Arrrggghhh Hope For
Teenage Boys & Schoolwork
Probably one of the most common questions we’ve gotten as we speak all over the country is “How in the world do I get my teenage son to do his schoolwork?” As the parents of these guys:
we’ve been there! There are days I’ve felt like jerking them (and me, too) bald-headed.
We’ve found that as boys enter the teen years they get very impatient with the endless (to them) preparation. They want to do real things. They want to be men.They want to know what’s the purpose of this stuff. Here’s how we put it in our book:
“Why do I have to learn this, anyway?”
What are some other distinctions about teaching boys? One is the way they perceive the world of knowledge. Often they need more than facts, they need the principles and reasons which undergird them. Why is this fact important? What is the purpose for studying this material at all? Will it ever be useful, or are we just collecting data to archive in our brains?
This makes discussion of ideas paramount. They need to see through the plots of the books they read and discern the author’s theme and message. They need to recognize the philosophy and worldview expressed in art and entertainment; when they understand there’s more to the painting or music than the picture or melody, it becomes more relevant to them. How does the philosophy of the scientist or historian affect the work they do?
They need practical applications for the material they’re learning, too. Hal often found courses in college which only seemed to prepare the student for the next class; the connection to life beyond the academy was seldom made clear. A mother asked him recently whether her son, who planned to study agriculture in college, really needed high school chemistry, since he didn’t see a connection with his ultimate interest. Hal suggested she might look for people in real-world agriculture that could show him how principles in chemistry are used to test soil composition, to figure pesticide and fertilizer application, to medicate animals and optimize crop processing. A hammer is a more valuable tool when you recognize the existence of nails.
What’s your goal, son?
Even at younger levels, you can give your boys real problems to solve. Use similar triangles to measure the height of trees in your yard. Let them figure out the surface area of a room – subtracting the area of windows and doors – before buying paint. Encourage them to apply basic economic principles to their business – how many yards will they be asked to rake if they do it for free, or if they charge $20? Challenge them to remember Bible verses or historical examples that apply to current events. Real world examples give your sons a handle on why they’re learning these things.
What about subjects that don’t have an obvious application, other than fulfilling a requirement somewhere? If you can’t think of the real-world use of that subject, then look to your son’s goals for motivation. “Son, what do you think you’d like to do for a living? Do you realize you’ll need to learn this material in order to qualify for that training?” With younger students, it’s not so important – everything requires more education than they’ve gotten so far.
Just like our eldest son and the Gilbert & Sullivan song, your sons need to understand that school is not something to live through and get past, but training and preparation for their future. It provides the building blocks for whatever God has planned for his life.
Boys respond well to short-term goals, too. They want to conquer things. They want to know there is an end that can be attained as well; one of the most discouraging sights to the westbound pioneers was the endless peaks of the Rockies and Sierras revealed as they struggled to the top of each new mountain. If a boy doesn’t know what he is expected to do in a day, he may begin to ask himself, “Why finish math? Mom is just going to think up something else for me to do!” This can drag out the school day and breed frustration on all sides. Nagging results and schoolwork doesn’t.
We found it very helpful to give the boys a list of the day’s assignments and tell them they are free to go as soon as the list is complete – and not free at all for computer or recreational reading or going outside, until it is. Then you’ve made finishing school his problem – and his goal. It makes school something to be conquered.
Our boys like to figure out how much they have left before the end of the year. Our school calendar varies a great deal because we are often traveling or pursuing interesting opportunities which may take us away from the books for a while. Our rule, though, is that school is out when the books are done.
As long as a boy is not discouraged by a seemingly insurmountable task, a goal is extremely motivating. The more objective you can make the list, the less emotional it becomes. The less nagging and guilt come into the picture, the better it will work.
What a pleasure to have a young man get up early and announce mid-morning, “My schoolwork’s done!”
Raising Real Men: Surviving, Teaching and Appreciating Boys, Pages 164-167, © 2010 Hal & Melanie Young
That’s just a little bit about what we share about teaching and raising sons in Raising Real Men, but maybe it will give you some ideas!