Ok, so it’s been a while, and I do apologize to my readers who have been waiting patiently for a new story. The demands of raising teens can be quite….demanding, for lack of better word. The topic I’m going to share with you is not a funny one. Instead, it’s quite serious, and for those of you dealing with teens in high school, you’ll be able to appreciate the stressfulness of it. The realization that the culmination of all your parenting is coming to a close is quite daunting and surreal as you contemplate the reality of your child going off on their own into the world, and that there isn’t much you can do about it except hope that you have prepared them well enough for the challenges and demands that await them. As my son turned 16 a few weeks ago this reality hit me pretty hard, and was actually quite depressing. But this is all part of being a parent right? Ultimately, we have to accept that our children are on loan to us.
Several months ago I was speaking with the mother of one of my son’s friends who was concerned about her son’s lack of motivation to do well in school. She was asking for my opinion on how I kept my own son motivated. Of course I was very humbled. By no means do I consider myself an expert in parenting. Personally, I don’t think anyone can claim to be one and I do not use this blog as a medium to “educate” other parents on how to parent. My simple goal is to share my stories and the results of my parenting techniques. As parents we have to determine what’s good for our individual children. That being said, every child is different. Some are easily motivated to study and do well in school without much encouragement or “threatening” (whichever method you prefer), while others have to basically be bribed all the way to college. Growing up I was a highly motivated, self-disciplined, and self-reliant learner. I rarely asked my parents for help, and had high expectations of myself. My parents were very strict with my studies and made their expectations of me very clear: I was to do well, or else.
All was fine until I started high school. My freshman year I bombed classes left and right as I found myself caught up in the exhilaration of being in a huge school with so much to do and so many people to know (until then I had gone to private school). When report cards were passed out and I saw F’s, fear sunk in. There was no way I could show my parents. They would kill me and I literally believed that (something I’m sure many of you can relate to). Fortunately for me, I had a friend who knew a trick that consisted of using a q-tip and hairspray, a pencil and the copy machine, and maybe some white out. (This is when report cards were printed on carbon paper and students were expected to actually show their parents.) To add, I was skipping classes, getting suspended and forging my parents’ signature on disciplinary slips. Fortunately my state of rebellion only lasted a year and by sophomore year I cared about my performance once again, and no one was hurt in the process (except my gpa of course).
The demands and expectations of students today though are much more fierce and competitive than when I was 15/16. And these demands and expectations are being applied to students younger and younger as time progresses. With magnet schools popping up throughout the country, more and more elementary students are expected to know what they want to do for the rest of their life as they are encouraged to pick a field of interest that they can study….in ELEMENTARY! To add, parents are putting a lot of pressure on their children in an attempt to set them above and beyond their peers in this race/competition for success. Understandably, we want our children to stand out above the rest, it’s ingrained in our psyche as Americans to compete….and do whatever we have to do in order to get there (including harming others and cheating).
Recently I attended a college information session with my son and walked out completely overwhelmed and stressed. I found myself immediately brainstorming ideas on how to help grow his educational resume so that he would stand out from the other hundred thousand students he would be competing against for scholarships and acceptance into colleges. My anxiety was skyrocketing, so you can imagine his. As a sophomore he’s taking some honors classes, some gifted classes and two, advanced placement classes that will give him college credit if he passes the AP test at the end of the school year. Currently he’s registered for Dual Enrollment classes at the local college to begin in the summer where he will begin taking college classes and start accruing college credit. If he is disciplined and motivated enough, he could actually graduate high school with well over 30 college credits (and it’s all free). My son is aware of the SAT scores he needs to have in order to get into the IVY League colleges he’s considering, he has an A list, a B List and a C list of college choices, is applying for a summer job, manages his own music band (which includes weekly practices, in addition to recording sessions, and gigs), and even has his own side business making leather bracelets.
Of course this can be quite impressive to some parents, and don’t get me wrong, it is to me as well, and the question I get from most is: how does he handle it all? But, honestly, up until recently, he wasn’t handling it very well. My son’s grades are not as good as I would want them to be, he tends to spread himself very thin, finding it difficult to say no to any exciting, new or promising activity or adventure, doesn’t prioritize his time very well, is not very organized, procrastinates for everything, and wastes a lot of time on Facebook and texting or talking on the phone. You’re probably thinking that I must be on his ass all the time, nagging and reprimanding him to get his priorities taken care of, but actually I don’t. In fact, I refuse to.
I spent a lot of time doing that throughout his time in elementary. I set my expectations of him and made sure he understood them. I gave him rewards when he accomplished successful feats, and punished him when he did not meet satisfactory expectations. I volunteered as often as I could at his school making sure that the teachers knew me and knew that I cared, and was on the PTA for many years. When he entered Middle School though, I made a commitment to back off. In my mind, middle school was the place where I would lengthen the rope, but not cut it completely. I gave him enough slack to move around, make mistakes, learn from those mistakes, have fun, hide things from me, be irresponsible, and accept consequences. If he got in trouble at school he understood that he would serve the punishment at school, not at home. But since I was still holding on to the rope at the end, I still knew everything that was going on and made sure he knew that his teachers and I were in constant communication. Inevitably, when you give a child the freedom to make their own decisions they will not always make the right choices and so his grades slipped here and there and went from being an every semester honor roll student to a once a year honor roll student.
Conferencing with his teachers in Middle School would always reveal the same thing: he is a smart kid, he’s a good kid, but he’s capable of more. He’s lazy.
By the time he got into high school I cut the rope completely. As far as I’m concerned, he’s on his own; I don’t check homework, I don’t ask if it’s been done, I don’t know when there are quizzes or tests or projects due, yet he knows that I’m there for him and he can count on my support if he needs it. Unfortunately, the laziness he demonstrated in middle school, transcended into high school, and ultimately it would come back and bite him in the ass at the beginning of this year when he discovered that in order to register for dual enrollment, he needed a 3.0 UNweighted GPA. Foolishly, he had been counting on the fact that since he was in honors and AP courses his weighted GPA would be taken into consideration (which is higher than the unweighted GPA). As a result, for not applying himself 100%, and for being lazy during his freshman year, he was unable to begin dual enrollment early in the year when he wanted to.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud of my son and his accomplishments, but more importantly (to me) is not so much his achievements in school, but rather for the man he is becoming; a self-reflective, philosophical, caring, creative, genuine, independent and self reliant man.
At the same time, one of the greatest rewards of being a parent is watching your child realize the gravity of their decisions and how those decisions will affect the rest of their life, and how with that understanding, they begin to apply strategies to ensure their personal success. At the end of the day, I don’t want my children living up to my expectations of success, I want them to live up to their own. I want them to possess intrinsic motivation, I want them to WANT to do good in school for themselves, because being successful in school will open up doors to opportunities for THEM, not for me.
As a college educator I see far too many young men and women who are completely lost, confused, overwhelmed, intimidated and ill-prepared. They don’t know how to manage their classes or time, how to be organized, how to study for all the tests, write all the papers, and attend all the labs, in addition to a job, new friends and school events. Many of them are there because it is expected of them to go to college right after high school, because their parents are paying for it and they live at home. Many of them have parents who still make them breakfast and do their laundry, and think they can email or call their professors for updates on their kids’ performance in the class (which by the way, the law states that once your kid is in college, we are forbidden from disclosing student information, even if they are still minors).
I’m not saying that parents shouldn’t expect their children to go to college immediately after high school. But I do believe that not everyone needs to get a college education to be successful in life (and many powerful individuals in our society have proven this), and more importantly I don’t think that all young adults (17/18) are prepared to go to college right after high school. Far too many children from this generation are being coddled by their parents (as well as their educators and coaches) to the point of damaging and impairing them so that they are ill equipped to handle the demands of college and the consequences of doing poorly in college. And the consequences of doing poorly in college are far worse than what they are in high school.
When I have students emailing me at the end of the semester asking me why I “GAVE” them a B+ instead of an “A”, it becomes evident that they failed to learn an important lesson in the value of EARNING their grades, somewhere along the course of their young life. What is worse, is when I receive an email from a student at the end of the semester or even the following semester, begging me to raise their final grade so they won’t lose their scholarship. In this case, it is obvious that this individual did not learn to accept the consequences of their own actions. How is this possible you ask??? This is likely to occur when mommy and/or daddy have always been there to clean up their child’s mess. While the parents’ intentions come from a good place, the consequences of doing this are devastating. For instance, the mother who goes to her child’s school to complain about the suspension her child has received as a consequence of their own misbehavior or having broken the rules, and makes so much noise about it that the disciplinary action is dropped, only teaches the child that if they kick, scream and beg enough they can get out of the consequences of their action (much like the 18 year old begging me to change their grade). Unfortunately, this only sets the child up to learn the hard way, and as the case with my students, they could find themselves facing serious disciplinary action.
Like I said at the beginning, every child is different, and they all need to be guided and mentored accordingly (taking their needs and abilities into consideration) so they learn how to succeed on their own. As a parent I think focusing less on whether or not my kid made the Principal Honor roll every semester, or received high recognitions in everything they do, and more on teaching them how to be self motivated, self disciplined and self reliant is the better course of action. I want my boys to learn how to work hard for what they earn, how to pick themselves up when they fall, and how to clean up their own mess when they spill something on the floor. Without these skills I don’t think it matters how many awards or trophies or recognitions they have received throughout their childhood and adolescence, because at the end of the day, when they go out there, on their own, away from me, if they don’t have these skills, they won’t be equipped to achieve great success and they won’t know how to want it for themselves. Just sayin’.
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