For two years now my 13-year-old son has been failing in six of eight subjects in term one, barely passing in term two, and gaining 75% in the third term, to ensure he’s promoted to the next grade. Obviously he’s fairly smart and capable of doing better from the beginning of the school year. We’ve tried cajoling, yelling, punishments, bargains, rewards, ignoring him, nagging and so on; nothing works. He only pulls up his socks at the last minute. This pattern causes us immense stress and anxiety and my relationship with him has deteriorated. Help.
This is adolescence at work in its classic form, with a “do only what I have to” attitude, and an unwillingness to think ahead. It’s a time of self-absorption and anxieties, in which academics seem a nuisance in an intense inner-world. It’s unfortunate that today’s key academic demands coincide with this complex emotional-mental-physical phase of our growing years.
It’s easy for me to say, and difficult for you to implement, but do try to accept that this is how it’s going to be for a while. Beyond a point, you simply have to disconnect from what you know is your child’s potential. If you keep measuring him against his own best standard, you will find him falling short. Letting go of your cajole-cum-threaten role isn’t easy. Parents fear that if they let off the pressure, their adolescent will sink into a total stupor of inactivity.
Keep in mind that what appears like idleness is, often only physical idleness. There’s lots going on in his head, but he’s currently not keen on sharing it with anyone. Until the age of 10, kids are happy to learn, show that they’ve learnt, and seek approval. But now it’s a completely new ball game in adolescent land. You’ll have to believe that he is learning and growing , thinking,behind that nonchalant and blasé front. Writer Javed Akhtar once referred to this while speaking of his son’s acclaimed directorial debut Dil Chahta Hai. He said that he’d earlier watched with dismay and anxiety his adolescent son spending seemingly directionless days sitting around or playing mindless mindless computer games. However, all that time, a personality was forming, absorbing stuff, thinking things out…a writer-director was being forged.As a parent, it is tough to believe that this is what is going on, when all you can see is your son being apparently aimless , unfocused and lazy.
A second reason to back off is that if you keep up the pressure, not only will your relationship further deteriorate; he will learn to shut you out totally and effectively. You won’t even know it—he’ll make the right noises, as if listening, but nothing will enter his mind. That is the ultimate breakdown in communication.
A third reason to retreat is so you can enjoy your son’s company again, in areas unrelated to studies. Many parents of teens forget what it is to have fun, casual conversations and interactions as well as quiet tender moments with their kid—which are more significant than academic issues.
So take a deep breath and grin and bear this phase. And have faith that what your child is doing or not doing now is not any real indicator of the total personality that will emerge.
Write to Gouri Dange at firstname.lastname@example.org