A panicked mom emailed me the other day, when she just realized her 8th grade son has been telling her everything is fine in my online English class only to find out nothing could be farther from the truth. She's not the only one. These mothers mean well with their boys and want to give them the space this age group and gender needs, but most of the time, they run into problems typical of boys going through that phase. You know, when they refuse to listen, and they forget everything. I went through it myself with both of my boys, but I did learn a thing or two from the first one that helped me do a much better job the second time around. Hopefully these tips will help you as well.
I. ASK YOURSELF THESE QUESTIONS:
Over the years, I've learned to start by asking questions long before offering solutions. I only wish I had read this blog when my own boys were this age. Here's a good place to start with questions to ask yourself, and possibly even your son.
1. Is he being deceitful? The question isn't always as simple as it sounds. In a black and white world, if he told you everything was fine but it wasn't, then he's lying. I'm not convinced it's that simple. You know your child, or hopefully you do, better than anyone else. Borrow from the professor in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and ask if he has given you reason to believe he intends to deceive.
2. Is it possible your expectations are too high? I've watched way too many parents wish to "give" their children the education they never had, only to realize they were expecting their children to live a life they themselves don't want. If your child is a weak writer, you have every right and responsibility to expect him to learn and grow as a writer, but he does not have to be in every honors and AP class unless he himself has the drive to achieve.
3. Is there a learning disability? I remember having a phone conversation with a mother once who spent an hour and a half on the phone with me, and the main point of her conversation--the one thing she really communicated--was that her son had a hard time getting to the point in his writing. Really? I wonder where he got that from? This boy could meet the expectations, but not in the way Mom wanted him to. He would have to learn how to compensate for his own learning issues, but she had spent years shoving him into her specific academic expectations. The truth is, he was a very good writer when I finally figured out how he thought and learned to explain things in a way that helped him understand. Today he thrives.
II. TAKE A DEEP BREATH AND TALK TO YOUR SON, AND LISTEN TO HIM.
I had a colleague who would met with 8th graders and plan their high school experience with them. This woman never really struck me as a big listener, but I was extremely impressed when I realized her heart in listening to my son. We met with her online: he on his computer with a headset, and me down the hall at mine. My son is not a talker; in fact, he is very quiet and only speaks when he feels the person he's speaking to is worthy of his thoughts. She asked questions about his strengths and desires, and then she shut her mouth and let him talk.
I was amazed at how well she got to know this boy over the Internet in less than an hour, and then she helped him build a customized plan for himself that he would own and that he would see the need to implement for himself.
III. UNDERSTAND YOU ARE NOT PERFECT AND NEITHER IS HE.
For the first two years of his high school experience, while we worked through many of the requirements for high school credit, he had a hard time, and because he needed much of my help, we had strife. Often, I went into attack mode for fear he would not finish the work and I would be seen as a failure. Did you hear that? That I would be seen as a failure. What about him? He had to endure knowing he didn't measure up to Mom's expectations, and he was already nervous enough that he wasn't smart enough to succeed. Note to self: Children who feel dumb don't need to feel that their parents think they are dumb.
IV. HELP HIM WANT IT AND EARN IT FOR HIMSELF.
OK, I thought my husband was nuts. I'll just put it out there for God and everybody. He had the "bright" idea of a learning contract. This was part of his own study in an adult learning program that puts the responsibility for learning on the adult student. He knew that my son needed, not just to feel, but to know that he could achieve and that he was smart enough to make it in this world, even in his academics. He would also have to walk into his adult world with his own learning disabilities without Mom chasing after him to fill out applications she felt he wouldn't do well enough to get a job or to write papers she felt he couldn't write for himself.
You know what? He was right. Please, don't tell him. It didn't happen overnight, but with each passing school year, he took on more and more responsibility for choosing fields of study and for getting his work done on time. I took my hands off, and he knew that if he was to finish school in April or in August, that was on him. He ended up doing school into the summer the first year and learned for himself that wasn't cool. In his junior year, he finished right on time.
What does his senior year look like? Well, he finished before the end of March. He looked at his calendar and all the assignments that I neatly laid out for him from the course work that he selected and decided having his high school diploma several months ahead of all his competition for full time jobs was a great idea, so he worked long and hard hours with absolutely no prompting from his mother and even did outside studies on cultural economics because he wanted to know more about it. Say what?
V. REMEMBER HE'LL BE YOUR KID FOREVER BUT YOUR STUDENT FOR ONLY A FEW YEARS.
Meeting my expectations and desires for his education is a far less important goal that his becoming a good man who can contribute to his community and provide for his family in a meaningful way. He needs Mom and Dad for a lifetime, but he'll leave Mr. and Mrs. Teacher behind. Make sure you still have a voice in his life when the teacher role is done.
You can do this, moms. Your son is worth the effort. To help with the task ahead, Over the Bar Instruction has a gift for you. Visit our store for your FREE Learning Contract! This deal is over now, but it still only costs $1.00. Hope you find it helpful.