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Nothing is All Bad - and other Lessons from a Veteran School Mum

By Benison O'Reilly - 13th December 2011

I am writing this post a day before my eldest son’s Higher School Certificate results are released. I’m still living in blissful ignorance but we’re expecting results in the disappointing to disastrous range.

That’s okay. Yes really okay. My son and I sat down the other day and worked out a contingency plan in case we’re faced with the disaster scenario. He, however, is dreading telling others his results, and now wishes he’d worked harder.  That’s a lesson he had to learn.  

What have I learned this year?  Here are a few random thoughts.

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink
Or in this case, you can send a child to his room but you can’t make him study.  
You may be lucky and have a teen who is a self-starter. Some kids are naturally motivated and disciplined when it comes to study. Some are not. We can assist our kids by choosing a good school and providing them with a room for study with few distractions (no TV, folks), tutors if necessary, but ultimately it’s up to them.

I was talking to a psychologist recently who relayed a funny (and true) story.  A couple were so concerned about their daughter’s refusal to study that they took her to see a psychiatrist.   After listening to the girl’s history the psychiatrist pronounced his diagnosis:

"Basically, the problem with your daughter is she’s lazy."

If it turns out you have a lazy kid you’re allowed to feel disappointed. Just don’t despair.  It’s not the end of the world if they bomb their school exams. Remember there are many paths to success. If, however, your child reaches the age of thirty-nine and they’re still unemployed and living at home then you may have a problem.

Your child will probably go to Schoolies and come back safe and sound  
I was talking to a friend of mine recently. Her eldest, a girl, is tweenage and mother and daughter are clashing a bit. I told her M was just about to head off to Schoolies.   
"You’re letting him go?" she asked, incredulously.
"Yes," I said, "I didn’t know it was an option."

Another friend, the mother of a mature and capable nine year-old girl, who no doubt will be a mature and capable 18 year-old by the time of Schoolies, said her cunning plan was to offer her daughter a trip to Paris instead. "Sorry," I said, "I don’t think it will work. For these kids hanging out with their peers is so much more important than spending time with their parents."

Funnily enough, I was talking to an adult friend a week later whose mother did exactly this; that is swept her off to Paris instead of letting her go to Schoolies. My friend sulked throughout her Paris trip - all she wanted was to be with her friends on the Gold Coast!

My son and his friends went to Byron Bay for Schoolies. They flew to the Gold Coast and caught the bus down (I did put my foot down about driving there - I’m not stupid). I don’t exactly know what M got up to during the week (his girlfriend was there as well) but he came back safe and sound, albeit with an eyebrow piercing.

By coincidence I was in Byron around the same time and spoke to some of the locals.  They said, on the whole, the kids at Schoolies are well behaved; the locals actually enjoy having them around.  No doubt our ‘rebellious’ teens would be devastated to hear this but it was music to this mother’s ears.

Like it or not Schoolies has become a rite of passage for young Australians - a reward after a year of study and their last fling before they embark on adulthood.  Again you may be lucky and have a child who doesn’t want to go, but if they do, please don’t forbid them unless you want them to resent you for years. The key here is that they will be adults, or nearly adults, by this time. Trust them to behave sensibly and they probably will.   

Nothing is all bad, even Facebook
The other day I stumbled across this study, reported in TIME magazine, which found that American students who checked Facebook at least once during a 15-minute study period got lower grades. Tell me something I didn’t already know, I thought.

I resisted allowing M to have a computer in his room until he was sixteen, but for his final years of high school he needed to have a laptop and internet connection for study. Unfortunately this meant he also had access to Facebook.  I knew it was a huge barrier to concentration and once pronounced he had ‘Facebook-Induced Attention Deficit Disorder’, as every time he heard the ‘ping’ of a message he would pause from his study to check.  
"Turn the stupid thing off!" I would yell, fully aware that it would be switched back on five minutes after I left the room.

Eventually even he cottoned on I was right about this, and went to the library to study, where he couldn’t be tempted.  

However, as TIME report also mentions, Facebook may improve teen empathy. I discovered that M and his friends used Facebook to bounce study ideas off one another and share resources. Remarkably in my son’s case, some bright motivated boys, upon hearing of his struggles, sent him their English essays and study plans—plans they had spent months preparing - to help him out. I am so grateful to these lovely boys, as I’m sure my son got some extra marks on the back of their efforts.  Would adults have behaved so generously, I wonder?  Maybe teenagers aren’t so bad after all.

So what have you learned as a parent this year?

Oh, and best wishes for the holiday season. Look forward to chatting again in 2012.


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