We'd all love our children to breeze through school, enjoying a satisfying academic life, having lots of friends, and coming out at the end feeling a success. But what if you have a child that doesn't thrive in an academic environment? What if they can't or won't do the work? How do you deal with it and what techniques can you use to motivate them?
And our listener’s question comes from Emma:
'‘My fourteen year old is very musical, but wants to stop playing the piano now she’s grade four. I’m so upset about it, because whenever she seems to be good at something she goes so far then just gives up and wants to hang out with her friends. What should I do?"
TED Talks: Sir Ken Robinson Do schools kill creativity?
The Self-Driven Child by William Stixrud and Ned Johnson
The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey
Thrivers by Michele Borba
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Hello, I'm Rachel Richards, and welcome to teenagers untangled where we combine research by experts and ideas from other parents to solve your problems. As a parenting coach, I saw the incredible power of getting people together to share ideas and support each other. So, welcome, pull up a chair. And let's begin. Coming up in this podcast we discuss Emma's question. My 14 year old is very musical, but wants to stop playing the piano. Now she's great for what should I do? To discuss this I'm joined by Susie as the mindfulness coach, viola player, and mom to three teenagers. Hi, Susie. Hi, Rachel. But first, we just want to thank all of our listeners, we've already had over 500 downloads since we started in mid December, and hello to all our American, Australian and South African listeners. Now academic motivation, do you have a child who doesn't seem motivated in their schoolwork? Are they not very academic? Or is it that they're lackluster in their approach? How do you deal with it? Susie, I have to say that I loved researching this topic, the key books that I used are in the podcast right up. And it seemed to strike a chord with lots of parents. So what's in our inbox? Yeah, it's a really fascinating topic we have from Tracy, there is so much pressure to do well, academically. Now, in the core subjects that we risk churning out carbon copy children, all with the same ologies. Yet in life, it's the creative abilities that are most revered actors, artists, musicians, but another listener said that she's seen many parents over the years pay for tutoring to improve the child's grades, and complaining to schools about their child not getting into a sports team, when she thinks they just need to accept that their child isn't brilliant at those things. Because great points. And then with Owen, he says, We live in an interesting world when it comes to education. We admire entrepreneurs and groundbreakers. But free thinking is discouraged in our education system, or at least it seems to have no place. Do you embrace their ability to think outside the box? Or do you coerce them to do something they can see no point in? And that's a very interesting start for our discussion, don't you think? Because whether our children's see any point in something is going to make a difference? Susie, what is your experience with academic motivation? Yeah, I mean, I have three children who are very different, very different in academic ability and academic motivation, and in their whole approach to school, to be honest. So my eldest is very science based, finds the sciences and sort of that sort of side of things really easy. And then I, my other two children they have well, my one of my children is really not in science, she finds that incredibly difficult. And she wouldn't mind me saying that. It's just not her thing. And we've had many conversations in our family about what society in general, but particularly school, as we're talking about school, really put so much weight on particular types of intelligence, academic intelligence, that's seen as the superior and within that the superior branch of the academic, is science and logical thinking is seen as the sort of pinnacle of of intelligence, which is what Sir Ken Robinson talked about, in that TED talks all those years ago, there's had millions and millions of hits, and he's so right, yes, he's fantastic TED talk is amazing. Whereas we talk in our family a lot about that there are I think there's seven types of intelligence, and how they are of equal value, they are of equal importance, there isn't one that superior just because it can be measured, is the measuring isn't it, which is why the schools are going in that direction, because it is easy to measure, then they can check the teacher that doing the job properly. And those things become considered to be more important, because you can measure them, you can measure them, you can also you can measure them. And they're also they lead to maybe more exotic or exciting workplaces, you know, it's just seen seen as more important your, your bet you're a better person somehow. Whereas empathy, you know, emotional intelligence, the creative intelligence, the physical intelligence, they're just seen as lesser than, so we talked about that, probably my daughter will have way many job opportunities, because their emotional intelligence is off the route, you know, off the charts. Yeah, and that hat does seem to have sunk in and that does really help. You know, we're looking at whole children, we want to we want our children to be whole people. They're not just walking brains who are getting grades. The perspective I would look at it from is being in the workplace, being a manager, having staff, which is a revelation, because what I discovered was that if you try and take a member of staff, and get them doing a job that they don't enjoy, or they're not particularly good at, you are not going to get good results. We all know that. And every workplace is going to require a range of skills and somehow forcing people to do things they're not particularly motivated by never works, and yet in the school environment, we are trying to get a base level across the charts of children doing well. And the children who have quite spiky profiles, so they're particularly good in one area, or they're not particularly good at anything, are punished for that. Yeah, we focus on so maybe a child is not so good in a subject and quite often the focus is on, oh, well, then we'd better get that grade up, we'd better put all our efforts into the one that's not going well. Whereas actually, it would be better to go, okay, that's subject if there is a subject or that activity that you enjoy doing, which maybe has nothing to do with school, is what makes your heart sing. Let's put our energy there and run with that and see what happens with that. And I can I can hear parents palpitating because because of course you panic because you think, well, maybe I'll let my if I let my child put so much energy into something that isn't valued in the educational system. am I letting my child Yes, that is a huge problem, because a lot of it is based in fear. It's the fear of, okay, my child's I want my child to be a success in life. But what does that even mean? And we kind of tie it into education, grades versity that's the way they want to go. Get very high now, because there's so many graduate, there's so many hot, so hard to get into. But there are so many kids that fall out of that those categories, and they're not going to be doing that. And then they end up feeling just that they're not good enough, which is a terrible starting place to start your adult life. The books that I was looking at where things like the self driven child, the Gift of Failure, thrivers and they were all books, looking at how you make your child make the most of themselves. And overall, the the message was that grades limit children sample psychologist Hora Estrace, Morano was saying, the best thing to do is to be setting self determined educational goals, not the one set by the school curriculum. So in other words, what I did with my daughter who isn't highly academic, and she has some learning difficulties, I said to her, rather than trying to be good at everything, which you're not going to be able to achieve, and worrying about whether you're going to get this grade or that grade. Why not? When you're in a class situation, think, what do I find interesting here? What you know, whatever the subject is, is there something in this that I can find interesting, and then focus on that? Yeah, just make that your, your thing that you're going to explore, and Stop panicking about trying to do everything? Yeah, that is brilliant, because it comes back to the whole idea of, actually, children are hungry to learn, and we're talking about teenagers, so they're older, but they're hungry to learn, they want to learn, but quite often, we sort of force it, ram it down their throats very, very early, you know, they start school, before they're ready, most of them, particularly the boys, and they're fed up with it. Whereas if you leave them, that's the whole sort of unschooling or the alternative school system, kids will sit and do nothing. And then they'll be like, Oh, yep, I need to know that. And I want to know that, and then they'll learn it in a flash, because they want to know, when we shove it down their throats, they go after too much, and then they switch off. So encouraging, I love that you get your daughter to pick out bits that she wants to learn. And then that's interesting and, and makes it meaningful for her. And that's what a lot of the researchers have found is that stress levels are greatly increased in everybody, when they feel that they don't have control over their lives. So when you come to children who feel that they're being forced to do all these activities and all this work, but they don't have any sense that they have control over their, what's happening in their lives, the stress levels will be increased dramatically. There's a psychologist called Wendy guralnick, who's come up in quite a few articles that I read, as well as her research, and she's an American. And she studied autonomy and looked at both supportive and controlling parents. And she found that children who were controlled by their mothers gave up much faster than those who weren't when faced with frustrating situations. And so her attitude is, you know, don't provide the solutions for your teenager until they've had the chance to work things out for themselves. We actually have to be prepared to let them struggle. Yes. And even fail even fail. Yes. Where they need to, you know, that can be the best learning board concert. You know, you don't you don't do well, oh, maybe that's okay. Maybe that's not the route they want to go down. But maybe that's the kick up the bum. They need to reprioritize or, or to work out, well. What do I like doing what what is interesting, and how can I get there? Yes. And I sat down with my daughter, again, who was finding the whole concept of having to go through years of schooling where she is not, it doesn't make her shine. She doesn't feel like a hero in her environment. And she's there every day. I said to her, Well, what what do you want to do? And she talked about university and I said, Well, the thing is, the path you're on at the moment is not University which was a massive shock to her. And because I think we will, for some reason everybody's been told nowadays that university is the answer. And I said, it doesn't mean to say you can't do that. But University is for people who really love studying, and who find a subject they absolutely love. So you need to think, are you are you going to enjoy studying? And if you are going to enjoy studying, you need to find the thing you're going to enjoy? And that's your choice. It's not I don't mind, you know, there are other things, there are all sorts of training programs, which, which are fantastic. So why not? Put them into the mix? Yeah, consideration? Yeah, we sort of prioritize the idea that, you know, University is the place to go, if you've been at secondary school, if you're able to go there, and all of that, but things have changed so much. We don't need that many academics really don't need them. Or that many debts. No, it is so unbelievably expensive. Now, I mean, my son's college had a talk last night actually about his in the lower six, about options after after college, which was really interesting. And it's just, you know, university is one option of many it's it's, there's apprenticeships, which are really booming, there's, again, this sort of hierarchy within within the system, which stresses the kids out. And we all know that stress is terrible for everything. Long term stress sighs it's interesting, because the book, the self driven child was saying that you can help your child come to an informed decision on their own rather than acting like a boss. So you kind of need to think of it as being a consultant, they have the ability to make good decisions. And again, all of these psychologists say they've done lots of tests on children of different ages. And they find that overwhelmingly, they will make really good decisions. What they don't know is the information. So actually sitting there with them and saying, so for example, again, coming back to my daughter, I said to her, you know, you don't have to go straight through to university take some time out what my friend went and worked in a filling station for two years, then thought, actually, I think I need to do some levels on board and ended up at Oxford. Yeah, because she had, she just had a different attitude to life and the the tutors, they were fascinated by her. So the truth is, we're not looking. And actually I've spoken to Oxford dons. Alright, so this is the pinnacle that people think of. I've spoken to Oxford dons who are absolutely infuriated by this, how do I get an A? How do I get a first so they come to the university with the same attitude of how do I get this? Great. Yeah. And the one particular dawn, I was talking to you said, I turned to my books on the wall, and I say, read the grades, feel the passion, come up with interesting idea, this is what we want. But what we're actually teaching our children is it's all about the grades. Yeah. And also the pressure of talking to teenagers of, you know, what do they want to do? You know, who do they want to be? It's really weird. It's almost, you know, we see childhood and teenage years as a sort of a some sort of stepping stone to real life. No, childhood and teenage years, is part of life, you know, why don't you just leave to be in that world, and stop worrying about what they're going to do what they want to be, if we can teach our children to be happy with who they are, and to be healthy and have good mental health and be comfortable and know what they like know what makes them light up, they will find what they want to do. And that's a very interesting point, because another technique that I read about was helping your child find what it is that they're passionate about. What you need to do as a parent is look at your child and see, what is it that they do, where they will keep going when it becomes difficult. So if you see them doing things, and they just give up as soon as it's tricky, that's probably not their thing. But if they are somebody, for example, in a kitchen, and they will keep going to keep trying to make the things until it's perfect, okay, that's something that gives them joy. So then, you know that this is one of their key their core loves their core skills. And you can encourage it by saying, Gosh, I, you know, I noticed that you really enjoy doing that, and reflect back to them and let the child get to the point where they say, actually, that's the thing for me. It's not because they're good at it. It's because they will persevere when it's difficult. Yeah. And if they don't have a thing, that's also fine, you know, they'll find something they will, at some point, if they know who they are, and if they feel good about themselves. The problem is when they don't feel good about themselves, and they have this feeling that you know, because school I think is designed for the good girl who works hard and gets good grades. I mean, I will. I was quite like that at school. I got good grades, I found school, okay, and I did well, so for me, it was kind of fun to get good grades, but they're not designed for everybody. So a lot of people come out of school with a feeling If they don't know what they want to do, because everyone's been asking them since the age of 11, what do you want to do? What do you want to do? They've no idea. They just want to leave. And a feeling of actually, you know, the comparison itis thing that they're not really good enough. So coming back to one of the comments, Tracy said, if you've got any tips on how do I motivate my child to revise for their GCSE? I'm all ears. And it is tricky. And I think coming back to the comments made in all these books, the point was, they need to feel that they're in control of this somehow. So when they come home, rather than saying, Have you done your homework, you say, so What time were you thinking of doing your homework so we can share your evening time around it? Or where were you thinking of doing your homework, little hints like that, and then created. So what I've done with my daughter, because she finds it very challenging, is I have said to her wait, all your electronic devices need to come in and sit on the kitchen table when you come home. And that was a little bit of pushback on that. But actually I said to her, this is not a punishment, this is I'm trying to give you space, so that you can do the things that you really should be doing, which is, you know, relaxing, doing other stuff. When you do your homework, you can do it here at the kitchen table. Or you can do it in your room. If you do it in your room, you can take your computer with you for half an hour, because you're not going to work longer than that no one does. And then you can come down for a break and then go back again if you need to. And she went away for half an hour. It was a struggle on her own. So came back and then we sat together. And actually it's been transformative, because she feels like it's her choice. And also because I had said to her so what actually are you trying to achieve here? Do you want these grades? Does it even matter? And because she wants them she wants to get better. She wants to be in better classes. She wants to be with her friends who are, you know, smart. She is now prepared to put in there that extra work, make the mistakes try again, because it's her who's doing it. It's not me. So she's got that motivation from motivations vary from inside. And I was doing that wrong before? Yeah, I mean, it's hard. I mean, then if you have a kid who who's not really bothered, gets bad grades, and doesn't care. Maybe that's fine. We don't have a structure with homework, I kind of leave leave it for them to do themselves. And they do it very differently, like one will do immediately they get home from school because they don't want it hanging over them. And the other one we doing it after bedtime. But the idea that, you know, if they don't do it, then that's on them. Yes. And they do say you have to let your child fail, you have to let them fail. But you do need to you are the person with the knowledge. So in letting them fail, you need to say so here are the consequences. Should you fail? Yeah, no, yeah, they learn them anyway. You know, they'll they'll meet them anyway. What one of them was saying was that is not about not giving them boundaries, you actually do have to have something they can push back against so that they can test their real resolve? Is this something that really matters to me or not? And if it doesn't matter, me, to me, I'm making a choice. It's not a passive choice, it's an active choice, that this really doesn't matter to me. And I don't care if I don't then have this option. Yeah, so what we need to do is present them with after all of this, here are your options. So if you don't pass these exams, so what you can do is this, that, you know, the here are your options and being really positive about not threatening them just saying. So you get these options. And if you do you get these options, and here's how you can manage this life that you're designing for yourself, you're in control, you make those choices, and providing them with a with a safe space, because sometimes that can really stress them out as well can't at the idea that they have all these choices, and it's up to them to actually it's not going very well. And now there's this and this and this on top of it. One of my kids did quite didn't do very well in some tests. And I just kind of said to you know that I you know that that doesn't matter. So she knows that you know that she's absolutely loved and accepted just for who she is. Whereas school is different, you know, you're so right. And that's the other thing is he never ever connected to your love for them. They need to know that your love is completely disconnected to anything they're managed to do in school. All the mistakes they make is irrelevant, totally irrelevant, totally. Totally. And and they value them for exactly who they are and what they bring to the table just by being who they are. What do you think? Have you found certain things work for you in your teenagers? Join our discussions on Facebook and Instagram or email us at help at teenagers untangled.com. Now on to Emma's question it which is similar, but my 14 year old is very musical that wants to stop playing the piano. Now she is grateful I'm so upset about it because when ever she seems to be good at something she goes so far, then just gives up and wants to hang with her friends, what should I do? You have failed, you must have had battles over musical instruments should be presumably your children play musical instruments. Yeah, I mean, they've all played and play. And as a musician and I teach music. It's such a hard one that I have found that hard probably because it's really close to home. Because the idea of playing a musical instrument is so it's such a brilliant thing to do both for the fact that you're learning the instrument, but it also is such an enriching thing. You know, however, the learning process can be a bit boring sometimes, you know, it's a little bit of homework, like, you know, if you put the work in for the first few years, then becomes more fun. And going to practice every time isn't interesting. You know, I've talked for years, and parents will say, yeah, they don't really want to practice. And I'd be like, well, it's not really surprising. But of course, and then where is the line between kind of dragging them up to do the practice? Because it isn't homework, it's not compulsory? And going actually, do you know what, you don't like it at all? Do you? Let's just let it go. I have personally found that difficult, because then all of mine have played instruments and have decided that they didn't want to, and all either how, or how did that go down in your household? Um, well, I mean, was it a similar situation? Yeah, I mean, my, my boys both played cello. And, you know, had played for a long time and then didn't want to play anymore. And I tried to sort of nudge them along for a long time, you know, trying to persuade, you know, just keep going thinking you could get over that period, which I think the listener is referring to where they just want to, they don't want to do that they want to, they want to hang out with their mates. cellos really uncool, it's heavy, it's annoying. They didn't seem to always also enjoy the orchestra side, which is what kept me going, I think, because I was in youth orchestra. And that was fine. It was social. They didn't seem to enjoy that either. So there wasn't really a carrot in that respect. But they there were elements they did enjoy. So I did try and nudge them over that. And then they then went, Okay, we're kind of done here, aren't we? Ouch. So it's a really interesting one, because I had stepped daughters. And I remember my husband having a conversation with the oldest one on the telephone. And I was trying to work out what they were talking about. And it turned out, it was that she was a hockey player. And she was doing her a levels. And she was finding it really hard to find time to practice and to go to the left the harp lessons. And his response was, Well, why are you doing it? And she said, Because I don't know, because that I booked in for them. And he said, What are you gaining from the lessons? And she said, Well, nothing that just stressed at the moment. He said, Well, just don't do them. Oh, well, that was it. And I think it was because he his point was, she's never going to be an international harpist. This is not going to be her career. So it's not going to be her career, what is she trying to gain from it. And they talk about flow, I'm sure some people are very familiar with the concept. Some people aren't. But flow is that stat, that mental stage, you get into when you're working in an area that you're fascinated by on a problem that you're fascinated by. And it happens in when you're playing a musical instrument where your mind just, it leaves all the other nonsense behind. And you're simply focused on the task. And this is one of the magical things you can get from playing a musical instrument. And you will be rewarded with that when you get to a certain stage, which is what you're talking about, that you want your child to get to. Yeah, it's not you don't get flow until you're technically good enough. Good enough. Exactly. And so it is very tricky. But it did, actually, you know, it rang true with me. So my daughter got to a similar stage where she was she's ever seen musical, but she just said, I'm just I'm not loving the exams. I don't really like doing the great, I don't want it. And I had been trying to get her to practice and it just, it just wasn't happening. And she said, can I give it up? And I said, Oh, okay, okay, fine. Okay. And I did, I thought, What am I doing here? But I did think about my husband who had given up the piano as well. And when I first met him, the only time he would play the piano was when he was drunk. And I said, you probably be a lot better at playing the piano if you took lessons and played when you weren't drunk. And yeah, and I read. The thing is he comes his mother was at the Royal Academy, and I think he felt quite intimidated by the importance of getting grades. And she's very, very structured. And she wants you know, when she goes to a concert, she's very critical if they're not quite right. And I think that was a real, really, he struggled with that, even though he probably wouldn't want to talk about it. And so he started taking lessons and he's now grade eight. He's now taking grade eight. Yeah. And his practice comes and goes sometimes he's really You know, works and works and works other times and and then with my, my daughter had been given a tap, she then still were so lucky. Obviously I know because we have a piano at home. This is this is an incredible luxury. But she's still tinkered. And she started doing great again. Yeah, her big grade six. Yeah, because all that time she was still fiddling. And there were things missing, like her sight reading is atrocious. And so she's never going to get grade six without improving that sight reading is really hard on this. And obviously, when I said to her, you know, when you were a little girl, you would go into school every day, you'd come back with these reader books, they were very dull. And I would make you sit down, you had to read the book, and you know, the cat settler. And, and you do remember that because it's just, it's boring. And it's practice, but you were young enough to just get through it to the point where you could actually you were fluent enough where it was enjoyable. And you have to do that with sight reading is literally just forcing yourself to go through the structure. And that's the big problem, which you were talking about, if you can kind of get your your child over that. But the truth is, what you want is you want them to have something that they can enjoy for their life. Yeah, yeah, I think it's harder from the question I think it's the hard bit is, is I think once they get to a certain age, so like the harp and the OT levels, then they kind of know whether it's important or not, it's the earlier teen years where, because I know it was mine. And from teaching as well, I've experienced it many times, and I know I experienced it myself. And suddenly other things are more important. And you just want to do what your mates are doing. And for my kids, particularly one of them, you know, his mates, none of them have anything to do with the music department. So it was a bit like he's a sporty kids, you know, they're the sporty guys. So to be dragging a cello on the train, having to go to lessons when it's football practice was not cool. He just wanted to be, he just wanted to hang out with his mates and not be having to do orchestra and stuff like that. So for him, it was very much a social thing. And I think that comes you know, with the question of, she just wants to hang out with her mates. So where do you draw the line? I think it's just a conversation you have to have with your kid, you know, try and find out? How important is playing? Is there any enjoyment there? Or is it pure? But also, what is it about hanging out with your mates? That means you now can't play an instrument? The truth is, those teenagers are critical in developing some of these social skills. So it's not like she's not actually gaining skills. But she's what she's done is she's focusing in a completely new area. And maybe if you actually sit down and ask her, you know what it is about being with her friends, that's so important. How is there any way that she can fit these other skills in? Or perhaps just park it and say, you know, it does give you this joy? Don't forget that. Yeah. Get your friends. What are social skills, that's what that's what I did, I think otherwise, I probably wouldn't have carried on I, I went to lots of youth orchestras as a teenager. And we did lots of exciting things. And that was very social. I don't remember doing a lot of practice to be on the back the person wasn't quite in time, but she was really nice. But it's actually relevant. Because also, for example, in sport, I have a friend whose son was excellent fencing really, really good. And he was told by his fencing teacher, if you just keep going, you could fence for England and then and he just came back and said, you know, what, just just doesn't cut it with my mates. They think it's like Bally. Yeah. And I want to get I want to be a rugby player, I want I want to get good at that. So he dropped it. Yeah, in spite of the fact he was really good at it, to to focus all his energy on it, because that gave him his social kudos. And he became, you know, the guy that everybody wanted to be around. And we have to sort of accept sometimes our kids you know, you may think you could be so good at this. And except that this isn't the direction they want to go. And they want and this matters much more to them. And I think they do carry on with it if it's that important. They do carry on with it. And we and we also mustn't belittle the the idea of wanting to be with your mates as a kid as a teenager is kind of aligned with survival. It's it's so important that you feel that you fit in, and that you have have a social system that works, you know, whatever kind of a child you are, it's really really key. It does become key. It's one of those pointers for it. Yes. It's not just I want to hang out with my mates is actually really important. Yeah, and learning those social skills which will help them in the workplace. Have you been affected by any of these issues? Do you have a different opinion or any tips for us? You can get in touch using our email help at teenagers untangled.com or find our discussion groups on Facebook or Instagram. Next week, we will look at the tricky area of body image and the issues it throws up. And our listener question. Whenever I asked my child to do something around the house, he just says why me and claims that I don't ask the other kids to do these things. What can I do? In the meantime, if you'd like to learn more about mindfulness Susie has a course starting in February. You can find details on Susie as Lee mindfulness.co.uk. That's it for now. Thanks for listening. Speak to you next time. Bye