Monday, January 18, 2016
“My child is failing. We've had parent conferences. We’ve tried rewards. We’ve tried punishments. We’ve tried everything. Now, after his last report card, he has nothing left to take away. No phone. No computer. We don’t allow him to go outside. We’ve told him we’re gonna send him to a military school if he doesn’t get with the program. Nothing helps. What else can we do?"
Ever felt like that as a parent? Maybe even said those things? Done those things?
It’s a very common tale. Especially in middle school. Even more so in high school. Parents rack their brains, trying to solve this mystery. Yet, everything that logic dictates, everything Dr. Spock—the therapist, not the Vulcan—said was true (and now we’re finding less and less accurate, but the damage has already been done), everything the Ritalin-prescribing doctors out there lead us to believe, the little Johnnys and Little Janies of our American schools still defy the logic and cause us to question the conventional, medical, and psychotherapeutic wisdom of the day.
As a result, parents become exasperated. Threats of military school, going to live with the estranged spouse in another state, or even hollow threats of abandonment become last ditch efforts, “parental shock therapy,” if you will, trying to get Little Johnny or Little Janie to get their minds right.
The problem I’ve found over the years is, none of that works. The rewards don’t motivate. The Ritalin creates a slew of other issues to be dealt with later in life, namely drug addiction. The slow march toward solitary confinement doesn’t even make a dent, either. It actually seems to fuel the fire and turn the seemingly rebellious teen into a warrior, a protestor, almost a martyr. Especially in the eyes of his friends.
So, what’s the answer?
First, you have to diagnose the problem. And in my years of dealing with high school and middle school students, the cause I have found is simple, yet profound. It’s called “Purpose.”
Let’s get into the mind of a student for a moment (scary thought, I know). For most teens, they are trying to figure out how they fit in, as Paul McCartney said way back in the 1970s, “This ever-changing world in which we live in.” For some students, they have adopted the attitude of Live and Let Die. They can’t make any sense of this world we live in. “It’s cruel. It’s harsh. It’s battered my parents. We’re poor. They’re divorced. I hate my stepdad (or stepmom). I hate my teachers. I hate school. We’ve got people blowing up other people all around the world. All politicians do is talk crap about other politicians and look out for themselves. Nobody cares about anybody anymore, except themselves. So, why should I?”
Does that about sum it up? Do you hear your student chant these kinds of words? Do you hear the fatalism? The lack of hope? The lack of purpose? And the resolve to ultimately become just like the problem? It’s almost an “If-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em” mentality. Hence, the obsessions with video games, for example. Video games accomplish two things in the mind of a rebellious teenager: 1) “I can be by myself. I don’t have to deal with anybody. If I choose to interact with people, I can do it over the internet, and if they bother me too much, I can just shoot them, Call of Duty style”; 2) “This is what I want to do. I want to spend hours playing these games, so don’t come in here and tell me to do my homework or clean up my room or do chores. That’s not what I want to do, and you can’t make me.”
Another issue which often arises is “running the streets” with like-minded souls. In this day and age, the “streets” don’t have to be literal streets. They can be the streets of cyberspace, too, and often are. In any format, the old adage of “misery loves company” still holds true. Students who feel this way always find others who feel the same way. This becomes a wonderful accident, because they never thought anyone felt the same way they did. Nobody understood them. They were the first and only person ever to deal with such deplorable conditions. So, when they find others who hate life as much as they do, guess what they do? Spend time together. Lamenting about how bad life is. And together, they come up with “wonderful ideas” on how to squelch their feelings of loneliness and heartache. Those ideas range from dark poetry to cutting to drugs and sex. All efforts to fill a void they can’t explain but know exists.
The key for parents (and educators, in my opinion) is to help your student find his or her purpose in life BEFORE the bad grades begin and the threats of military school reverberate off the walls of your home. It starts early. In elementary school. Maybe even kindergarten. As a parent, you have to be in tune with your children. When you’re spending time with them, listen to what they talk about. Watch their mind work. Pay attention to what toys and games they gravitate to as they live their lives. These actions will be important clues into the mind and heart of your child.
For example, I was noticing the other day how my grandson likes to build things. Blocks. Tinker Toys. Now, he has one of those erector sets. He loves those kinds of things. I’ve started paying attention to how he processes things. He’s a very deep thinker for a five year old. So, right now (and of course, it can change as his horizons expand), I think he’ll probably be an engineer or a building contractor, based on the “data” I’ve collected so far. Again, that could all change. I know of one person whose spacial recognition portion of the TABE test was perfect. The Air Force recruiter couldn’t believe it. He’d never seem anyone get all of them correct within the time allotted and not be an engineer, a scientist, or work for NASA. So, not everyone with that kind of a keen mind ends up building skyscrapers or designing rockets.
The point is, helping children find purpose in life, opening them up to all the possibilities this world has to offer when it comes to general life, hobbies, and making a living are all important. When you know what your purpose is, then life starts to make sense. Without a purpose, there is no sense to life. No point to it. No reason to care.
I remember working with a middle school student who fell into this category. The mother was beside herself. So, I started asking questions of the student. What did he like to do? How did he spend his time? The answer? Outdoors. Fishing, especially. He lived and breathed fishing and everything to do with fishing. The more I delved into this area, the more I found out about how much he not only liked fishing, he LOVED fishing. Had his own little john boat and everything. Spent his afternoons out on a lake instead of doing his homework.
So, I called the mother and said in so many words, “This is what you need to do. You need to figure out what you and he can do, afford, etc., in your everyday budget of life and start helping your son follow his dreams.”
So, she did. His reading abilities needed work, so I suggested buying him magazines in those fields, like Field & Stream or some other outdoorsy kind of magazine, even let him pick ‘em to gain buy in. Just keep doing that until you find some he loves, then keep the subscription current!
She also told me of a situation that had happened in the past that could be used to help him get a little part-time job at a bait store. The person who owned the bait store had connections to the professional tournaments for bass fishing.
And. Away. We. Go.
The student’s grades, behavior, even demeanor started to turn around. It was tough sledding for a while, and the road wasn’t always smooth, but it was getting better. I believe the road was bumpy because she didn’t catch on to his dreams earlier in his life. Had she realized what we found out when he was seven or eight years old, middle school may have been an entirely different story. I mean, she knew he loved fishing, but she never put two-and-two together. I guess to her, fishing was a hobby, like building bird houses. He can’t make a living at it, so he needs to grow up at some point. However, once we investigated it, she realized there was more money in that field than the one she was working in at the time, especially if he got into the professional bass tournament arena.
For, you see, helping your student find his or her purpose is Step 1 of the process. A crucial step to a more fulfilling life. However, you can’t stop here.
Next month, I’ll discuss Step 2, which is just as important, and if neglected, creates for yourself a whole different set of issues.
*Generic photos courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
C. KEVIN THOMPSON is an ordained minister with a B.A. In Bible (Houghton College, Houghton, NY), an M.A. in Christian Studies (Wesley Biblical Seminary, Jackson, MS), and an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership (National-Louis University, Wheeling, IL). He presently works as an assistant principal in a middle school. He also has several years of experience as an administrator at the high school level.
A former Language Arts teacher, Kevin decided to put his money where his mouth was and write, fiction mostly. Now, years later, he is a member of the Christian Authors Network (CAN), American Christian Fictions Writers (ACFW), and Word Weavers International. He is the Chapter President of Word Weavers-Lake County (FL), and his published works include two award-winning novels, The Serpent’s Grasp (Winner of the 2013 Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference Selah Award for First Fiction) and 30 Days Hath Revenge - A Blake Meyer Thriller: Book 1, as well as articles in The Wesleyan Advocate, The Preacher, Vista, The Des Moines Register and The Ocala Star-Banner.
Kevin is a huge fan of the TV series 24, The Blacklist, Blue Bloods, and Criminal Minds, loves anything to do with Star Trek, and is a Sherlock Holmes fanatic, too.
Facebook: C. Kevin Thompson – Author Page
Goodreads: C. Kevin Thompson