My oldest child is thirteen (and a half) and is in the second half of eighth grade homeschool. The older he gets the more apparent it is to me that it is necessary to focus on academics and prioritize academics, if academics are important to our family, which they are. Academics are important to him as well. His home education at this point is most shaped by his goal to become an engineer moreso than being shaped by my personal opinions about pedagogy and education methods.
We are at yet another turning point where it is necessary to revisit our family's priorities and our goals for our children. This used to be easier to do than it is now. You see, when the children become teens it shifts to a point where the teen is taking more of an active role in their own goals and activities.
I don't think it is healthy for my husband and I to treat our teenaged son as if he was still five years old and dictating that he do this or that. In the teen years we have to get their buy-in on things more than we ever did before. The thing is, if they begin to take that control over their lives, I feel their outcomes and achievements have a much better chance of coming to fruition. If we parents work with our kids to determine goals and then help them design an action plan to achieve them, and we are there as facilitators to help keep them on the right path, I think they have a very good chance of getting what it is they want out of their life.
Something shifted in grade eight, such that my son, from a formerly relaxed homeschool environment, shifted into feeling pressure and stress. Things were more serious now. College seemed not far off or at least the college prep work that for him, must begin in eighth grade was happening right here and now. This was it, the road to college has definately begun! Kids today can't wait until their junior year of high school to start thinking about their future aspirations and college admissions.
The more I talk with kids in grades eight through eleven the more I realize that really the best thing to do is to focus and prioritize. Some kids have priorities other than academics, such as some who seem to live for sports and pick which high school they attend due to the better sports program and others are interested in the arts, who spent a lot of time preparing to act in plays or learning to play a musical instrument.
If there is a lack of focus and no prioritization I think a few things can happen.
1. The teen can feel they are doing too many things but not mastering any, and feel they are not accomplishing much but always scrambling to get the next thing done. They don't ever feel satisfaction at having done something well because two minutes after that thing is over they are worried about the next thing. With a busy schedule they sometimes have no time to reflect on a success before they are stressing over getting to the next appointment or meeting the next deadline.
This can happen if a teen is trying to "do it all" such as be a top athlete, be a top student, and excel at something in the arts. They can be 'stressed out' and suffering from stress induced problems.
I don't feel anything worthwhile can come from never learning to prioritize and focus. Teens should learn to decide what is important to them then to focus their energy toward achieving that goal.
Therefore, if to achieve goal A requires quitting project B and letting goal of its goal B, it's a healthy thing. Instead of doing four projects at half-tilt with mediocre or failed outcomes, isn't it better to do two or even just one thing more thoroughly?
Another question to ask is if they actually enjoying the fun things they are doing? If their passion is playing a sport but while playing the game they are preoccupied with thoughts of their undone homework, how satisfying is that sport for them?
2. A teen who is not invoved in much or is an under-achiever risks another set of problems. They risk feeling a failture at everything and not realizing what their unique talents and gifts are. They may feel either mediocre and average or they may feel incompetent and worthless. When they compare themselves to their peers they seem to notice how many people are achieving more than them, are smarter than them, are getting better grades than them, who made the cut for the A team while they were locked out, or who got the major speaking role in the play instead of a minor role.
They may give up on academics or sports or the arts, and seek affirmation socially and their top priority may be relationships with friends and their social life.
Another sort, a less extroverted teen, may wind up isolated and lonely.
Perhaps they become passive entertainment receipients whose main focus in life is watching TV and listening to music. They may not be really prepared for their future but they know what celebrity is getting a divorce and what musician has been arrested for DUI.
Maybe they have no best friend they can talk to anytime but have seen the latest pics uploaded to everyone in their class's Facebook account since they've spent hours and hours trolling around on FB.
They may seek thrill-giving experiences and may experiment with drugs and alcohol to escape the drudgery of their real life. Perhaps they seek pleasure through casual sex and are promiscuous. Maybe they are irresponsible and accidentially find themselves pregnant, or maybe they want to fast forward to adulthood and think that a becoming pregant is one way to make that happen now instead of later.
They may wind up clinically depressed or suffer from other mental illness diagnoses. Perhaps they turn their dissatisfaction into things like cutting or develop an eating disorder.
Balance has become somewhat of a buzzword but it is important. In order to be very good at some things we cannot be experts at everything. To make time to do one thing well we must let go of trying to to it all. We have read such advice given to adult women and men but the same advice needs to be given to teens and parents of teens.
Setting Goals and Priorities
It is important to set goals and make priorities. Teens should do this, it shouldn't be something that starts when they are out of college and start working in their career.
Most parents know in their own life, they can't do it all and do it all well, so why they expect this from their preteens and teens is something that makes no sense, when you think about it logically.
I wish parents would step back and evaluate what it is their family thinks is important for each of their children. Decisions about how the teen spends their time and energy should be discussed at the family level. Parents can help guide their teens in learning the skills of goal setting and priority setting.
Who would argue that those are things that families raising teenagers should not do?