Parenting 101

April 2013


1) Our 15 year old son is causing us some concern because he seems to be more interested in “short cuts” than doing the work, whether it’s in his school work, chores at home, or in sports.  He’s pretty smart so his grades aren’t suffering, but we’re worried about what this says about his character.  We’re just looking for some insight as to how we can help him to be more motivated.

Finding a “short cut” in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing.  However, If that short cut involves dishonesty, breach of trust or his work is being left for someone else to do, that is, indeed, a character issue, and he needs to be taught about the importance of these values (and make no mistake parents bear prime responsibility for teaching them) in a didactic fashion where his input is heard. If the short cut is only his having found a way to accomplish the same end result he is responsible for with less time and effort, then his ability to find and implement such solutions is a tremendous asset to his future. To adults like ourselves, who are surviving in the world where there are few ‘shortcuts’ to life, a child like this may seem to be setting himself up for failure.  It is important that we take a moment to see how it looks from his world.  He is undoubtedly a very bright young man who can see many of the different angles to complete his work and school, and has purposely chosen the fastest, and maybe the easiest, paths to satisfying his school work responsibilities.  While we understand that school work doesn’t always portray everyday life, school work is not only his orientation, it is the only one he could possibly know.   Since his ‘grades aren’t suffering’ it sounds like it is working for him.  So trying to convince him that his methods are flawed won’t make sense to him.  Until he encounters new situations where his old approaches will not work, he most likely won’t change.  Unless his work is not meeting the expectations of his teachers, I would sit on this for now.  So, save both of you wasted time with lectures or ‘what-if’s’. Instead, compliment and encourage him to use his ‘creative’ intelligence to approach and solve the challenges in his life, so that when he does meet with challenges that confuse or stump him (ones where his shortcut methods are ineffective), he will have the belief in himself that he is intelligent enough to find a way.  The quest for a better, easier, more efficient, cheaper or quicker way to do something has driven much of mankind’s progress. When a short cut can be found that does not compromise morals/ethics or decrease the quality of the end product it is a great find. The key here is to provide him with the confidence to adapt and change with each new challenge that meets him.  Your attitude and belief systems will be the groundwork for his motivation.

2.  I’m a single mom of a 12 year old son and I’m concerned about his inability to control his emotions – especially during sports.  He hates to lose – and I mean hates it.  He really almost comes completely unglued and I just don’t know how to help him.  His dad has a pretty bad temper, too, and I don’t want him continuing that cycle.  Any tips or suggestions will be much appreciated.

Your son may be suffering from an all too common syndrome of expecting himself to be perfect.  If so, this means any reminder, like missing a basket or not hitting a home run is interpreted as failure.  Failure feels like you are inferior or flawed.  Individuals who must see themselves and have others see them as perfect, constantly set themselves up for failure.  They are almost always very hard on themselves.  They internally criticize and judge their actions to the point that they get emotionally crippled every time their faults are presented to them.

First, look at the environment that your son is exposed to at home and school.  Are there key individuals in his life who are very critical or judgmental?  If so, look to see if you have any power to change this exposure.  Either way, your son needs help to see how this false belief system is hurting him and the people around him.  This can be done by a skilled friend, or family member who can clearly see the situation, or by a therapist.  He will need to learn how to change his perspective of himself as well as see the good things that he can do.  If anger management problems are not new to the family, and his outbursts are inappropriate, professional counseling should be strongly considered.

Responses to the above parent questions have been provided by members of the South Bay Coalition whose expertise and experience lies in parenting, counseling, and/or substance abuse prevention.  The South Bay Coalition is a non-profit partnership of agencies working to prevent substance abuse among our community’s youth.  For local resources or more information, please visit our website www.thefutureiswatching.org or if you have questions you’d like our experts to respond to, contact: events@sbcoalition.com.