Updated: Feb 21, 2020
“And I’m FREE! Free fallin’!” belts Tom Petty (or John Mayer in the softer rendition if that’s your thing) in one of my favorite jams.
Make no mistake. I so, so love this song, but I’m going to argue against this Tom Petty lifestyle choice of stumbling down his own path into the future. As he free falls “out into nothin,” where does he head in his teen and young adult years? Onto which path does he enter?
As for being free, well, let’s be honest here. America allows us to have freedom of speech, and I’m about to rock that.
Public school is free in America. When something is free, we as humans, take it for granted, and that’s the reality for many in our public school system. While it’s a gift that school is free for us, I want to remind you that there are children throughout the world who would give anything to be educated and that many children in the world travel great distances through dangerous terrain in order to be educated. Although this statement is true, it's probably not motivational to your teen. So, how can we make something that is free to us something that is valued? Let’s dive into this.
In elementary school, children are provided with a smaller learning environment and a sense of belonging with their individual class. At this age, kids are often pleasers. They want to please their teachers, and they want to please their parents, even if they are acting out in order to receive attention. Attention is communication, and children want to be loved. If your child does not value school at this age, there is a lot you can do to get them on board with the fun of education. Bring joy into learning through studying like a game. Even if school is challenging for your child, you still have that sense of belonging. As parents, nurture that belonging. Nurture those big feelings and big lessons that are so very real for your little one. Love on your child. Listen to your child. Collaborate with the teacher to bring school home because I assure you that your child is bringing home to school. I would love for a small learning community to continue into the middle school and high school years; however, things generally get increasingly complicated and increasingly large once middle school hits. Fasten your seat belts, folks.
In middle school, there are more and more teachers and students and personalities to navigate and figure out. Your tween probably has various binders and a locker and are on the move attempting to look like they're in a groove and simply fit in. Tweens and teens start questioning you and their teachers, and this is okay. Stay with me. We’ll get there. We all know that there are lots of hormones and body changes and a search for personal identity. With all of the changes and with all of the growth often comes questions like these: Why am I in school? Why am I here?
The organization Teen Skills supports, “When an adolescent lacks motivation, the end result is often a teen lacking self-confidence, a teen with a bad attitude, or perhaps even a teen with behavior problems.”
We question things as adults. Why should our teens be any different? It’s human to question things. Adults, we’re constantly questioning what we’re going to read or watch on Facebook, Instagram, or in the media. We ask if we should pay attention to this. Our kids have doubts and questions, too. It’s important for us as adults to support those doubts and support those questions and say, “Hey, this social studies class matters, so we can understand our history and how to vote, etc.”
Parents, get online with your kids and start looking at different careers. If you’re looking at four year colleges, do you want a Bachelors of Science, or Arts, of Fine Arts? It’s all okay! Do you want to seek out a trade? Do you want to get your Associate's degree? Do you want to become a hairstylist? Decorate houses? Build houses? Become a scientist? What lights your fire? What speaks to you?
By 6th grade, goals should be mapped out. Make a vision board. Change it up as your teen grows and changes. Be a part of the team; let your child be the visionary leader.
If we can get our teens excited about their goals and passions and understand that school is the stepping stone to get there, that is when the magic happens.
Teachers and parents, THIS is critical to make school important right now. It’s not too early to start making goals and plans for what happens when this warm school comfort blanket is taken away. School is everything your child can remember at this point.
That oh so critical sense of belonging is found in the teen years through joining a club, sports group, mentor program, church group. Everyone needs a place to belong.
As humans, we always need a goal, and we always need something to look forward to in life be it this week, this month, this year, this decade, this lifetime.
If your child or teen changes their goals, no problem! That’s human nature. To have a goal gives you motivation. To have a passion gives you inspiration.
How many times do our children and students ask, “Why do I need to learn this? I won’t need this for real life.” This is the time for real conversations. This is when you say to your child, “Yes, you do need to learn this, and here is why.”
Think about it yourself, parents. Why does that class matter? School has to have meaning! This is the time to map out goals, and this is the time to openly discuss why Biology is, in fact, a stepping stone to your, unique, beautiful, wonderful path.
For my special needs learners, we need to understand the reality that some life skills look different for others. If your child is a “life skills” child, what do their goals look like? Is a trade school appropriate? Whether your child is a special needs child or a gifted learner, by 6th grade, 7th grade, and 8th grade, you should have some goals mapped out with your child. They may not get this at school.
Parents, when you do not value school, your child won’t either. They are watching you.
And to our dear Tom Petty, you were a visionary for song creations. Thank you for inspiring our future musicians with your legacy.