Maybe We’re Due for a Change

My older son needs a change.  For most of the last school year, I’ve thought he needed (in no particular order) a change in attitude, in focus, in underwear, in diet, and in priorities.  I’ve alternatingly (by the day, by the minute) alternated between chastising him, encouraging him, gently prodding him, and ignoring him.  Since my progression through those was neither linear nor scientific, I have no idea whether alone or in concert any of those interventions helped or harmed him. <deep parental sigh>

He’s on the cusp of 14, celebrating his birthday in two weeks, making this a year we celebrate Mother’s Day and his birthday on the same day.   One his first Mother’s Day, his third day of life, I felt like we were still intimate strangers, bound by biology and need yet painfully out of rhythm with each other.  By his first birthday and second Mother’s Day together, I was still constantly adapting to his changes but felt far more comfortable with my Mom role and our relationship.

Now I’m not so certain.  While still externally appearing prepubescent, his brain is certainly changing.  He’s become more taciturn — not when I’d like him to be, like when I’m on the phone or reading, but at the table and on car trips.  He’s more reserved in countenance, and I often ask if he’s okay, only to hear a perky, “I’m fine.”  I ask that question often, ask what’s on his mind, and I just don’t get much from him.  During his last year, he’s become far more physically competent, honing his skills with tools and becoming quite handy around the house and yard.  He’s a willing helper, especially if it gets him out of our major minefield, schoolwork.

Schoolwork.  It’s become the trigger for many lectures on my end and angry tears on his end.  He’s a brilliant previously capable boy who seems to have developed a mind of mush.  I’ve always struggled to understand his approach to education.  I was a perfectionist teacher-pleaser who loved a clean new workbook and notebook and strove (successfully) for report cards filled with A’s.  My parents and teachers liked my efforts and rewarded them with praise.  Yeah, by the end of highschool, I was over-identified with my grades and , by college, sometimes shied away from classes that might jeopardize my GPA.  I’ve often seen homeschooling without grades as a possible partial antidote to this affliction, and to some degree, it has been.

But a few years back, I started grading his math tests.  During Algebra I, his careless mistakes were disturbing me more and more, so I starting giving and grading math tests.  He was ten, and he agreed this might increase his accuracy rate.  It did.  Most of his mistakes that year were not in comprehension but from careless calculations.  Over the year, he improved, however.   So for math, I kept on grading.  The past two years, I’ve given graded science tests as well, and while he’s still a very erratic studier and a poor judge of how well he’s studied material, he’s done fairly well.  Until this semester.  This semester (okay, and at the end of last), he’s crashing.

Oh, he’s a master at MineCraft, an online game where one digs and makes places that appears to appeal to boys of a certain age.  He explores the programming, adjusts things I don’t understand, and talks the game with his friends and brother ad infinitum.  He’s also an expert in Star Wars Miniatures, another field that leaves me cold but delights his brother and neighborhood buddy as much as it does him.  I’m a poor listener about these subjects, admittedly, although I try to understand some of the MineCraft programming successes he’s had.  I miss his preoccupation with storm systems and chemistry, both which at least held college and career promise down the road.  Heck, at least they were something to which I could relate.  I could even build curricula around those topics.  But MineCraft and Star Wars Minis?  I’m not that creative.

And I’m not willing to give up basic studies.  Math.  Science.  Language Arts.  History.  These are not negotiable to me, and, as I’ve often said, unschooling just isn’t on the table.

But I am willing to look at his homeschooling a bit differently.

My older son has what I’ve always called a healthy case of ADHD.  He’s quite organizationally challenged, saving undesirable, uninteresting, or difficult work for a nebulous later.  As I recently blogged, we’re using a white board for scheduling.  This works fairly well, except for his tendency to erase things that are “almost done” or finished but not printed and turned in to me (and that’s not done).  Once off the board, they’re out of mind.  He’s easily overwhelmed with a long list, and just keeps getting behind, no matter how much I take off the schedule.  Enter the chastising, prodding, and encouraging.

Today I proposed the following:  Would you prefer to do less topics each week, say limiting a week to chemistry and history of science, followed by a week of math and language arts?  Would more intense time on fewer subjects be better?  An emphatic “yes” came from my lately-less-responsive teen.

Will this help?  Can this mid-course correction increase his rate of succesful completion of work and decrease his scattered discouraged state?  We’ll see.  We’re a tad limited in implementation, since his online course in grammar and vocabulary marches forward on its own and chemistry is scheduled weekly with his buddy.  But with the rest, perhaps we can schedule differently and make a difference.  Perhaps we can even find some rhythm with each other, or at least as much as a 41-year-old woman and almost-14-year-old boy can.  Now that would be a Mother’s Day present.

Addendum:  This same taciturn child interrupted my writing three four times just to chatter about kittens and Star Wars Minis.  The last time, he mentioned how much he wanted time alone.  I pointed out that he could be alone at that very moment, if he left the room and ignored my nearly silent typing in the study.  “Oh!” he responded, “You’re right!”  Then he bounded off with a smile.  Such is life with my young teen.

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9 thoughts on “Maybe We’re Due for a Change

  1. I am sending you some hugs right now, telepathically. It’s been a hard week for me and I just don’t feel like thinking about how we homeschool any more. Your post is a timely one for me. Any change I want to implement is also hampered by online class timing. You’ve also expressed an anxiety I’ve been having. Do their brains really turn to mush at the throes of puberty? I fear it and yet know it’s unavoidable and perhaps they’ll emerge as wiser, more mature young people after it’s over? Is there any psychological benefit at all to puberty? If I’m already struggling with things now how much worse will it be in 2, 3, 4 years and more? Big parental sigh here too.

    • Hugs your way, too, Suji. Mind mush seems to be the norm among the folks I know with kids (at least boys) this age. My older is able to do so much more real, practical stuff than he could a year ago, but his thinking process leaves a good deal to be desired. I hear it eventually improves. If not, he’ll be in my basement at 30. Eeek!

  2. their brains are completely rewired during puberty. all teens are . . . crazy . . . for a while. Of course, i havent done it w a boy yet – but I seriously thought my daughter had totally undone me for a few years . .. now she’s 18, and spent 7 mo away – and we are doing fantastic! Think long term. My autistic/bipolar/tourettes boy just turned 15, and while we still have plenty of days when he’s crying over work, yelling at me over work, or simply staring in to space and asking for second breakfast or second lunch just as we sit down to school – there are moments when he is totaly focused, more responsible, clear. I keep reminding myself how likely it is that, by the age of 25, he’ll be a responsible young man. I focus on here-now for lesson planning, but on way-future as far as faith/confidence in him. if that makes sense.

    • Okay, that’s a bit more hopeful. I do hope we find some light at the end of this rather dark tunnel. I think your focal points are wise and should serve me well, too.

  3. I wanted to share what I have done with our boys. We have made recent changes as well and they have been very successful so perhaps it might help. I am also a mother of four boys ( yes, thank you I still have all my hair at this point) ages 24, 21, 14 and 12 so I certainly understand where your coming from. – we have been through puberty and back again -. lol
    We use a block schedule. Whereby we work the core subjects (the 3R’s) Monday thru Wednesday and then leave Thursday and Friday for our other subjects.(Thurs is science and math only) Friday ( history and/or civics and also math to keep skills sharp and moving forward).
    I can tell you it works SO well. They can dive deeper into topics and spend much more time on projects, experiments and things like that.
    all of my boys also have ADHD and Dyslexia. keeping lessons shorter and to the point but in depth is key with these kinds of kiddos, delight directed should also be looked at as a supplement to scheduling since it really helps our teens feel more in control when every thing about them and their world seems so out of control.
    I hope this helps a bit or adds some more insight. 🙂

    • That’s an interesting scheduling idea. We’re a bit hampered at this point of the year, due to the class I teach and his online class, but I can really see the benefits to block scheduling. How do you handle longer assignments, like essays and the like? These projects can take time, with repeated drafts and research, and I’m not sure how I’d make block scheduling like you’ve achieved work. Any ideas are welcome!

  4. Minecraft has become a recent obsession in my home as well. On one hand, I’m glad my boys left behind some of their more battle oriented games in favor of digging and building. However, as a non-gamer, I have a hard time seeing any real value in any of it. Fortunately for my boys, my husband is a programmer/computer geek and thinks it is a great way to learn, especially when they play cooperatively. In fact, he sent this link to me to try and show me how I could use it in our classroom.

    http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2011/04/educational-building-blocks-how-minecraft-is-being-used-in-the-classroom.ars

    I am starting to see early stages of the ‘mind of mush’ with my 10 yr old. He has been showing some signs of approaching puberty in other ways. He’s always been a bit absent minded/possible ADHD and I’m not sure how well I will be at handling more of the same. I can certainly sympathize and hope to pick up a few tips from those who have commented.

    • Glad to have you here! Certainly the lens through which we view our children dramatically shifts our understanding and expectations. I have far more patience with my younger’s behavior when I keep in mind how differently his Aspie brain is from my neurotypical brain. I struggle more with my older, although given he’s teenage male with ADD, I don’t know why I can’t remember just how differently our brains work.

      And, yes, these brilliant, obstreperous youth are doing me in as well. Thanks for your comments and link!

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