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Maintaining a Connection with Your Growing Teens Is Critical

Don’t allow external influences to sever the ties that bind you

 

Dear Dr. Fournier:

My son has always been on top of his schoolwork, up until this year when we have seen him start to slip.  He is now driving and he has been given more independence, and I am beginning to think this decision has backfired.  Am I overreacting, or do I need to begin removing these privileges?  Please help!

Martha

St. Louis, MO

Dear Martha:

ASSESSMENT

I have found that in working with parents and children for as long as I have that the job of pulling families through the darker times almost demands two congruent programs—one for parents and one for children— that work together.  On the one hand, the students need growth and development in one of four areas that will aid their abilities to integrate into a 21st century workforce.  On the other hand, parents need strategies of their own that will enable them to anticipate and act in response to the changing relationship dynamics they can expect to encounter as their children grow.  That's quite a mouthful!

Your problem seems simple enough from the outside, and a system of punishments and rewards tells us that if we take away the car keys, or perhaps ground our children, then such measures will produce the desired effect.  However, if it were that easy then I suspect you would not have felt compelled to write to me.

What you must understand is that this is as much a question of your son's stages of growth and development as it is of his privileges.  As a parent, you can probably recall the time when you son was a toddler and you were the world to him— he had eyes only for you, and his experience of the world was filtered through your teaching.  If you equated this phase to having a cord that blinded the two of you together, it would be very strong and unopposed.  Then, as you son entered middle school, his gaze turned outward.  The cord that connected you was still strong (though it now had more slack), but the reality began to set in that there were others "out there." The third phase—the one you now find yourself in—is the most dangerous, and the most important.  Not only is your son aware of the other influences in his life, he is now in position to be lured to their ways of thinking, or their values.  Suddenly, the cord that binds you to your son is in jeopardy, as there are other cords that now begin to try and pull your son over.  This is a make or break point in your sons growth and development.

WHAT TO DO

Set up a system that will help you know when to tug on the cord so that you are better able to give your older child guidance.

Once a week, set aside a time to go over your child’s grades.  A 16 year-old should be able to present you with his weekly class averages as well as the grades that produced those averages.  If there is a low grade, he should have a strategy for success to answer the important question of how he will address the problem next week.  For example, if he notes that he struggled with vocabulary, then he should change up the method he was using to learn the material.  Perhaps he could try and seperate the easier words from the harder words and work that way.  These solutions should be unique to him, but a generic promise to “try harder” is unacceptable language that has no meaning.  What exactly will he do?

The parental “ties that bind” are your to pull to help your son learn to identify the problem and to set up a strategy to overcome a problem.  These same techniques can be used when working with issues of independence.  Your child should control the ties that he has cultivated with his peers such as text and messaging communication, social networking, and the like.  I am not suggesting that you put your child in a bubble, rather that he use the responsibility he has showed until recently to apply to his relationships.  Parenting with understanding and the gentle reinforcement of the tie that binds the two of you will help your son get back on track.

*Note to all readers of the Hassle Free Homework Column:  I am taking a one month sabbatical from my column.  Look for a return to posting on the 11th of December.  In the meantime, please feel free to continue sending me your questions and comments, and look for responses in December.

CONTACT DR. FOURNIER

Have a question about education, education-related issues or your child’s schoolwork or homework? Ask Dr. Fournier and look for her answer in this column. E-mail your question or comment to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at [email protected].

 

More Stories By Dr. Yvonne Fournier

Dr. Yvonne Fournier is Founder and President of Fournier Learning Strategies. Her column, "Hassle-Free Homework" was published by the Scripps Howard News Service for 20 years. She has been a pharmacist, public health administrator, demographer and entrepreneur. Dr. Fournier, arguably one of the most prolific of educators and child advocates in America today, has followed her own roadmap, calling not just for change or improvement in education but for an entirely new model.

She remains one of the most controversial opponents of the current education system in America.

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