’s a tool; it’s available right on our store, that can do some real good for those who struggle with planning. Its ability to help is even right in the name!

Planners can make for great teen gifts, especially for those who are struggling with memory and planning. They can help reinforce life skills for teens that are important but while still staying fun all the while.

The Value of a Good Planner

One of the biggest challenges teens and young adults who are still trying to develop their executive function skill set run into is school. Academia, by default, requires a lot of the sort of planning they may still struggle with.

It isn’t only bias on our part to say that a teen planner, especially one aimed at education, can help in this regard.

A well-designed student planner is like a hub for all the important plans a student needs to remember. Projects, homework, and more can all be written down in a clear, easy-to-process way.

This is great for those who struggle with executive function because it allows them to lay out their work schedule day by day. It’s much easier to meet a project deadline if you can see when it’s due on a regular basis.

Remember, many students who struggle with executive function have genuine problems with their working memory. Being able to hold important details somewhere safe and easy to access can pay huge dividends.

Custom planners can also help with self-control if used correctly. A teen or young adult can schedule “fun” days and “work/project” days. By knowing a fun time is guaranteed up ahead, it’s often way easier to buckle down and work in the present.

Even a good planner is also unlikely to cost as much as the average college textbook. If it helps improve a student’s test scores and ability to plan, most parents would argue they’re more than worth it.

Getting into the Mind of a Struggling Student

We understand that the idea of a nice custom planner for a student struggling with executive function can seem a bit much to some parents. You might ask, “Why don’t they just make a note on a piece of paper?”

That’s sort of question is understandable but is often a result of your having a different life experience than your child. If you never struggled with executive function the way they have, you might not know what it’s like.

For many (perhaps most) adults, the idea that a note on the fridge is enough to remember and plan for a task is logical. You keep a vague order of what needs to happen in your head, write a small note down, and figure the rest out as you go.

This works for a huge swathe of the population. The odds are good it works for you. However, as you might imagine we’re leading up to, it doesn’t work for those who struggle with executive function.

Planning when you have issues with executive function can feel a lot like juggling a ball, with each new important task adding another ball one has to keep up. Vague, simple reminders won’t always be enough to even remember a given task.

A planner allows these people some extra mental space. By being able to write down a project’s requirements, with its due date on a clearly labelled calendar, things can better fall into place.

They probably can’t handle the chaos of having to manage a bunch of sticky notes and scrap papers with various due dates written on them. But a neat, organized teen planner they can carry? It’s an easier task.

When Fun is More than Fun

If we accept a planner is a useful tool for those who struggle with executive function, a new question emerges. What kind should you buy for them?

We’d argue the answer is a fun one. That isn’t only an attempt to upsell either; there’s real value to a custom photo planner that a given person likes the look of and attaches some meaning to.

Let’s take, for instance, our teen selfies planner. The idea behind this planner is that it can serve not only the role of a planner but also a photo album. It can fit more than teenager selfies too; any photo of the right size will work.

With its photo cover and dozens of internal spots for additional photos, it lets a teen (or adult) plan while also very much feeling like the planner is theirs. It’s one of those teen gifts that can carry real emotional weight behind it.

Photos can serve as a positive motivator to help inspire users to visualize their goal, set and meet timelines, document success and failures, and more. A big value add of selfies is they can be great for motivating.

Moreover, fitting in some teen selfies (or whatever other kind of photos they want to add) is fun. It can be a cool project for them to design their own and then use it to start overcoming their issues with executive function.

This gets into what we mean when we write, “When fun is more than fun.” The more someone cares about a planner, the more they will use it. If it was fun to make and feels cool to have, it will be easier to remember where it is and what you’ve put in it.

Self-Improvement is Hard Enough

If you struggle with executive function into your teenage years or beyond, it isn’t “a phase.” It means you face an uphill battle learning important but often very frustrating skills, all while also facing the usual challenges life throws at you.

That journey of self-improvement is hard enough. A nice custom planner or some supplemental EF courses aren’t superfluous; they’re tools to master oneself.

One interesting element of of using a custom planner with pictures is they can serve as “anchors” for one’s memory. It’s estimated humans are about 65% better at remembering things with a visual component.

For example, it can be hard to remember what you’ve written down in your January schedule. However, it gets much easier if you remember what you wrote down on the page next to a selfie of you and your dog. It’s a simple trick but an effective one.

These are concepts that are easy to lose track of if you’re a parent looking in from the outside. You might think your child only needs to work a little harder to succeed but it’s more complicated than that.

A nice planner is also a carrot rather than stick approach. Working hard to avoid failure can work but is stressful. Learning to sharpen your memory thanks to a useful tool with fun pictures in it is a more positive influence helping to convey the same skills.

Will any one thing guarantee they master executive function? Of course not, it’s always going to be a process and every person is different. But with enough useful tools deployed in the right ways, they will get closer and closer to their goal.

The idea of some teenager selfies mixed with a calendar helping a student can be hard to process. It seems so simple! The truth is that simple solutions are often also the most effective.

If Planning is Tough, Let Us Help

Mastering executive function is harder for some people than for others. It isn’t fair but it’s true. If a teen or young adult in your life is struggling, the right tools can be a big help.

If you’re curious about getting one of our teen planners to help someone in your life practice planning and executing those plans, register with us! They deserve a planner customized to make their journey as easy as can be.

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