Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Homework and projects
“…For each one will bear his own load” -Gal. 6:5
Homework and school projects are a regular part of any teenager’s school experience. Some teachers pile it on while others try to let students do their homework in class. Either way, homework is just part of the academic game. There are multiple ways a parent can respond to homework, but be sure you let your kids own it.
When I was in 7th grade, I entered the Fort Worth public schools Science Fair. I was attending Monning Middle School and I think we got extra credit for entering. And I had a great idea for a project (so I thought). My hypothesis was that plants give off oxygen. I would prove my remarkable theory by using 4 large pickle jars, some aquatic plants and a few gold fish. I put water and 3 goldfish in each pickle jar. But in jar 1, I put a minimal amount of plants, in jar 2, more plants and so on. My theory was that the fish in jar 1 would die first and the fish in jar 4 would die last. They, after all, were getting more oxygen, so they should live longer. I was already envisioning a writing contract and $1000 an hour on the speaking circuit. And, at 12 years old, I already had my dissertation well under way for my Ph.D. And, I would win the blue ribbon!
But an interesting thing happened. The fish in jar 4 died first and the fish in jar 1 died last. And to make it worse, they all died way ahead of schedule. So, by the time my parents and I took my project to the science hall at TCU, my project was a disaster and smelled like dead fish. Needless to say, I didn't win a ribbon and I never wrote that book. And, to this day, I don't like pickles or fish.
Here’s what I don't remember about that whole episode: my parents helping me. My dad was a doctor and my mom a nurse, so I know they had the knowledge to assume my project would flop, but they apparently let me own it. I’m sure they helped me fill the jars and go buy the fish, but they let me own the project. My success or failure depended on me, not them. They were apparently secure enough to live with my PhD or my failure, either way.
That’s because they were willing to live with themselves. They were secure enough to let me own my life. Sure, I was devastated after the science fair loading up my pickle jars in the back of the station wagon and watching Lori (name changed) parade around the parking lot with her blue ribbon. I wanted to go pour my fishy water out of my jars all over her project, but I would have caused some sort of diseased outbreak all over North Texas. So I restrained myself and sulked all the way home.
I learned an important lesson that Saturday. I learned to never enter a science fair project! No, what I learned was that I can fail. I already know how to win. But the losing was different. Of course, I’m still learning how to lose.
Most importantly, I learned that it was okay with mom and dad if I lost. They still loved me. When we do the projects and homework for our kids, we’re basically telling them it’s not okay if they aren't the best. We’re telling them we love what they do, not who they are.
So, mom and dad, back off! Do the hardest thing imaginable, nothing. Let your kids own the project. Sure, help them a little, but let them own it.
Be a parent that loves your kids without conditions. Let your teen know that they’re awesome, pickle jars and all.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©