Easier to be an employer than a parent

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Edvin

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We have many posts about challenges of managing employees; but, when it comes to parenting we cannot simply fire our children if they repeatedly don't deliver.

This posting is about my son and the consequence that I have put forth; and quite frankly, I don't know what I will do yet.

My son is 15, and he is a good boy (at-least I think) and does very well in school (with my support). However, he is still under developed in his executive functioning; thus, leading him to miss deadlines, and that leads to deception. It is our persistence, his parents, that insures he exceeds academic standards. I make no apologies for my supervision and the pressures that I impose on him to help keep higher education doors open for him. Many teenagers lack the ability to comprehend the consequence of their choices; therefore, I refuse to allow natural consequences to unfold when they will affect his future.

However, I do allow him to experience consequence of his actions (or lack of), if it doesn't affect his future; but, to what extent! This is the reason why I am posting this rant; and I must say, that I am having internal conflicts about my upcoming decision.

Few months ago my son asked asked to attend a nearby theme-park (he has attended this park several times in the past) with his choir class for $150 dollars. Having just returned from a family vacation attending three large theme parks (as you can imagine wasn't cheap), I was not very receptive to his request. Thus, I suggested if he wants to attend he must save the money while working (walking neighbor's dog) and pay for it himself. He accepted my terms and managed to save and pay the "non-refundable" fee of attending theme park with his classmates.

For the past few weeks he has been aware of on a extra-credit project that he was not really spending adequate time on. To help him be more driven, I told him that if he does not complete the project on time (by today) then he will not be able to attend the theme-park and would have lost his money. During past week I've been reminding him (and forcing him) to work on the project so that he doesn't miss the dead line.
I think he lacks the experience of effectively estimating his project scope; so he decided to go to bed instead of working to the project two nights ago. I reminded him that he is running out of time, and if he does not complete it on time then he will lose the opportunity to attend the theme park and lose his non-refundable money.
He acknowledged my warning and decided to go to bed and continue working on the project the next (last) day.

Last night, I once more revisited the project with him and helped him make numerous alterations and design changes until 1 am. I could have continued to help him complete the project; but, I wanted him to pay the natural consequence of burning the mid-night oil and working late hours (last minute). I reminded him about my warning and then I went to bed.

This morning he was trying to sneak-out to school before I saw his project, and I know that he had gone to sleep during the night because he was tired. After confronting him, he was quick to say that he will complete it in school and turn it in (the project is due next week; but, my deadline was today). I reminded him about the consequence and told him that he needs to bring it home and show me the complete working project if intends to go to the theme-park

I know that he will try to complete the project in school ;but, frankly, I don't think he has enough time to troubleshoot and resolve the issues. Hopefully he will be able to prove me wrong.

Okay, here we go about my internal conflict....

I "almost" always execute on my previous statements so that my son knows boundaries are clearly marked and cannot be stretched. If he is unable to deliver should I still follow through with my consequence of him not going? If so, here are my conflicting thoughts:
  • I know that his brain has not fully developed; so, why am I unreasonably imposing this consequence.
  • Knowing that he would not be able to complete the project, should I have stayed up to help him complete his project.
  • His executive functioning skills, like the rest of us, will develop as he matures; so, why do I want him to experience failure/consequence before he is ready.
  • He is old enough to remember this consequence, and possibly reflect back thinking that I was unfair and I should have been more flexible with him.
If he does not complete the project and I allow him to attend the theme-park then I have the following conflicting thoughts:
  • My boundaries are becoming less rigid
  • I'm consciously breaking the example that I want him to follow; that is, follow through with your commitment. If you say you will do it, then you must do it.
I asked my wife help me play good-cop and bad-cop to still give him an opportunity to attend; but, she wasn't too eager on the idea since this scenario is not uncommon in our household. That is, he is not able to deliver without our supervision. So, should I help him avoid these life-lessons because he is not yet ready, or accept his future resentment for allowing him to fail and not being flexible!

In any case, I'm lucky to deal with such minor issues when other parents deal with diffidence, substance abuse, pregnancy, etc.
 
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djbaxter

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Your answer is embedded in your post.

The frontal lobe is the part of the brain associated with the executive functioning you talk about. This is the last part of the brain to develop in the evolutionary path and the most underdeveloped part of the human brain at birth (hence the need for the "soft spot" which allows for further brain growth after birth). It is responsible for abilities like empathy, impulse control and inhibition, foreseeing likely outcomes of current options and choices, and other functions critical to normal human functioning. It continues to develop through childhood and adolescence and into at least the mid-twenties (or a bit later in some individuals). I have always been fascinated by the historical fact that the Elizabethans and Victorians believed that no one should be put in a position of responsibility until age 30, which we now understand to be roughly the age at which you can be fairly certain of full frontal lobe development.

So an adolescent is still in a growth and transitional phase when it comes to the frontal lobe and executive functioning.

Another very critical factor is the chronic fatigue experienced by almost all adolescents. Due to rapid growth (in both the body and the brain) and hormonal changes they need considerably more sleep (and food as I'm sure you've noticed!) than fully mature adults but due to both the aforementioned limits in executive function and to social factors (e.g., why does school start early for high school students and later for primary school students, when given all we know about human development it should logically be the other way 'round?), teens rarely get the sleep they need and are therefore always tired.

As to parenting teens, these are only two factors among many that the normal adolescent must struggle with.

Laying down rules and expectations and consequences is important in parenting a teen, but so is flexibility and understanding. And sometimes adolescent procrastination may result from not really knowing where to start or how to organize a project. Have you ever noticed that instructing a small child to clean his room almost never works? The child may not even truly understand what you mean by a "clean room", and even if he does thinking about following your instructions will typically feel overwhelming and impossible. On the other hand, start by saying, "Let's clean your room", and you will often find a willing helper and obtain the desired goal with minimal effort from you. In some respects,adolescents are not that different from younger children. :)

If your son does not in fact fully meet the conditions you've set down, it may well be that your conditions were perhaps too strict to begin with. Did you, in worrying that your son would not complete this project, create a self-fulfilling prophecy? Perhaps an offer of help earlier would have lead both of you to the desired goal.

So in this case, I would suggest that this may well be a case for flexibility if he does not meet the goal. Perhaps negotiating a compromise which would allow him to attend the event with his choir class and still experience some consequences for the "failure" to meet expectations. And when I use the words "negotiate" and "compromise" I do so very much intentionally. Enlist your son's input in doing this. He will learn a great deal from the experience and as his parent so will you.

Here is an article I wrote some years ago which you may find helpful: Transitioning With Teens: Letting Go and Staying Connected.
 

SARubin

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I cannot tell you how to raise your children, Edvin. But I can certainly relate to your situation...

My wife and I, used to set boundaries for our children (my daughter is 19, and my son just turned 17) and there were many times when we'd set a rule like "if you don't finish your homework, or get good grades in school, then there will be no electronics until the goals are achieved." (for example)

But then, many times we'd come home exhausted from work, many days in a row, and just didn't have the energy to be the disciplinarians we knew we should be.

At some point, the reality was that we just had to do the best we could, with what we had to work with, and try to instill the best life values (including work ethics) that we could.

I guess the point I'm getting at is this...

You're doing the best you can. And the best you can do is look inside yourself and determine if your motivations are to give your son the best possible chance at being a successful human.

If you truly believe that cancelling his trip (if he doesn't finish his project) is for the better good, then I recommend that you explain that to him, and stick to your values.

A couple years ago, I told my kids this very same truth about myself. That I was doing the best I could, with what I had. But I'm far from perfect and I don't have all the answers (and that I just hope I didn't screw their lives up as badly as my parents had done to me :eek:)

I believe that once kids become teenagers, they truly appreciate hearing the truth from an adult (especially since the truth is so very rare in this world)

And now that they're pretty much young adults, all I can do is hope that I've taught them to make sound judgements in their lives.

I'll always support them, and be there for them, but I can no longer make their decisions for them.

Anyway, this probably doesn't answer your inquiry. But I just wanted to let you know that you're not alone.

All the best,
Steve
 

Edvin

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Did you, in worrying that your son would not complete this project, create a self-fulfilling prophecy?
I recognized the potential of failure; but, with high stakes I was really hoping for success to strengthen neural path way for executive functions.

Perhaps an offer of help earlier would have lead both of you to the desired goal.
I have been helping him throughout the weeks to the extent that I felt it was borderline excessive! So, when he argues that he has enough time (with impeccable logic), failures seem as the only teaching tool!
... "negotiate" and "compromise" I do so very much intentionally. Enlist your son's input in doing this.
Great advice.

A couple years ago, I told my kids this very same truth about myself. That I was doing the best I could, with what I had.
I know what you mean, and have done same thing myself. I ask him try to mimic my strengths and learn from my weakness & mistakes.
 
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djbaxter

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I recognized the potential of failure; but, with high stakes I was really hoping for success to strengthen neural path way for executive functions.
Understood. But you are limited in that regard by an immature brain that still has a lot of growing to do.
 
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Edvin :

I understand your point. Each one of us has different challenges in life. As you said, what you have are only minor issues and one of your problems is about your son. Actually, business is far from our personal issues in life. Although, both require patience.
 
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