Ask any kid who’s been in my middle or high school classes in the last ten years, and he will tell you one of my favorite quotes is Excuses only satisfy the person who makes them. There’s a fine line between an excuse and a reason. For example, I cannot give blood because I have had thrombocytopenia during my pregnancies, and there’s too much risk it might come back and I’d bleed out during the donation. That is the reason I cannot give. I have no excuse, though, for not participating in this life-saving activity. For that reason, my secondary students and I host a blood drive every year. This is my way of contributing.
There are many reasons kids are the way they are. When those reasons become excuses, however, the child’s performance is less than adequate. Unfortunately for many kids, the excuses come via a parent. I can work with kids with challenging issues… until Mom convinces them that they “can’t” do something because of that challenging condition. I am all for identifying limitations, but come on, Mom, let your child at least attempt to overcome.
Can you imagine where we would be if Frederick Douglas hadn’t learned to read, escaped slavery, and written about it, risking his own life to expose this atrocity in the process? Or what if after the first fire Thomas Edison set in his father’s barn, or the second fire he set in a railroad car, he had decided to quit experimenting ever again because of his proclivity to fire? History is full of stories of individuals overcoming challenges to create and conquer and liberate and prosper. Some tell me that the problem with today’s youth is that they are required to do nothing hard. One part of me says, “That’s what every generation says about the generation following theirs.” Another side of me agrees, though. Everything from shoes with Velcro straps to the high frequency of students telling me they’re allergic to mosquito bites because they get a raised, itchy spot when bitten supports this theory. (Sorry to break it to you, kid, but we all get that reaction.)
I encourage you strongly, Mom and Dad, don’t let any reason become an excuse. You are not protecting your child when you excuse poor performance; you are weakening your child.
Every Sunday morning at 6:00 a.m., I watch On the Money, a news show about emerging business trends. The host was interviewing Andy Puzder about the growing trend of automated restaurants and grocery stores where you just scan the food you want as you go with your phone, and the store charges your credit card. He was not concerned about the automation, in fact declaring it inevitable due to the way society purchases items nowadays and the increasing labor costs. Instead, he was advocating not rushing the automation so that we have time to train our labor force to change with the times.
I always joke with students when they let their grades dip, “You better start practicing the phrase, ‘Would you like fries with that?’” If those jobs are gone, what exactly will we be training our labor force to do? Well, if everything is going automated, I guess the entry-level job may become mechanic. It takes a lot more brains to rebuild a motor or reprogram a computer than it does to take a dinner order, though.
We live in a time in which it has become very hard to distinguish oneself from others. College entrance exams have aligned with a set of facts so more people will score well, and college is no longer limited to the best and the brightest. What does a young adult have to do to stand out from the rest? I propose that he or she must stand out all along the way.
The difference between my good students and my great students has never been the intelligence with which they were born. It has always been how the parents have chosen to guide. Pushing too hard makes resentful kids who get really good at hiding bad behavior. Doing everything for and making excuses for makes entitled kids who fail to launch. The best parents are the ones who inspire their children to try new things, who encourage them to set goals and then give them the tools to reach those goals, who never let them cower behind an excuse but instead teach them to reach within the depths of their souls and find the strength to overcome.
One last thought, and I’ll get off my soapbox: I had a teacher once who told kids, “Don’t come to me with your problem; instead, come tell me your intended solution to your problem.” Genius!