I’m a stay-at-home mum to my 15-year-old, having taken voluntary retirement when he was five so I could concentrate on his upbringing. There are plenty of distractions — his friends talk endlessly about girls, games, movies, music, gizmos, etc. I think he should focus on his studies. I tell him that there will always be time later for fun, friends — especially girls — and that if he concentrates on his studies now, he will be successful. My husband doesn’t agree with me on this and keeps telling me to “cut him some slack”.
Not only do you need to cut him some slack, you need to let go of the rope, or you are likely to have a full-blown rebellion on your hands soon! Your theory of deferring pleasures till when he has “earned” them is a dubious one.
Let him be: Too much emphasis on textbooks will bring on a rebellion.
Perhaps it worked for you, but today that is no criterion in any case. What worked for us as kids is simply no benchmark for parenting practices today — surely you have experienced that in the last 15 years as a parent? Things have changed — not just in the parent-child interaction, but in the kind of things kids are into, the “distractions” there are around, and the pressure on studies.
So, first, you must lay to rest the notion that what worked for you 25 years ago should work for him now. People tend to quote examples from an even earlier time, when student days meant a near-ascetic existence, with complete concentration on learning.
Yes, student years are important, and we have to help our children keep some perspective on priorities — learning, studying, applying what they learn, having goals, focusing on their core skills. But all this and a happy, evolving social life do not have to be (and cannot be) mutually exclusive.
You particularly mention “girls” as something that can wait — and will fall into place when he is “successful”. That, to me, seems an unrealistic and compartmentalized way of thinking. Some amount of interest and interactions with girls, perhaps a girlfriend, are bound to happen, and are healthy. And the more you insist on this “study now enjoy later” construct, the more your son will be forced to spend energy on an inner fantasy world.
Your husband is right in objecting to your way of doing things. However, your fear seems to be that agreeing to his way means simply letting your son be and watching him neglect studies and get totally seduced by the attractions around him. I suggest that instead of going to either extremes — cutting him off from enjoyable “distractions” — this is the time for both parents to help him balance work and pleasure.
This really should be your priority — you can be sure that if you insist on your way of doing things, your boy will grow up severely lacking in social and emotional skills that are as, if not more, important than academic success and other such “achievements”.
Perhaps a cartoon by the famous American cartoonist Barsotti says it all: A lone man sits at a big, sterile-looking desk. The bubble above him says: “Ok, I’ve made it. Now I need love.”
Gouri Dange is the author of ABCs of Parenting.
Write to Gouri at firstname.lastname@example.org