Periodically I challenge my school student “houses” to the game “Steal the Bacon.” I number the team members, place a towel in between them, and yell a number. The team members assigned that number are to grab the towel and make it back to their team without getting tagged. This last Friday’s game involved some of the best strategy I’ve seen in years.
As I was relating this to the rest of my family, I noticed that all the ones I was naming as impressive had come to us from public schools (as opposed to those who have been with us from an early age). Hmmm. I had to wonder if trying to get noticed in such a large group of people as are in the public middle and high schools hadn’t taught these kids to better strategize. I don’t know. It might be worth studying.
A lot of our summer camps are spent teaching strategy. So many kids just do the same thing over and over, never making the necessary changes to get better results. I don’t get that.
Are those students just used to adults stepping in and doing it for them because they’re not doing it right? I do see parents do that. This very week I had to write my parents and ask that they stop editing their children’s papers. We do that in class, and the parents leave nothing to edit. How am I supposed to teach the kids to perfect a paper if they can just hand it to Mom and she’ll perfect it?
I guess “frustrating the parent until the parent just does it himself” is a strategy in and of itself! It’s not a good one, though. I never take the bait. I have no problem telling a kid, “I guess you won’t get that then” if he half-tries. Usually the child begins actually trying then. I’ve had a lot of experience with a lot of kids, though. How does a parent know when to rescue and when to teach?
The answer is to teach “strategy.” Your child has understood strategy naturally since he was a toddler. Can’t reach the cabinet where Mom keeps the cookies? Find something on which to climb. Even as a tween, your child knows to be super nice right before asking for money. So, when does the forfeiture of strategy begin? The minute a parent starts “doing” for his child. This includes making decisions for him.
After homeschooling for three years, my son decided he wanted to go back to public school. I enrolled him in sixth grade, and he earned B’s and C’s. I’d been his teacher for three years, and I knew he could make straight A’s. I asked why he did not. He said he didn’t want to be a nerd. He was trying to be a skater-slash-kinda smart kid. That summer he decided he wanted to attend West Point like his dad. I knew that he would hate it there, but I took him to visit, nonetheless. They thought he was older. They told him to be the captain of every team, the president of every council; to get great grades and high college entrance exam scores. We moved to a new school before the academic year began, and Justin tried out what they had told him. He was surprised to find out that he could still get friends, and more importantly girlfriends, with this approach. My strategy had paid off. He ended up in art school - not West Point, but he went as valedictorian of his senior class.
Instead of dictating what your child will or won’t do, try strategizing to allow your child to experience as many reasonable whims as possible. My students whose parents have dictated the way are limply moving along on course. Those kids will get away and never look back. It’s the kids of parents who have explored and discussed and allowed the teen to be part of the strategy for getting into a good college and attaining a good job who are most successful. And the parents and teens have remained friends beyond the teen moving out.
By the way, discussing strategy for getting into desired colleges doesn’t begin the senior year. It begins about eighth grade. Students and their parents should be looking at options and visiting schools and making decisions all along the way. Some schools have special requirements that cannot be attained in one year. One of the best gifts you can give your kid is help strategizing his future. He’ll thank you in the long run.