Posted by: Sara Carbone on: February 20, 2012
Sara Carbone: What do you think teenagers typically struggle with in school?
Joyce Meiklejohn: A kid who is not doing well in school or making poor choices is very unhappy with his circumstances. Much like the adults around him, he has no idea how to improve his situation because he doesn’t know why he’s doing poorly. It makes me think he is a victim of his own adolescent stage of development. There is so much going on in his life and his head. School comes with academic and social pressure. Trying to navigate both, successfully, can be quite difficult for a teenager. In addition, if he doesn’t learn easily in the classic public school method, he has to almost teach himself.
SC: What do you think he tells himself in these circumstances?
JM: I often wonder about the conversation a kid has with himself when he makes a poor choice and what he tells himself when he’s dealing with the negative results of that choice. If either Grace or Erick study for a test and don’t do as well as they thought they should, I think they tend to be self-reflective (“did I study enough, in the right way?”) which is good. But kids can also plan so that the ways they are learning are ways that work best for them. Grace, for example, can re-read her notes, etc. and she is all set. Erick does a better job explaining outloud, or drawing diagrams, etc.
SC: How do you give feedback?
JM: When they come to me with something they are struggling with, I avoid yelling or losing my temper. It doesn’t work. I also avoid vague, generic feedback and point to a specific question or part and ask “what do you think went wrong on this question?” Outlines or guidelines for something like writing help too. This way I’m asking them to do a self assessment while trying to put it in perspective – that it’s not the end of the world.
SC: What else have you learned about how to help them?
JM: The best way to develop your kids’ self motivation is to separate your emotions and needs from their needs and be willing to let them struggle through sometimes – two of the hardest things to do as a parent. For me, English and social studies were courses I loved and did quite well in. With both my kids, I had to understand that these classes may not be academic areas they love. I needed to understand that how they do in school, what they like has nothing to do with me as a parent. My job is to help them acquire the skills to be independent thinkers, good listeners, kind people and to be independent of me.
SC: How do you remember this when things get rough?
JM: It helps if I can step back and take a deep breath and acknowledge that everyone has something they struggle with. Struggling helps build resilience and self confidence. If my kids fail or fall, I reassure and support them, but sometimes I need to step back and let them mess up and learn from it. Everyone makes a choice, that upon reflection, is a “bad one.” But if I make all the decisions for them and never let them struggle, what are they going to do when they are on their own? Erick sometimes forgets some of his homework. I tell him he gets 2 times per semester when I will drive him back to school to retrieve anything he forgot. He has to make the choice about when to use those times.
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