On Living Deliberately
Originally posted on July 21, 2014
I recently wrote about the idea of helping your student focus on fewer activities rather than more. And while keeping teens focused on doing a few things well remains good advice, I realized some might think I'm suggesting you tell your children they can't try new things, which was not my intent. Toward that end, let’s talk about the benefits of trying out a new activity, club or sport.
One reason echoes what your parents told you at the dinner table countless times when you or your siblings protested a new dish: You won’t know if you like until you try it. In my last post, I talked about the football player singing in the spring musical. Well, maybe once he performs in front of others, he will discover he loves acting and wants to continue with drama, even if means he chooses to give up his sport later on. There also is the possibility he can do both and this is an opportunity for him to learn how to juggle multiple responsibilities, just like you do.
But what happens when participation is required, not voluntary? She might have signed up for art class, but it was full and now she finds herself in photography. This provides a good opportunity to transform a negative into a positive. While painting canvases and shooting pictures require different skill sets, her artist’s eye will serve her invaluably as she captures the world around her in a much different way than her classmates. And, with the way media are being mixed today, developing skills in both can be an asset down the road.
Like you do in your own life, any time a teen wants to add something to his or her schedule, there is nothing wrong with employing a simple cost-benefit analysis. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but you and your child should talk about his or her motivation and what he or she may have to sacrifice in order to participate. Why does she want to take AP Chemistry? If she has good grades in the sciences, has a friend or two in the class who can help her and is considering a career in the field, this sounds like a worthwhile move. Why does he want to join the basketball team? If he enjoys playing casually with friends and wants to get in better shape, this might be a good move for him, too.
When your teen joins or remains with a new activity, club or sport, he or she is making a deliberate choice. There are a myriad of ways to occupy one’s time and narrowing the field to the best ways to spend that time is a valuable tool for daily living after high school. As I quoted Thoreau’s Walden before, it seems fitting to do so again when it comes to the benefits of living a deliberate life.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Who knows what your children will discover about themselves if you let them explore their own “woods” a little bit?
Doing More by Doing Less
Originally posted on July 14, 2014
One thing America prides itself on is being a land of infinite variety. We have ice cream parlors famous for the number of choices they provide, popular restaurants with secret menus for regulars and big box stores featuring rows and rows, or webpage after webpage, of options.
The same is true with class schedules for today’s students. Seeking to meet the diverse needs and interests of modern teens, high schools provide an abundance of activities, clubs, electives and sports. While we think being involved in more groups in high school means your student is likely to get into a better college, it seems that doing fewer things better would be more impressive to a school looking at thousands of applicants playing the same game as everyone else.
Now, there is nothing wrong with trying something out for a season or a semester, but adding activities on top of each other wears you out and doesn’t do as much for your teens as you might think. They become exhausted when they have daily club meetings and sports practices in addition to their usual stack of homework. And, with travel ball programs training students in the off season, being at practice all the time eats up time that could be spent on other activities, perhaps involving the whole family. In addition, the costs associated with partaking in all these activities, after you factor in uniforms, equipment, travel expenses, training and so forth, adds up pretty quickly.
While it is fun to see the star football player belt out tunes alongside the rest of the drama cast in the spring musical, perhaps this should be the exception rather than the rule. It is perfectly reasonable for your student to have 1-2 sports or activities at school that occupies his or her time in addition to regular schoolwork. And now with the push to have students complete mandatory community service hours, there is little time for old-fashioned, nonscheduled teenage fun. Besides, maybe it’s time we get back to the notion that it’s good for adolescents to find ways to entertain themselves without an electronic device or a coach telling them what to do.
When I teach Henry David Thoreau to my juniors, I pause for a moment to focus on what he said in Walden about making our lives less complicated. “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million, count half a dozen...”
When it comes to our lives, and those of our children, this is an idea worth considering.
Starting Off Well
Originally posted on June 14, 2014
When I return to campus this August after a summer of writing and resting, I am scheduled to have several sections of freshman classes, more than I’ve had in a while. Whenever a new crop of students enters our school, it always fascinates my fellow teachers and me to see what is true about the group as a whole.
While one would expect a bit of excess energy that comes with the age group, we are very curious to see which ones are relatively serious about their studies and which ones are not so concerned about success. There is a perceived notion that at the junior high/middle school level there are not enough significant consequences for failing academically, leading some students to believe the first year of high school doesn’t really matter. If they fail a class here or there, it won’t be a big deal because when they have four years ahead of them, there is time to make a few mistakes along the way. The teachers and counselors will make sure they don't actually fail high school.
The problem with that kind of thinking is it’s only true in a very limited sense. Some schools have the option for remedial courses after school and in the summer, but if students begin to dig themselves too deep a hole it will be really difficult, if not impossible, to get out. While our most dedicated students are filling every period with strong, academic courses and taking summer school each year to get ahead, even the students in the middle of the pack know it is not smart to mess around when it comes to grades. In addition to being placed in a mandatory study period, spending hours during the summer or after school taking make-up classes is not the best use of their time. They might even need to transfer to a continuation or alternative school setting to make up the units just in order to earn a high school diploma. This is not a position they want to be in.
Also, let’s be honest here – some of the students who consistently fail classes are involved in less than ideal activities. Whether it is having a general lack of direction and tendency towards disrespectful or disruptive behavior or something more serious like substance abuse, students who don’t take school seriously can more easily be drawn into crowds unconcerned with their future well-being.
Let this, therefore, be a friendly warning to parents of students entering high school. Do whatever you can to make sure your student is prepared for success on day one of his or her high school experience. Make a connection with teachers in the first few weeks of class. Back to School Night is a great place for this to happen. Make sure they are taking classes best suited for them and doing the best they can in those classes. Include enjoyable electives where you can, but remember that focusing on the academic courses likely will help them in the long run. If you need an incentive to encourage their continued focus, let them know that if they work hard, there is the possibility of choosing a fun elective, teacher’s aide/office aide job or even an open period their junior or senior year.
In short, whatever you can do to keep them focus on doing well will do them well in high school and beyond.
I have been a public high school teacher in Southern California since 2005 and writing since junior high. I have an affinity for chocolate, photography, sarcasm and well-written TV shows that refuse to talk down to their audiences.