Help me be a better dad
December 15, 2006 3:11 PM   Subscribe

My 15 year old is starting to slack off at school. Help me make her understand that she needs to straighten up!

She has always been an honor roll student, but recently has taken a greater interest in boys...

Now the grades are slipping and she is in danger of a failing grade.

I have talked to her, taken away phone and internet access, threatened to have her change schools...

How do I make her see the light?
posted by keep it tight to Human Relations (37 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
While I'm sure that you'll get some good advice from Askme, on making her "see the light", I think you need a bit more perspective. Having raised a teenaged girl, I would unreservedly recommend the book Reviving Ophelia. It offered me much trenchant insight into the very complex world of female adolescence. Good luck!
posted by Neiltupper at 3:25 PM on December 15, 2006

Short-term things you can do:
- Make school performance a condition of her meeting her own short-term goals (eg getting to go to party, or on big field trip, getting help buying a car, whatever). Not college etc, because that's far off for her now.

- If she has friends who are a seriously bad influence, see if you can subtly decrease the amount of time she spends with them, or the esteem she holds them in. (But of course, you can't just say "I don't like this Megan character I see you hanging around with". That will backfire)

- Talk to her teachers, see if there are any of them that she really responds to/respects. They may have insights into what's going on at school. Could she be so far ahead of her classmates that she's not being challenged? Or the flip side: if school has always been easy for her, has she suddenly found herself in classes that are harder than she expects, and doesn't know how to handle it?

But basically, she's close to the age when she's going to have to make her own decisions and live with the consequences. The best you can do is tacitly make clear what kinds of behavior you admire in other people, and set up situations for her to make good decisions for herself (adn where she gets hit with real though survivable consequences when she makes bad decisions). The best influences on me at that age were having jobs/volunteer gigs where:
(a) the people older than me were admirable, and
(b) they trusted me to do the right thing, and
(c) there were younger kids who looked up to me as a role model.

My sister had a job that allowed her to develop a special skill that she could be proud of (taking care of horses); it made a world of difference in her "ownership" of her own decisionmaking.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:37 PM on December 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

Do you know any 20-something year-olds that have done well academically and/or professionally that you can have your daughter meet? If it's not awkwardly arranged, maybe it'll be a chance to see what is possible for her?

This is just personal anecdote, but all my friends who had parents that took the hardline (taking away cars/phones, threats to change schools) ended up being the fuck-ups later on. The people I know who did the best academically did so for themselves, not to avoid punishment.
posted by mullacc at 3:39 PM on December 15, 2006

I have talked to her, taken away phone and internet access, threatened to have her change schools...

This is not the way to get a teenager to cooperate with you.

I think it's important to focus on what exactly 'the light' is, and why she's not seeing it (it's not for lack of being punished). The truth is that grades do not have intrinsic value, and a lot of smart teenagers recognize that. Are you worried that she won't get into a good college? Maybe she's considering not going to college, or going a different route than the one planned for her (or even the most obvious one), and she's passive-aggressively trying to bring about a change.

Is it really just 'a greater interest in boys'? Honestly? There has got to be some important info missing there somewhere. Maybe she likes a boy who isn't too bright, or who likes girls who aren't too bright, or...there are hundreds of possibilities.
posted by bingo at 3:42 PM on December 15, 2006

As a 24-year-old who was a rebellious teenager, I remember that punishment only incited me to rebel even more. I imagine there must be some differences with raising a female teenager, but I'll offer a bit of my own experience fWIW. I think what finally pulled me out my rebellious stage was hitting rock bottom and failing several courses. Hopefully it won't have to come to that. I teach leadership courses to youth and I try to explain to them that they sometimes need to sit down, let things quiet down and really think about their decisions and while others may not agree with them, they must, at all times, take full responsibility for the consequences. I then tell them about people who I have known who dropped out of high school and where life has taken them. I also tell them the fate of people who failed courses in high school... it's not the end of the world, but it makes it that much more difficult to get into a good college and that its better to be consistent. Throughout all my teenage years, the best piece of advice my father ever gave me was simply, "when you make your own decisions, don't be stupid about them."
posted by perpetualstroll at 3:43 PM on December 15, 2006

One thing that works on my kids (13 and 14) is the huge gigantic colossal incentive.

I pay for grades. On any report card, they get $10 for an A in math or science, $20 for an A in an AP class, $5 for any other A. Straight As on any report card gets a flat $50 (unless that would be less than the individual As, in which case it's $100). For every semester of consecutive straight As, I add $50 to the straight A premium. Sometimes I'll pay for a really terrific test or paper. I was so stoked recently by my daughter's High School Academic Index score, that I gave her $20. She said, "Why are you giving me money for this? You already paid for the grades." I said, "It makes me feel good to see it. This is parenting porn. It's worth money to me."

Now these are not inconsiderable sums of money in my house -- I am my children's sole support and I've never earned more than $40k/year. They know that they are pulling a significant portion of our GDP. I think the fact that it is a real sacrifice to dish out their grade money demonstrates how important their hard work is to us as a family. And I think they like the wads of cash.
posted by Methylviolet at 3:46 PM on December 15, 2006

I think incentives may help. Right now, the incentive to not study may be for the more immediate benefits of male attention, social jockeying or even testing out "not being a good student".

When I was about 15 or 16, I started goofing off in math class. I hovered near C- all year. I really liked how this helped my social life and gave me a sense of "edge" for struggling with a subject. I knew it was stupid, since 11th grade math counted for university, but I liked how it felt. At the very end, I did what I could to get a bare C. The next year, I repeated the course and got an A in the first term and was 1% short of an A in the second term.

Flash forward 15 years. I went to university and got great grades. I went on to a successful professional career. I went back for a masters degree, which included math-y subjects, and scored near the top. In fact, in some of the math-type classes, I was still one of the top students.

I'm not sure getting a C in grade 11 math was such a bad idea. I learned a lot about socializing.

However, an incentive to get a good grade might have helped. I was motivated by money more than by my social life. What motivates your daughter?
posted by acoutu at 3:53 PM on December 15, 2006

And also, if you have straight As -- you get no, ah, unsolicited academic guidance from me. You go to bed when you want, you talk on the phone as much as you want, you can even bait me by telling me that you have a test tomorrow but tonight you want to work on your myspace. I say only -- hey, as long as it works for you.

If you don't have straight As, well... I'm here to help you optimize your study habits.
posted by Methylviolet at 4:00 PM on December 15, 2006 [4 favorites]

It was recommended a few times in this thread to expose your daughter to older successful rolemodels. I would suggest the opposite. My mom has always worked as a waitress in greasy-spoon dive restaurants, and she made all of us kids come in and work part time as hosts and busboys. Being exposed to the adults working there, trying to make ends meet on minimum wage while raising kids or paying child support was a huge motivation to go to college (and use birth control and not smoke). Actually seeing how difficult life can be when you don't have career options is a much bigger eye-opener than just being lectured about "making something of yourself."

I'd also second the suggestions to talk to her teachers. My younger brother had attention issues that, since he was always bright and learned easily, didn't really affect his school performance until highschool when classes became a little harder.
posted by twoporedomain at 4:01 PM on December 15, 2006

I think you need to read the book Bringing out the Best in Others by Thomas Connellan. Its a book made up mostly of anecdotes and stories of business managers, coaches, and parents. There's another book out there, Bringing out the Best in People, but its more heady, scientific approach to something that is really a more social issue.

At any rate, I think you'll get some mileage out of that book - the scenario of the parent is exactly what you are dealing with, a father who is having trouble getting his daughter to be personally motivated to achieve in school.

What this book will help you to do is to actually get the person you are trying to help to take a personal interest or stake in improvement. That's the difference between internal and external motivation. If your daughter is being motivated by you to achieve, through penalties for failure, or even through rewards for success, she will be much less motivated than if she had her own reasons for achieving.
posted by farmersckn at 4:13 PM on December 15, 2006

I second twoporedomain's opinion wholeheartedly.

Working in factories and fast food restaurants in high school and college made me work that much harder once the new school year began.
posted by princesspathos at 4:17 PM on December 15, 2006

The other experience that may help her decide to take responsibility for herself (and therefore work harder in school) is spending more time with those who think that she's a grownup, i.e. Small Children. Look for programs in your area that are tied into her other interests that also provides a teen-child mentoring/leadership opportunity? Tutoring elementary-school kids, library programs, art/music programs, summer camp (do they still have CITs?), kids sports teams, etc.

The trick is to let her discover the neato program and then graciously allowing her to participate.
posted by desuetude at 4:29 PM on December 15, 2006

IMHO, no paying for grades! Someone mentioned grades having no intrinsic value, well let me tell ya, start payin for 'em and they'll really have zero intrinsic value. I like the idea of finding good twenty-something role models. A cousin perhaps?
posted by CwgrlUp at 4:34 PM on December 15, 2006

I have several younger siblings who've struggled in school. The thing that's worked best for my parents: time. My parents take the time to get to know teachers and find out what the assignments are. They they take the time -- for a a few hours every night, my parents sit down with my siblings and go through every homework assignment. Every night. It's not easy, but it's efefctive.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:43 PM on December 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

Intrinsic value phooey. Nothing on God's green earth -- or mine -- has intrinsic value. Everything has the value we assign it. No more, no less. Your children will see what you really value, and it will shape how they see the world -- and kids know lip-service when they see it, too. If you want to show someone that you value their work, money is one way that is generally recognized as sincere.
posted by Methylviolet at 5:13 PM on December 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

What is "the light"? Perhaps she realizes that grades don't matter for her. Her idea of "the light" and yours may differ significantly. I'm getting the idea that you may be pushing your idea of what is "success" on her, without really considering what she feels to be successful.

Try honestly talking to her, not judging, just actively listening. Let her express herself freely. That would give you much better insight then "oh, she's hanging out with the boys and her grades are dropping. DOOM!"
posted by divabat at 5:33 PM on December 15, 2006

I might suggest you read The Teenage Liberation Handbook. Then maybe pass it on to your daughter if you fel confortable doing so. Not that I'm suggesting your daughter quit school, but you may get some insight from the book into how to help her. Motivation is an intrinsic thing. The only way she will keep her grades up is if *she* wants to. Fear of death by parental flogging may be a viable motivator, but it isn't particularly effective one:)
posted by COD at 5:48 PM on December 15, 2006

I wonder if there is a cultural conflict at play here. I think bingo has clued in on this too. Presuming you're in the United States or anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, what you describe in your question is what most people would call "normal teenage life" - not some crisis that is comprimising her future. The expecation that your daughter was going to grind away at books til she graduates from high school (or how about college? or grad school maybe? when does she get to have a life?) and not notice the opposite sex and not want the social liberties that her friends probably have is not realistic in the least.

Threats are such a waste of time. They could really backfire on you, and instead of having the effect you intend, your daughter could begin to resent having every little liberty chipped away for wanting to do the usual things the rest of her peers do. Rather than turning her grades around she'll look for any excuse to get away from you and your house'o'rules. Especially threats to change schools -- that's just evil. Don't do that.

So, I'm N-th'ing suggestions to use positive reinforcement, rather than negative. If she's basically a good kid, just a little distracted by normal teenager stuff, then give her the incentives she wants. If you both can agree on some academic goals for her to reach, like a certain GPA by next semester, or certain mid-term improvements that you know she can do, then she should be rewarded with a little bit of the freedom that she so obviously wants. Of course, it would work best if the goal was reachable and reasonable, and represents some solid effort on her part while some flexibility that won't require that her every waking moment be filled with school work.

You know your daughter better than anybody here at mefi, of course. But this is a road-bump in comparison to a lot of the things that other parents of teenagers face these days. I think you'd really benefit from trusting her to be responsible and loosening the leash a little bit. Perhaps a lot of what she's doing now is a direct response to what might have been some strictness on your part up to this point.
posted by brain cloud at 5:52 PM on December 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

Speaking as a teenager who had parents who took the hardline every time:

Taking away stuff will not work. It will just make her hate you. It will upset her, and possibly even make her do worse.

My parents took the hard line every time, and I ended up doing badly, developing social anxiety, photoshopping report cards so I wouldn't get screamed at and cut off from the entire world, and dropping out... without ever telling them. I now happily attend adult ed...

they still don't know.

Sit down and talk to her. She may not get it now, but give her her own time to come around.
posted by Glitter Ninja at 6:23 PM on December 15, 2006

(Oh, also, for the record, my parents' high expectations of me (as opposed to my only sister, pregnant and a dropout at 17) put so much stress on me that it did indeed backfire. I ended up completely failing 11th grade, and just scraping by in 9th and 10th.)
posted by Glitter Ninja at 6:29 PM on December 15, 2006

Holy crap, Glitter Ninja. If you were my daughter, and took the initiative to do everything you had to do to enroll in Adult Ed, without any of my help or to gain anyone's approval -- despite having all the reason in the world to want to flake on your future just to spite me -- I'd be really proud of you. I'd be like crying proud of you. I throw all this money at my own kids, and so far they're getting the grades -- but now I wonder if they have the life skills you do. Huh.
posted by Methylviolet at 6:45 PM on December 15, 2006

How do I make her see the light?

We have a plan for if this occurs with our teenage daughter.

We know a guy who does manual labor in a water treatment plant (i.e. a shit plant). If she starts to get majorly sidetracked, she's going to spend a weekend working along side of him, doing manual labor. At the end of that weekend, she'll be given a choice: "You want to go school and avoid doing this or should we reserve your spot now?"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:45 PM on December 15, 2006

FeistyFerret's Response in a different thread may be helpful, even though it's intended for "preteen" kids.

And Paul Graham has a wonderful essay about high school.

Excuse me for link-dumping, but I'm not sure that adding more restrictions to her life will really help. After 5 years of standardized tests and maintaining grades for the sake of maintaining grades, anyone in her position would begin to doubt the value of a blind education.

And no, rebelling and slacking off are definitely not good, but if you keep placing grades/honor-roll on an imaginary pedestal, she'll see you as part of the same gray educational system that she's trying to avoid.

So just give her some space, open up the lines of communication, don't threaten her, and try to work through it together. I think most high school kids realize the value of education, but we're just not sure whether high school, honor rolls, GPA, and college is education.

Good luck, I totally wish my dad used Ask MeFi :)
posted by theiconoclast31 at 7:51 PM on December 15, 2006

Have you tried encouragement rather than punishment? Rather than taking things away, why not focus on her future? Why not start talking about her college plans and how what she does now will have an impact on her college options and her future.

Depending on what grade she's in, you might find some suggestions here but by the time I was a sophomore in high school, I had visited a handful of colleges and had a good sense of what the expectations were of me in order for me to achieve the post-college education I wanted. Maybe a little motivation that way would help?

Also, talk to her. If she has an extracurricular passion (art, dance, field hockey, drama, whatever), make a deal that she can keep engaging in it as long as her grades don't suffer. That's a hugely powerful motivator.
posted by wildeepdotorg at 7:54 PM on December 15, 2006

I did not work very hard for grades in high school - I wasn't failing or anything, but I honestly believed that they were meaningless. People told me that they would make a difference when I applied to college, but in my angsty teenage mind, high school grades were useless markers that measured how well you regurgitated bullshit. I believed that good universities would share this opinion, and not really care about the GPA. They'd look at my standardized / AP scores and my essay and other things like that, and everything would work out. But in the end, I was rejected from my first choice.

Could people have made that clear to me at the time? I'm not sure - I know people told me it did matter and I just thought they were wrong. But I think I was mostly told things in a "look, this is just how it is; you have to do this" way, and to me it all felt pretty abstract. I knew people who were not smarter or better than me who'd gotten into the schools I was applying to - that's what felt like evidence at the time.

So I'd agree with the people above who suggest that you try to make the repercussions of her choices viscerally clear to her, and I'd also add, try to find out from her what she thinks it all means. Is she worried about college? Is she interested? Does she have other dreams? It may seem early to start laying out long term plans, but seriously discussing possibilities is not a bad idea. Just be sure to actually listen, not just try to feed her what you imagine she should do.
posted by mdn at 8:45 PM on December 15, 2006

This will be long and probably boring, but here's my advice:

I am 20. I did pretty much the same thing. Nothing is going to make your daughter change except for her. The threats and punishments will only make her resent you, and will not make her any more likely to study. She has to create that goal for herself on her own.

My parents did the same thing. They took everything away. It only made me want to spend less time with them, and more time...with my boyfriend. Taking away her internet access and threatening to make her leave her friends for a new school is not going to make her see any reasons for doing well.

Why should she do well in school? Well, you might say so she can get into a good college and get a good job - at 15, she's not going to care. My father has 6 degrees (afaik, there may be more or less) and he owns his own business. My mother never went to college but she's very highly respected and successful. Honestly, at 15, her grades really aren't that important.

Building a relationship with her father is much more important than the difference between a D and an A, and you're pushing that away.

All I EVER got from my dad in high school was punishments. If I did accomplish something, he practically ignored it and focused on the failures. Is that really what you want to become to your daughter?

If you really want to encourage her to do well, try rewards. The year I did best in school was when my parents set up a reward system. For every A I got, I got $50. For a B, $20. Nothing for a C or D, and if I got any F's I owed them $100. That actually encouraged me and I used the money to pay my application fees for colleges.

Also, when she turns 16 (or whatever age for your state), she may want to get a job. Having a job after school really helped me manage my time between school, work, and my boyfriend.

Now, you make think that since I'm only 20 now, I have no idea what I'm talking about. Just remember, I just did that recently. I graduated with a 2.99 at age 17, got accepted to one school, and moved to another state to marry my boyfriend. My parents were a bit peeved to say the least. I did a year of classes, took a job making more than my mother, and just decided to go back to school to finish my degree. No amount of punishments would have made that path any different. What has helped, is my parents and grandparents and mother-in-law telling me over and over how proud they are of everything I have done. Because in spite of flunking at least one class a year in high school, I'm doing pretty damn well at age 20. But I still barely speak to my father, because I can't get over the fact that he never gave a shit about my accomplishments. Please don't be that guy.
posted by jesirose at 10:22 PM on December 15, 2006

I did not work very hard for grades in high school - I wasn't failing or anything, but I honestly believed that they were meaningless. People told me that they would make a difference when I applied to college, but in my angsty teenage mind, high school grades were useless markers that measured how well you regurgitated bullshit.

That's true and false. People here are talking about grades having no "intrinsic meaning". That's true, in one sense. But the higher your grades, the more options you have. I got horrible grades in high school, but I went to the university I grew up across the street from. I got poor grades in College, not bad enough that I had to ever worry about dropping out. I took the most difficult classes in one of the most difficult majors. I took them and retook them. I didn't care about the grades, I just enjoyed learning.

So it was shock to find out that a lot of high paying jobs would be unavailable to me right out of school because of my grades. And I realized later that if I had good grades, along with my test scores I could have gone to CMU or MIT or CalTech or something. I could have gone to grad school or something. So when people say that grades don't matter, that's not true. Grades directly translate into options later in life. Let your daughter know that she might not need grades for what she thinks her life will be like, but that if she gets to age X and option Y is closed off to her she'll be disappointed.

Threats and stuff will do certainly make her resent you, and want to rebel. If she's weak-willed she'll crumble and do what you want, if she's strong-willed she'll call your bluff and end up like some of the anecdotes of other posters (of course, it's also possible she'll just come to her senses).

Setting up an adversarial situation where it's you against her and your goal is for her to get bad grades does not seem like good idea.

You can get more involved in her schoolwork, too. Keep track of what her assignments are and do them with her. Study with her for tests. Follow along while she does her homework. You can set aside some time each day and demand that she does it with you before she can get online or go out or whatever. This makes the two of you partners rather then adversaries. Research shows that people who have to work together with other people tend to like those people, so rather then pulling the two of you apart emotionally, it will bring the two of you closer together (which is a bonus).

Now, if you're not willing to do that, then her grades aren't really that important to you, are they?
posted by delmoi at 10:27 PM on December 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

I think failure can be the great motivator and learning experience. I tutor high school kids for SAT prep, and one of the sample prompts for the essay is "Prosperity is a great teacher, but adversity is greater."

Screwing up at an early age like hers may be a good thing, if you handle it right and discuss what went wrong, what the consequences are and how to remedy them. She may learn a lot.

Will a bad GPA for one year keep you out of a good college? Maybe, maybe not. But I think a kid who has to go to their safety school will be a little wiser and work a little harder than a kid who made it into their first choice school.
posted by Kronoss at 11:55 PM on December 15, 2006

Is she bright? Is she getting enough stimulation at school? Perhaps the only source of stimulation is the boys at the moment! I left school at 15 when I realised I was only going to organise my weekends, and I could do that in far shorter time over the phone. I got a job and started teaching myself (learning new skills and forcing myself to write papers on various topics), then got into a top-tier university when I was 18 by doing an aptitude test. Now, at 30, I'm working on my third Masters and have a great job - there has been absolutely zero negative residual effects from leaving school, and many positive. It is far from the end of the world.

And finding school boring should not be a punishable offense - I think restricting her internet access is a really bad idea as you are cutting off a vast source of information and education. Encourage her to think differently about the work she is doing at school, and to apply the information she receives to her understanding of the world.
posted by goo at 2:37 AM on December 16, 2006

Also, I think LobsterMitten has some good ideas - positive reinforcement is key.
posted by goo at 2:39 AM on December 16, 2006

Ha, reminds me of when I failed the first year of my maths A-level. In order to do well, you basically needed to come to a load of extra classes after school. I blew them off and spent the time with my girlfriend instead.

I just picked up another A-level the next year. And now had a lovely girlfriend.

And it's the same thing here at university. It's just impossible to be absolutely perfect, and have a love (sex) life, and have any friends. So maybe you don't spend all your spare time reading every textbook from cover to cover. So what? Have you met the people who do? They're not people you want to be.

Yeah, maybe they'll get a 'good job' (read: moderately well-paying, soulless corporate grind). And then they can wonder why no-one ever talks to them, go home to the wife they don't really love but married to be 'respectable', and cry themselves to fucking sleep.

The point is, grades aren't everything. A smart kid will get somewhere in life, grades or no grades.

And, not to go all angsty teenager on you (actually, I'm 20, dontcha know), but especially at 'high school' level, grades really are all about how well you can regurgitate bullshit. I got a C for GCSE IT classes, just because I actually knew what I was doing instead of memorising the textbook and completing my coursework by pressing every button Microsoft Office has. There are many, many school subjects where actually knowing and caring about the subject is a disadvantage, considering that the teacher doesn't, and often the exam board doesn't either.

Since you've taken away your daughter's phone and Internet access, I'll wager that's what she's spending a lot of time doing. The phone thing is obviously related to the boys -- and isn't it good for her to start seeing a few boys at 15? Maybe you don't think so, but it is. The Internet access thing, though, signals to me at least that she's getting something from it that she's not getting in school. I know I've certainly learned more from the web than I ever did in school (and have, incidentally, also earned more money online than I ever have in a 'proper job').

The point is, you need to learn more about what she's doing, and considering how it's helping (or hindering) her. Not 'her grand future' in which you're a proud parent and she goes to the best college in the country, but her, as a person. And then you need to stop punishing the bad and start rewarding the good.
posted by reklaw at 3:58 AM on December 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

Read the book Smart Discipline, by Larry J. Koenig, PhD.

It is the best advice for establishing good life-long habits, at any age. /pg.
posted by mambonova at 8:51 AM on December 16, 2006

And, not to go all angsty teenager on you (actually, I'm 20, dontcha know), but especially at 'high school' level, grades really are all about how well you can regurgitate bullshit....There are many, many school subjects where actually knowing and caring about the subject is a disadvantage

Yeah, I'm not saying it had no truth, but what I didn't get at that age was that in the real world, a lot of people really don't care how much you "know and care" about a subject. They care about how much time and effort you are willing to put in to complete a task adequately. Grades are not a marker of how smart you are, or how worthy a human being you are, or how uniquely insightful you are, and that's on purpose, because those things are not really the point when it comes to actual success in the world. You can leave behind piles of notebooks filled with your deep thoughts, but if you never handle the research, organization & promotion, they'll probably never be read.

Everyone has something to say (just look at this website) but the key is producing something complete and coherent. it takes more than being the witty guy at the party to be a comedian; it takes more than being an avid reader to be an academic; it takes more than having a cool idea to be an inventor - you have to follow through, work hard, persist, take direction and feedback, and stay on top of the project until it is finalized.

The point is, grades aren't everything. A smart kid will get somewhere in life, grades or no grades.

there are no guarantees. There are very smart people out there who never quite found their track in life. What do you think mid-life crises are about? People wake up one day and realize they're 45 and stuck in a meaningless mid-management job. Much of life is a crapshoot - you meet the right people at the right time, etc. But giving yourself the opportunity to be around the "right people" is a significant leg-up. Going to a college with those people is one path.

Of course it's not the only way, and there's no guarantee that being at a certain school is going to set you on a journey toward your goal, and there are countless measures of "success" anyway, yadda yadda, but it's still worth understanding that small choices can have large impacts - think of it as the butterfly effect. If you choose to go to the party that night instead of studying for the exam, perhaps you fail one exam, which lowers your grade in the class, which dips your GPA just enough to not make it into some society which would have put you over the top to getting into that grad program which would have led to dot dot dot. Of course, perhaps if you stayed home to study, you never would have met that love of your life who was at the party...

I guess the point is, don't assume it doesn't matter. Assume that every choice matters, and try to arrange your life so that you do enough studying earlier in the week that you can go to the party and ace the test. The parts to cut are the choices which are least likely to have positive long term effects, like watching huge amounts of TV or sitting around being bored. And when you do have to choose between two things which both seem important, try to honestly assess potential repercussions and make sure you're ok with them.
posted by mdn at 8:59 AM on December 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

You want to be a better Dad? Quit worrying about trivia like grades. My parents did the things you're doing, and it only increased the distance between us, made me feel more isolated, and consequently I was more likely to do stupid things with stupid people. In a twisty way I was confirming my parents negative expectations. As a parent I was determined not to repeat my parents' mistakes. Here's what my I did:

1. I always told my kids I didn't care about their grades or test scores, as long as they were doing the best that they could. If they needed help in school they got it at home. I never depended solely on the teachers to educate them.
2. I always looked for things to praise them for. Sometimes I had to look pretty hard, but I always found something to show approval for. Everyone wants approval, I made sure they got it at home. Approval is like a drug--once you get hooked on it, you'll do almost anything to keep getting it.
3. I always made it clear that I loved them not their grades, not their looks, not anything but them. I love them and want them to be able to live well.
4. With my daughter and her boyfriends I've struggled over the years and managed never to say, "I don't like that kid. You stay away from him." I didn't want to start any Romeo and Juliet forbidden-romance thing. I respect her and her judgment and trust her to figure out who has quality and doesn't. Even the years when she dated and lived with the massively under-employed, financially and emotionally needy actor, I only said once a year "You can do better. You deserve better." and I made clear that I spoke because I loved her and wanted her to be happy.

Keep in mind that I did this from an early age. You may have significant (months or years) work to do to achieve this with your kids. But I think most kids want their parents' approval, and will accept reasonable boundaries as part of the price for that.

This worked for me, and more importantly for my kids.
posted by RussHy at 11:04 AM on December 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

I was an academic screwup in high school and my parents similarly took a hard line with me. It accomplished little. I took the same approach with them that I did with school: I did as little as possible and would (mostly successfully, but not always) do a flurry of work at the last minute to get what I wanted.

I don't know how you convey this to her, but here's what I wish I'd known then: I was accepting the short-term pain of bad grades and parental trouble for the short-term payoff of not doing things I didn't want to do. I was failing to see the long term pain of having fewer choices and how much harder some stuff is if you let it sit around till the last minute.

I think Methyl hits on a great point with the "get it done means I am not up in your shit every day" concept. She's willing to suffer the big letdowns in order to do the other stuff she wants or avoid the boring work - maybe she's less willing to suffer the constant low-grade annoyance. I don't know that that will work, but it might have worked better with me.

Another thing that I don't know would have worked, but may be worth a shot : my slacking was a reaction to small stuff, not big stuff, so perhaps you need to look for little ways to constantly goad and constantly reward rather than big ones. I'm not sure what the small rewards would be or even the small goads other than Methyl's comments above, but it's worth pondering I think.
posted by phearlez at 4:17 PM on December 18, 2006

A 17:47 question to answer ratio.

posted by dorisfromregopark at 7:45 PM on January 25, 2007

holy crap i'm a monster :(
posted by dorisfromregopark at 7:48 PM on January 25, 2007

« Older Is it okay to mix foundation with your sunscreen?   |   Help with cripped hard drive Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.