Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Adolescent Mindset and Indolence

You remember how I so piteously wrung my hands over what I perceived as a learning disorder that was affecting my daughter. We visited a therapist, had her tested, met with a team of counselors and teachers at school, re-examined and restructured aspects of our lives to accommodate her social, familial, and academic needs--and we finally found the name of her learning disorder: laziness and lack of accountability. This mess is all my daughter's choice and making.

Combating laziness has been a bit of a challenge. I have employed a string of strategies to motivate or punish. Long story short? It ain't working, at least not consistently. And she isn't even belligerent about it. She can be happy or sometimes a bit diffident. This stumps me.

"Oh," says my Chicken Little in her characteristic sing-song, "in school today I got a 56, 59, 96, and a 100!"
"Whoa, whoa!!" I say, "Back up there!"

This is not an uncommon conversation at my house. I spent the first part of the year micromanaging homework, tutoring, questioning, writing practice tests, drilling, and double checking. I spent the next part of the year giving my daughter more decision-making and authority over her own work. I have spent the last part of this school year beating my head against the wall.

I pooled my Facebook friends for advice. I consulted my parents, neighbors, ex-husband, current husband, school teachers, and parents of classmates. I have grounded her with isolation in her room, taken away her computer, her phone, her Breyer horses, her playtime with neighbor children, her riding lessons, television watching, Wii, et cetera. I have tried to reward with the concept of earning back her Breyer horses and those other things, earning dollars for grades (a last resort that makes me feel cheap and desperate), verbal praise, computer game time, treats at a local cafe, and more. Today's announcement about the poor grades at least came with tears. Of all the things that have negatively affected our little bird, making her spend time in her room all afternoon seems to be the worst. (Of course, I like this because she isn't downstairs fighting with her brother.)

The weak grades aren't predictable; sometimes she fails a math test and other times a social studies test. The next week, math is up, but language arts suffers. I give up. Seriously. I told my ex that we just need to get her through the year. You can only lecture a child about the value of persistence so much.

Newsflash from the parents of grown children who laugh when I tell them what she is and isn't doing in school: This is all her. There is nothing you can do, but keep trying, and keep letting her be accountable.

It's not okay. As a former teacher, I feel like a failure. And as I tell my daughter, I am tired of it, no longer know what to do, and only she can embrace the idea that hard work is essential to success. I have tweaked her diet, added vitamins, made sure occasional treats were in place (so we weren't ridiculously strict), added mommy-and-daughter time into the schedule, given her privacy and quiet for study, added sleep time to her night routine, given her the privilege of reading time, and more. I have tried supervising closely and stepping back to give her more control.

She complained this year that she would not be going to the private middle school that two of her good friends will be attending. I foolishly thought this might be the motivator. "Such a bummer," I said, "but they test you to get into those places. Ds and Fs aren't allowed." This was news to her, and appeared momentarily to awaken her, but ultimately has made no difference.

Next year, she will attend the city middle school that so many rigorously academic parents have criticized for being, well, less rigorous. I welcome this opportunity. A change of pace is just what she needs. With its focus on art and music, the school has chosen to avoid teaching to standard test material. Instead, the principal has spoken to parents about teaching the children how to get along with all kinds--the true melange of city population in a more deliberately paced academic atmosphere as opposed to the higher middle class white enrollment of many of our Christian private schools. Sitting in the middle school auditorium, a room which boasted beautiful wood floors, a set of symphony-issued harps, and classic 1930s architectural details, I listened to the principal speak of his students as the people they were, their accomplishments, and the fact that this school represented our city's history. I was sold. My daughter, having attended the middle school as a prospective student in a shadowing capacity, found herself swayed by a concept I had forgotten entirely: the opposite gender.

I'm screwed, aren't I?


  1. I missed the poll, but honestly, living 1100 miles away and not in observance of what you are dealing with daily...i have little to offer. Of course, if you wanna drive the accountability factor to a whole new could home school. The change of pace for her, due to the fact that the academics are less rigorous, lend that much more time to your concerns being fulfilled. I hesitate to say more, i just don't have enough information to lend informed advice. It wouldn't be fair to you, or your daughter.


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