So, I had a bit of an evening with The Eldest Child yesterday. Let me put it into context. He is 17 years old and is in his first year of studying for his A levels. He has always been fairly lazy when it comes to school work (or any kind of work for that matter, that involves him moving away from his computer games) however, he is also a bright boy so the laziness has not affected his grades or hindered him from doing well. Frustratingly, this means that he could do exceptionally well if he put any kind of effort into his studies but he has always been a ‘as much as needs to be done’ kind of kid. He has also always veered to certain subjects, such as geography, biology, history, anything that involves the natural world or bygone eras. When he is interested in something, he will read about it and has the ability to retain data and statistics that astonishes me. For example, he would be able to reel off the height of certain dinosaurs and how many millions of years ago they lived, along with all sorts of other information and without having to stop and think about it. Subsequently, when he left school to go to sixth form elsewhere and decided to continue to study his preferred subjects, I did not expect there to be a problem. For one thing he was now only focused on the subjects that he was already interested in and for another, we had supported him in his decision to move away from his current school to a different one, where he already had friends and had less travelling to do.
How wrong was I?
He struggled to settle in. His friends were now in the year above him and most of the other students were kids who had been in that school throughout their senior school years and therefore all knew each other. As the new boy he occasionally got teased, though he was more than capable of standing up for himself and did. He had moved from a comprehensive school to a grammar school, where the rules were stricter. His previous school had begun to treat the older students as young adults, however the current school seemed to treat them as though they were on the same level as the younger kids, which he did not appreciate. I started to get emails about his absence and lateness, which culminated in a meeting with the Head of Year. It was the worst meeting I have ever attended. Eldest Child told us that he had actually not missed that much school but conceded that he had been late on numerous occasions. Therefore, the absences were clearly a mistake on the part of the school and the teachers had not marked him in on those occasions when he had been late. After he had given this explanation, he refused to answer anymore questions and for the next forty-five minutes, sat there saying “no comment”. I was mortified. The Head of Year explained that at 85% attendance if the school were making that many mistakes, then that was a serious issue which would need to be investigated. “No comment”. I tried to be as supportive as I could. I questioned him as to whether he felt he had made a mistake in changing schools. “No comment”. I suggested that he have a think and if he did feel that he should have stayed at his previous school then he needs to talk to me, as this is something that I could sort out. “No comment”.
Shortly after this meeting the pandemic reached crisis levels and the country went into lockdown. The Eldest Child seemed to see this as the start of his summer holidays and took it as an opportunity to refrain from doing any school work. Consequently, he got really behind and the work began to pile up. We tried encouraging him, motivating him and finally giving him consequences. The only thing he wanted to do was sit on his computer, talking to his friends via a headset. So, of course, this was what we took away. After the initial shouting and whining, he would complete his work and we would then allow him to have his equipment back. This has since become a routine. We have of course tried other methods of motivation. The Husband, who has still been working as he is working alone, took him to work with him initially. The Eldest Child was paid for the work he did and we felt that it was a good way of getting him out of the house, whilst giving him the opportunity to earn his own money. After a couple of days, he refused to go and wouldn’t get out of bed. Once lockdown restrictions were eased, I allowed him on one occasion to meet two friends in the park (while socially distancing of course), thinking contact with his friends would do him good. All to no avail. He basically spends the whole day in bed and will only complete school work when his tech equipment is removed.
By this point in the story, I am hearing cries of if he was mine, I would do this, that and the other. I have been one of those people in the past who have made such comments. We are not parents who are push overs, I have been told I am one of the strictest parents one person knows. At the same time, we are not making our children live in some kind of totalitarian state. We have certain expectations, mainly to do with school work and behaviour and there are consequences if the kids step out of line. However, we are also fairly laid back in the sense that, as long as they are meeting these expectations we are not on their backs. We have tried to enforce rotas for chores but to be quite frank I find it so stressful I end up doing everything myself. Currently the situation is that all tech devices are turned off at a reasonable time in the evening, for everybody. This is to keep a good routine and encourage the children to get into good sleep patterns, rather than staying up all night playing computer games. No gaming is allowed until school work has been completed. If schoolwork is not completed, then there will be less gaming time. Which I think is fair enough.
I would also like to mention, at this point, that Eldest Child is going to be 18 in six months time. He is not a little kid who I can put into ‘time out’ or use other methods that may work on younger children. He sees himself as practically an adult and will argue and stubbornly refuse to do the things he doesn’t want to do. Other than taking away his tech (and occasionally threatening to kick him out) I am not really sure how to discipline an ‘almost adult’. Also, it becomes difficult to confiscate items that he has bought himself, with his own money that he has earned.
The other point that I would like to address, which I am sure has crossed your mind by now, is the likelihood that he is depressed. While I concede that this is a definite possibility, I also believe that the problem is most likely caused by teenage hormones. While he is technically almost an adult, puberty has hit him later than some of his peers. At the age of 14/15 when his friends were beginning to experience moodiness and sullenness, he was still a regular little boy. I used to comment to The Husband how lucky we were that he had not caused us any trouble, considering how some teenage boys behave. While I still feel he hasn’t caused us any real trouble, he is definitely experiencing the mood swings and hormonal crashes that I would expect of a younger teenage boy.
So back to yesterday. The Eldest Child’s tutor rang to speak to him, as he was ringing all the students just to check in. I said I would like to speak to him first and proceeded to explain the situation to him. I pointed out that Eldest Child had got behind with his school work, simply down to his own laziness and while he had now caught up, I was still receiving emails from teachers to say that there was still work that was outstanding (as in late not amazing). The tutor didn’t really offer me any constructive advice but he did confirm that sometimes he does see boys of this age experiencing the symptoms of puberty related hormones and it is just very unfortunate that it happens while they are in the middle of their A levels. He then requested to speak to The Eldest Child. I took the phone up to him, as, despite it being 4.40pm he was still lounging in his bed. Well he refused to speak to the man on the phone. Every time I tried to hand him the phone, he would either push it away or try to press the off button. OMG I was mortified. I had to get on the phone and explain to the tutor that he refused to speak. The tutor seemed surprised and really didn’t know want to say. Both him and myself couldn’t end the call quick enough. Of course, I went pretty mental. I will admit, I probably over reacted. I told him quite a few home truths about his laziness and bad attitude and what he could do if he didn’t sort himself out. All gaming equipment was confiscated. Later he came downstairs to tell me that I was wrong to shout at him, why would he want to talk to the man on the phone. I pointed out that he was his teacher and all he was doing was checking in to see if there was anything he could help with. I was clearly told that he doesn’t want to talk to his teacher and “why should I?” In the next breath he asked for his gaming equipment! Erm no!
The reason I have written about this experience, is not to be told what a bad parent I am and how I could be doing it better. The reason I have written about this is because all the home-schooling lockdown stories I have read, have been about how difficult and exhausting it is to home-school younger kids. I have not yet read anything about the difficulties of encouraging and motivating sixth formers, who are not quite adults, to keep up with their studies. I do appreciate that most kids who are studying for their A levels want to do well and are trying to get good grades to earn a place on their preferred university course. The Eldest Child is no different in this. He has picked out a degree course that he wants to do and he knows that he has to get three A grades to get a place. However, his hormones (and/or his bad attitude) seem determined to get in the way of him achieving this. I just wanted those of you who may be in a similar situation to know that I hear you. Not all teenagers experience puberty at the same age and for some it does cause depression and lack of interest in the world around them. Some of you may be finding your ‘man child’ hard to handle for other reasons. If anyone has any (sensible and well meaning) suggestions for motivating or disciplining your almost grown child then I would be interested in hearing them.