The Big F

Grades. They are the stone in a student’s shoe … the tag on the back of the shirt that constantly irritates. With such mandates as “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top,” grades are a big part of the pressure cooker in which students, teachers and administrators exist. They are a necessary evil, mostly evil to those students whose grade print-outs look like alphabet soup.

Surrounded by Nurses

Tom recalls his big F when he was a college freshman. What he was doing in Human Anatomy and Physiology with a bunch of nursing students was a mystery to him (although being surrounded by nursing students was really quite okay). The mystery plagued him throughout the entire semester—and gradually became his rationale for merely coasting. Finally, he earned his rightful place of distinction—at the bottom of the class. It was a meltdown for his GPA, and, at the time, it seemed that his future was already in the past tense.

If your teenager gets good grades in school, count your blessings. However, we’re here to remind all parents that an F in school should not be viewed as a terminal disease. Instead it should be a wake-up call to both you and your son or daughter.

What the Heck Anyway

One high school sophomore found himself lacking a science lab credit. Because the labs that appealed to him were filled, he got stuck in biology. He rationalized that he wasn’t going to be a doctor or a research scientist, so he decided to slack off and just get by.

But he did less than just get by. He came late to class. Occasionally he just blew it off all together. When he did attend, he found it more challenging to sabotage the microscopes than to peer through them and learn something new. Or he would let his lab partner wade through the difficult stuff while he refined his drawings for art class. When his class ended, he achieved his big red F.

A Sad Epitaph for a Bright Future

The F didn’t mean he was dumb. It meant he didn’t care and didn’t try at all—both sad epitaphs for a young man who had counted on making the varsity team and winning a college scholarship. What a blotch on his permanent record, a blotch that could be a roadblock to other opportunities down the road.

Dad, take some time to help you teenager understand one of life’s bittersweet realities. A big red F isn’t the end of the world, but it can be a loud and clear signal to people who play an important part in his or her future—the college admission counselor, employer, scholarship committee, coach and others. Help your teenager to see that influential people who don’t yet know your son or daughter won’t realize how regretful he or she may be about that toxic F … or that bad-conduct report or that poor-attendance record.

People often know us only by reading our signals. Stress the point to your children that they need to be careful about the signals they send.

By dads2dads

Help Your Teen Think Ahead

At times we all act before we think. We snatch up a deal at the store only to realize later that we need three additional components (at regular price) in order to make it work. We utter an obscenity or make a rude gesture too quickly before we realize that our children were witnesses. We jump at a timeshare opportunity before we read the fine print and learn that we’ll have to pay for a long time before we get to share anything. We buy our friend’s boat at a steal with the dream of one day living near a body of water.

Those might be exceptions. Experience has taught us adults that we need to examine all the angles before we boldly go where no one has gone before — most of the time. It’s an acquired skill that comes with living for a lot of years—looking beyond the thrill of the moment to what may result down the road. 

The Past Comes Back to Haunt

Think of the myriad politicians and other public figures whose past indulgences finally catch up to them. Some of their indiscretions may well have remained hidden except for the fact that they chose public service as a career … a career path that, hopefully,  invariably fixes the spotlight on truth and can reveal unsettling consequences. 

Teens Run on Different Software

Teenagers seldom think in the long term. Their existence thrives on short-term investments of time and immediate rewards. They do what’s hip at the moment. Their jargon changes with every new reality show. They act by reacting to what’s popular and what’s going viral. They’re not programmed to think of consequences. Consequences are those things way out there in the future—that place that won’t get here for a very long time – like retirement. In their minds, there isn’t even a link between what I do today and what today may do to me tomorrow.

Today Shapes and Shakes Up Tomorrow

That explains, in part, why you shake your head in disbelief at the spider-web tattoo that suddenly shows up on your son’s arm—or make a strange wounded-animal sound when you notice your daughter’s belly-button ring glistening in the sunlight—or ask “What did I ever do to deserve this?” when your dearly beloved offspring is a star on YouTube.

The consequences of some impulsive acts fade away over time. But we all know there are turns in a youngster’s life that can have tragic consequences. Shrugging off school as a waste of time. Driving too fast. Experimenting with alcohol and drugs. Spending the night in jail. Becoming sexually active. Some consequences take life in a whole other direction.

Dads, talk to your teenagers about consequences. Help them to understand that the good—or the bad—that they do today will follow them and perhaps live long after them.  

By dads2dads

Maintaining control, allowing for independence

We have talked about the challenge of getting teens to listen, having them conform to some basic expectations and handling the struggle between control and independence.

If you have a teen, then the term “conflict” is no stranger. As we said, conflict is normal in a parent – teen relationship. But how do we manage the conflict, enforce expectations and still allow for growth?

Parents set limits, teens push them. It’s part of the growing process. That’s how teens become independent, fully functioning adults. Your job is to honor the struggle for independence and still ensure your son or daughter is safe. There are a few things you can do to improve your chances of success.

Prioritize Your Expectations

Communicate. Make sure you define some expectations but stick with the important ones. Dismiss others. Whether or not your teen continues to leave shoes in the middle of the floor or homework strewn all over the bedroom floor is not as important as whether a college application gets submitted by the deadline. Every parent has different challenges, and you know yours the best. Review your list and decide what is important and what can be let go. It is in this process that you gain a sense of control and relief.

Listen. Provide opportunities to your teen (lots of them and various ones) for self-expression. Have a conversation over coffee. Ask questions, including those that can’t be answered by a simple yes or no. Think about what you’re going to ask ahead of time so you can generate real dialogue. And to repeat, listen to the responses.

There’s No Rush

Be patient. Change comes slowly. Often words also come slowly in a parent – teen conversation. Look for the right moment to spark a conversation. Watch for signs of joy and struggle in your teen. Be open to communication opportunities, and allow ample time for a thoughtful, meaningful and open exchange.

Be reassuring. Your teen may not say much; he or she may not thank you for what you do on a daily basis. However, you can be an anchor in your son or daughter’s life. You can be a dependable partner and a calming voice. Having parents who are stable, available, loving and who serve as positive role models is incredibly important to the development of healthy children.

Give and Take

Be understanding. This is a difficult one. But it is important to understand that kids need to create their own independence. Your job is to balance the desire for independence with a certain level of responsibility. The more responsibility they demonstrate, the more independence you can allow.

Be supportive. Growing up is hard. So is setting the stage and providing some direction. Your teen may be going through doubts, anxiety and uncertainty. However, s/he is also a terrific, intelligent, capable individual who needs the space to explore, to take “roads less traveled” and to grow.

By dads2dads