6 Reasons Students Procrastinate (And What Parents Can Do To Help)

by | May 28, 2024 | Parenting

Everyone procrastinates from time to time, checking social media “for just a moment” instead of getting started on researching a paper or doing a chore. Occasional procrastination may not impact your day or interfere with your quality of life.

However, procrastination can become a habit for some students, leading to significant emotional and real-life consequences. They can end up in a negative cycle of procrastination. As high school senior Ben Yao told The Dispatch, “Procrastinating increases my stress levels, but it’s hard to avoid.” [1]

Chronic procrastinators typically realize what they’re doing and that it’s not helpful. They also may wish they’d started tasks earlier. They may make promises to themselves that next time they won’t put assignments off. Yet, it’s not always so easy to break from this cycle, even when students have good intentions.

Since students procrastinate for different reasons, it’s essential to understand why they are procrastinating. So they can find an effective solution to help them avoid procrastinating in the future.

What is procrastination?

Procrastination is voluntarily putting off or delaying a task that needs to be done despite knowing it will lead to problems. We often choose to do something enjoyable or comforting instead of the task at hand, which provides a short-term benefit. However, this temporary relief is ultimately outweighed by the consequences of delaying.

Tim Pychyl, an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University, states that procrastination is often the result of an inability to regulate emotions effectively [2]. For instance, you may delay doing a task because it’s boring or difficult, it makes you feel bad, or you’re worried about failing. However, procrastination is a maladaptive or self-defeating strategy because the task doesn’t disappear. So then you still have to complete the task plus deal with added stress and emotions.

 

Impact of procrastination on students

The habit of delaying tasks until the last moment is frustrating for students and can lead to significant negative consequences.

Here are some common ways procrastination can impact students.

  • Lowered academic performance: Waiting until the last moment to finish tasks can cause students to rush through assignments, miss deadlines, and turn in subpar work. In their haste to just get things done or study at the last moment, they can also miss out on truly learning or mastering concepts, resulting in lower grades and failure to reach their full academic potential.
  • Increased stress and anxiety: While procrastinators experience less stress initially, the pressure of looming deadlines and the guilt of not starting tasks can increase students’ stress and anxiety, especially as deadlines approach.
  • Decline in motivation and self-esteem: Putting off tasks or rushing through assignments at the last minute can erode students’ motivation and self-esteem, especially if this habit leads to performing below expectations. The cycle of procrastination and underperforming can lead them to develop a sense of inadequacy, helplessness, and incompetence.
  • Negative impact on their physical health: Chronic procrastination can take a toll on your child’s physical health, such as disrupted sleep patterns, fatigue, stomachaches, or headaches.

Common reasons students procrastinate

There are many reasons why students procrastinate. The better they understand why they’re putting tasks off, the easier it will be to identify strategies that help them avoid procrastinating.

Here are some common causes of why students procrastinate.

1. Academic anxiety and pressure

Some students feel excessive pressure to do well, whether it’s the pressure they put on themselves or from those around them. Not everyone thrives under pressure.

Some students may feel overwhelmed, anxious, or uncomfortable with the worry that they won’t be able to do as well as expected. This level of pressure can lead to paralysis, causing students to put off work until the last minute. Additionally, they may procrastinate as a way to avoid the feelings of stress, overwhelm, and anxiety associated with their workload.

Tips:

  • Students may benefit from learning self-regulation, relaxation, and meditation strategies to help them manage feelings of stress, overwhelm, and anxiety.
  • Talk with your child about their feelings, including the feeling of pressure to perform at certain levels. Explore what are realistic expectations and helpful levels of pressure for them, and look for different ways to reduce feelings of pressure that are interfering and causing them emotional distress.

2. Perfectionism or fear of failure

While it’s admirable to want to do well, some students are so focused on completing all tasks, assignments, and tests “perfectly” that it can lead to unrealistic expectations. Perfectionists may worry about making a mistake, be afraid of criticism, or are so concerned about not living up to their expectations that they put off starting tasks. Worry of making a mistake or not doing something correctly can also lead to indecision, causing the student to procrastinate.

Perfectionism  can also cause students to spend too much time on tasks. This can lead to feelings of frustration and potentially mismanaging their time, causing them to not have enough time to finish other tasks leading to mistakes or poor performance on assignments. Additionally, perfectionism can lead to emotional distress, including anxiety, stress, and lowered self-esteem.

Tips:

  • Focus on praising the effort and not the outcome or grade to help reduce feelings of pressure.
  • Help your child figure out how much time and effort to place on tasks to help them manage their time.
  • Discuss with your child how no one can do everything perfectly and how making mistakes is an opportunity to learn and a part of life.

3. Poor study routines or time management skills

Students with ineffective study routines or poor time management skills may struggle to effectively manage their time or know how to break big projects into smaller tasks. For instance, they may not know how to get started on complex, multi-step assignments, not realize when they should start studying for major grades or tests, or procrastinate on important tasks that are challenging.

Difficulties with time management or study skills can also cause them to unintentionally waste time, lead to indecisiveness, or underestimate how long tasks could take, contributing to poor grades or performance. They may find themselves constantly playing catch-up or cramming at the last minute to study for tests or complete assignments.

Tips:

  • Help your child identify effective study habits and routines that work for them.
  • Work with your child on developing effective time management skills to help them identify the right amount of time they need to complete tasks
  • Help your child or teen identify how to break down complex or large projects into smaller steps.

4. Reduced motivation or resistance

Students may procrastinate on schoolwork or classes where they don’t see the relevance of the class or assignment — it’s typically not due to laziness. Additionally, some students may procrastinate when they feel “forced” to complete assignments or tasks that they don’t feel are important or view as busy work.

Tips:

  • Talk openly with your child about their feelings and listen to their viewpoint and concerns.
  • Look for ways to give them more control, such as allowing them more input on when they study or the order in which they complete tasks.
  • Help them increase their motivation to do tasks by exploring with them how doing well can help them in other ways. For instance, maybe a class is a prerequisite for a class they do want to take, or the information in the class can help them with a hobby or other course.

5. Overscheduled

Students need downtime to relax and do things for fun. When students have too many obligations, they can struggle to find time to get everything done. They may procrastinate on some things as a way to create some free time for themselves. However, this often backfires since they may feel guilt for putting off the activities they “should” be doing.

Students of any age can be overscheduled, but this can especially impact high school and college students who may be juggling school, work, and social demands.

Tips:

  • If your child is feeling overscheduled, talk with them about their commitments. Work with them to identify their priorities and if there are activities they may want to stop so they have more free time.

6. Difficulty managing distractions

Students are often surrounded by distractions that make it hard for them to stay focused on what they should be doing. The instant gratification of many distractions like social media  or video games can override students’ intention to work

Additionally, some students struggle with internal distractions, such as losing focus or getting distracted by their own thoughts.

Tips:

  • Help them create a quiet, distraction-free space for studying or doing homework.
  • Work with them to set up effective time management or scheduling skills that can help them develop routines and structure so they can better resist distractions.

How parents can help children and teens who chronically procrastinate

It’s frustrating and hard to watch your child repeatedly procrastinate on school work, chores, and activities like learning a musical instrument. You know the delay simply causes more stress, time constraints, and other negative consequences like poor grades, anxiety, or self-doubts.

It seems easy for your student to avoid this pattern, and it’s tempting to lecture them on it. But scolding them that they “should have started earlier,” made better decisions, or to stop being “lazy” won’t help.

Instead, these types of conversations can put them on the defensive and make them feel worse, which can lead to continued procrastination.

Most students want to stop procrastinating — they just don’t know how.

Parents can help by listening closely and talking openly with their child or teen.

  • Ask them open-ended questions about how they’re feeling about procrastinating, what they’re thinking when they do it, and how it feels when faced with the consequences.
  • Talk about strategies they’ve tried, including what has helped them.
  • Offer them support and guidance. Let them know what has helped you manage the temptation of procrastinating.
  • Remind them that overcoming procrastination is a process. Some strategies will work in certain situations, but not all.

There are many solutions for procrastinating but not every option works for everyone or every situation. By understanding the reason behind the habit of procrastinating, you and your student can work together to find solutions that help them avoid delaying tasks, breaking the habit of procrastination.

Sources

  1. Wong, Ava (January 12, 2023). Students suffer at the hands of time: the root of procrastination in high school. https://thedispatchonline.net/17272/indepth/students-suffer-at-the-hands-of-time-the-root-of-procrastination-in-high-school/# (Accessed March 28, 2024)
  2. Banks, Kerry (October 28, 2020). The pull of procrastination. https://universityaffairs.ca/features/feature-article/the-pull-of-procrastination/ (Accessed March 28, 2024)