With a mix of remote and in-person learning and back again, it is no wonder my oldest is ready for school to end. At the same time, the teachers are trying to find a balance of fun and packing in all the last-minute things for a successful end of the year. I’m sure teachers everywhere feel like there is “never enough time” once the warm days start to settle in and the calendar turns to the last month of school.
Last week, we received an email from my son’s teacher that read, “We are not done yet and I need your help encouraging your children to stay focused.”
“Yeah, right!” I thought as I stared at my unmotivated 11-year-old who was clearly over it.
He’s “over” the pandemic. He’s “over” having to wear a mask all the time (what pre-teen/teen isn’t? Heck, what grown-up isn’t?). He’s “over” remote instruction. And, he’s “over” learning. This is all evident in his attitude, lack of motivation and general disinterest in doing anything school-related. But, he needs to focus and get through that home stretch.
In reflecting on the teacher’s message, I could hear the exhaustion.
Her, “I’m over it, too,” sung out like a warrior’s battle cry. My heart reached out to hers and I couldn’t help but think that she’s probably even more “over it” than her students are. She is “over” sanitizing desks. “Over” teaching her students through a mask. “Over” feeling as though she is behind and didn’t serve her students well enough with inadequate resources. “Over” coming up with lessons plans for both remote and in-person students.
So, I did what any parent would do when they desperately need their child to behave a certain way. I bribed him. I approached my kid and asked what it would take to get him to push himself these last few weeks of school. A lifetime supply of ice cream? Late bedtime for the next year? Money for every good grade he brought home? He looked at me with wide eyes and said, “Screen time.”
In all seriousness, I knew what the answer would be. This takes some re-training from my end, though. I’m pretty stingy when it comes to screen time. I blame it on all the adolescent brain studies that I read when my kids were younger. Gray matter just isn’t an appealing term when I am trying my hardest to develop healthy, well-rounded children. I had come to terms with following the guidelines from my pediatrician which now, with remote learning where kids are forced onto devices all day, were fuzzy at best. I was allowing 30 minutes of recreational screen time a day and whenever my kids would misbehave, I was quick to take it away. But, that wasn’t fair to them.
They needed that decompression time and with all of their friends spending hours playing video games, they felt uncool and out of the loop of pop culture. So, instead of taking the screen time away for bad behavior, I chose to use screen time as a reward for good behavior. I tested out my new approach this past weekend with some lingering school assignments to make sure it was the motivating factor that was needed. I told my son that for every assignment completed, he would earn 30 minutes of screen time. I also added a few chores to the list. Lo and behold, the list was complete by the end of the weekend and he was happily playing his favorite video games. The bonus was that I got some help with the household chores sans the eye-rolling!
The following Monday, on our way to school, I asked him how he felt going into the week knowing that he had tied up his school work. His response was, “I feel less stressed.” I agreed and told him that it always feels food to be caught up on our deadlines.
Life lessons come in many forms with our children. Finding your motivation to get the job done is one that is especially important. I could have kept repeating how critical it was to get school work done on time or badger him about not completing it and then take away screen time. The result of those scenarios would have been frustration and anger for both of us. By switching up the approach to help him find his motivation, I’m teaching him a life skill that will help him no matter what the task. And, after all, that’s our job as parents, isn’t it? To equip our kids with the tools and knowledge that they need in order to make good choices and not only be successful, but also feel successful.