Teaching your teen is not impossible

My 15-year-old no longer has patience—not with inconvenience, not with failure and not with learning, which is often the takeaway in times of inconvenience and failure . . . if you have patience.

It seems my kid is focused on not looking bad when he struggles or is wrong about something rather than on seizing a moment to gain the knowledge to succeed.

“OK . . . I get it . . . I know . . . I’ll do better,” and anything else he can say to blow me off when I try to explain that some things are more difficult than others.

My son’s a sophomore in high school this year, and his work is a bigger challenge than last year, with one teacher assigning daily tests. His study habits in the past have included multiple steps over several days to prepare. Now he’s tasked to read it, learn it and show what he knows overnight.

“I can’t do it,” he told me.

“If you say you can’t,” I replied, “then you won’t.”

“I’ll do my other homework first.”

“Eventually you’ll have to face it.”

When he finally had no choice but to take it on, he complained: “This sucks”; “None of my friends get it either”; “Other teachers assign easier work”; Finally he wanted to know what I knew about the Neolithic Revolution and how it’s helped in my day-to-day dealings.

“It’s not that I don’t use that knowledge every day,” I said. “What’s important is that you’re learning to learn, learning that when you hit resistance you fight through it. Those skills you’ll always use.”

BOOM! That was some wisdom I just dropped on the child.

“Yeah, great, Dad. I get it. Thanks. Awesome. Good pep talk.”

There was just no learning.

My wife and I discussed what might have been in front of us for years: Our son has never had patience. He doesn’t hear someone if he has something to say. If he has something to show, it has to be now.

He interrupted our conversation from the other room when he began shouting at his homework.

“Is that better?” I called across the house. “Did yelling at it help you understand?”

“No,” he hollered back.

“Well, you better yell at it again.”

I hated when my parents offered wisecracks during frustrating times, and I swore I’d never do the same with my kid because it’s annoying. Success! My kid was annoyed.

I left him alone to work out his problems.

He got distracted with games on his phone. When I took the device away he said he couldn’t study terms and principles without his Quizlet app. I told him to use his computer. He got distracted with games on his the computer. Even the flash cards he was ultimately left with became about the arts and crafts of card making.

So my wife and I did what most sophisticated parents do—we went online for answers. Unfortunately, all tips were for parents with toddlers.

“We’re too late,” I said. “Not to mention he’s an only child who didn’t have to share or take turns. We messed up. It’s too late. We’re done.”

Our son came out of his room and asked what the difference was between his negativity and lack of patience and mine.

The difference, I told him, was that he lost phone privileges for a week, he lost his Apple Watch and he was now going to clean up his room, do the chores he hadn’t done all week, do his laundry, which was overflowing and . . .

Yup, no learning.

I was mad. I was frustrated. I wasn’t listening to my wife as she was telling me to calm down. It seems my son and I were both in the same predicament—like father, like son.

Maybe I taught him something after all.

This story appeared in The Acorn Newspapers of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, CA, in September of 2018. You can find other stories like it from Michael Picarella in his book, “Everything Ever After (Confessions of a Family Man),” and at MichaelPicarellaColumn.com.

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