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To parents of Teens- The Teacher Who Cares Perspective

| I think we all agree that children need to do more than just learn new skills. One of the most important things that you’ll do as a parent is to help your children learn how to deal with challenges in life.”

Today, I want to turn the tables. Instead of addressing this podcast to students, I want to speak to the parents, as a parent myself, and as a high-school teacher.


  • Why your kids are not always ready to learn when you are ready (or want) to teach them
  • The “basketball team” analogy to demonstrate why you should let your child get in the real game and experience real consequences
  • What role does a parent play in a child’s development
  • Why you should resist the temptation to help your child complete difficult tasks
  • Powerful advice for the teen as well

     And so much more.


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So I know that most of my listeners are teenagers, middle school students, and high school students who have great ambitions and want to attend some of the top schools in the world. And a smaller section of my listeners is college counselors who work at high schools around the United States and around international schools around the world, as well as parents who just listen in. Today I want to turn the tables instead of speaking directly to the middle school and high school students that I so often do in my podcast and allowing the parents to just kind of listen in.

Today I wanna speak to the parents, and I'm happy that a lot of teenagers are listening in as well. It is so important. And I want you to see this as a plea from someone from my perspective, from the high school teacher's perspective. I think we all agree that children need to do more than just learn new skills, right? They need to be challenged, they need to solve hard problems, and they need to develop values. You probably agree with me that helping your children learn how to do difficult things is one of the most important things you'll do as a parent because life will throw them a lot of challenges down the line.

And their best defense is a track record of facing and overcoming challenges. Yet, that's kind of a tricky thing to do. Because among other reasons, children learn when they're ready to learn, not when you are ready to speak or ready to teach them. I remember years ago watching a talk show where the parents of six children, all of these children, were happy and successful in their marriages and in their work. They were raising kids of their own. And the goal here was to figure out just to discuss what the wins were and what were the things that these parents did well. That helped encourage their children to go on and lead happy and successful lives.

It was quite interesting because when the host asked the children, they talked about all these memories that they had a moment while they were growing up.

The parents consistently said I don't remember that. I didn't know that, and I didn't remember that. And then, when it was time for the parents to discuss the things that they thought made the biggest differences, they told their stories and talked about how they prepared for difficult conversations, et cetera, et cetera. And then it was the children's turn to say, and I don't remember that at all. That's fascinating, right? Because children learn when they're ready to learn. You don't even know when they're learning as parents. They certainly don't learn when you are ready to teach them. I want to bring up an analogy that I really like. Let's call it the basketball team analogy. I assume that everyone knows that five players play on the basketball court at any given time, and they play against the other team who also has five players on the court. However, because you're running so hard during that game, you get tired, or you get hurt, and it's important to have other players on your team that can come into the game and play.

What happens if you're the parent or you're the coach of this team? And you trust 56, maybe seven players to play. You have other players that are also very talented, but you don't trust them as much because they don't have the experience. Game after game, you play your best, five or six or seven players, the entire game. You win every game in blowout wins, 25, 35 point wins. And the other players on the team watch from the bench. This is great because you're playing your best players the entire game, and they're really good. They beat the other teams, and you win by large margins, 25, 35 points.

What happens when you get to the championship game? And the other team is a little better than the teams you've been facing. And that other team plays remarkably. And suddenly, you have to work very, very hard just to keep up and to keep a small lead. Halfway through the game, your top five or your top seven players are exhausted. Meanwhile, the other team has had players all the way down to the top 12 players who have been playing regularly throughout the season. As the coach, you look down the bench, and your top seven are too tired; you cannot keep pushing them. So you look down the bench, and you look for someone that you can trust to play during the championship game in these key moments. But you don't have anyone that you can trust because they've never played in key moments. They don't know the pressure. They don't understand, and they've never lived, and they've never proven themselves in the pressure cooker of a real game. You have to continue playing your starters. Your top seven, of course, wear out over the course of the game, and you lose the championship.

The truth is, the whole time, you might have had trust issues with those other players, but they were capable of playing in those games throughout the seat. Isn't. You didn't let them play because you are so comfortable winning. And even when you were winning by large amounts, you just let your best players continue playing. What happens when no one else has ever played in key moments in these high-pressure moments is that you lose the biggest game of all. When children are not placed in difficult circumstances, and when they're not asked to step up in pressure circumstances and find solutions, then they lose confidence that they will be able to. Yet teenagers are not ready to learn when parents are ready to teach.

How do you do this? What role does the parent play in a child's development? You don't know which skills will be most useful in 10 to 15 years. Think about the most popular jobs today. Almost all of them are in computer programming and tech and app building. These are jobs that didn't exist the way that they do today, 10 or 15 years ago, even. So we don't know which specific skills are the important ones to build. The mindset, then the mindset that I can learn, new skills that I can develop myself, that I can solve problems, that if I don't have what I need to succeed right now, I can go get it, I can go learn it, I can go recruit it. I can reach out to those who can help me.

In other words, the mindset that I can do hard things is the key. Think about what happens when the focus is on winning. Right? And a lot of parents' homes, even when kids are young, the focus is on winning because self-esteem comes from winning. It's great. We participate in a lot of different activities, and we participate more in the activities that we do well. We get ribbons or trophies for participation sometimes, but often because we did, well, parents sometimes care more about the awards than the children do, but they collect them and continue talking about it. Let's be honest, and it is much easier to congratulate a child for a win than it is to console that child after a loss or a failure. We might even be tempted as parents to step in so that we can ensure their success or at least we can mitigate the pain.

Let me give you another example that's a little closer to the age of the students that I work with and your teenagers. What happens when your teen announces that he or she has a big report or project the next day? The grade does matter. You don't want your child to get poor marks. You might think that good grades equal positive self-esteem.

What are you going to do? It's dinner time; the project or the paper is due tomorrow. Are you going to stay up late with your child to help them complete the project? What happens when your teen crashes? Because they're so sleep-deprived that they can't make it long enough. So the project isn't completely finished. They're not functioning. Normally. You're tempted to perhaps even finish the project for the teenager. What a quick win it might be. The team would wake up in the morning with full confidence that their project was finished. They would have something to turn in, and their grade would be saved, a win, win. They might even be grateful that you are able to step in and help them. What did the child learn? They learned, among other things, that good grades are more important than the work they learned. I'm not competent in solving my own problems. They learned. I'm not good enough. They also learned I don't need to plan ahead. I don't need to be organized. I don't need to work hard to get what I want.

In fact, the more difficult but more brave thing to do would be to ask the child to solve his or her own problem. Share total empathy, absolutely. Tomorrow the project is due. That sounds horrible. What are you going to do? If the child is not bailed out, he or she will either work hard and get something ready to turn in, or they will get a bad grade, maybe even both. It is difficult for parents to watch their children feel bad after making a mistake. But that tinge of regret is the beginning of learning real personal responsibility. So I get it. Parents' default instincts are often to support a child in a difficult moment. But if children and teenagers don't get real experiences, facing challenges and making mistakes along the way, they will not develop the resiliency they need for a better life. And here's the kicker. If the child doesn't learn to take responsibility early, they will almost certainly learn it later when the stakes are much higher.

And so, among the things that I want you to consider, if you are lucky enough to have a teacher who wants to provide consequences for cheating or disrupting the classroom, do not try to save your team. Be empathetic to your team. Absolutely total empathy, man. I made that mistake once, too. That was really hard. What are you going to do? What's your plan? What are you thinking right now? How are you going to solve this? What do you think the next step is? You're struggling with that. I'm so sorry, that sounds difficult, but always allow them to experience the real consequences and allow them to recognize that they have what it takes to solve their problems.

And if they don't solve it at this time, let them learn. They will feel that regret very quickly. And I know it sounds terrible, but you can almost be grateful that it is happening because those are the moments when they're willing to listen. And you can share genuine empathy and say, I know it hurts so badly. This was a mistake that really cost. This had real consequences that hurt. You can share that empathy without diving in and saving them. Why is all this so important? And why am I hoping that some teenagers are listening in as I speak to the parents? Because the parent is willing to let them get into the game, into the high-pressure circumstances of the basketball game, they can develop the skills, and they're going to make mistakes. They don't have the experience that the starting five players have. But they developed that experience by scraping their knee, by making mistakes, by failing, and then trying to think about what they could have done better by going back home and training and getting into better shape and learning new techniques and new form and everything else that goes into being a better performer.

Under no circumstances is my saying that you should throw a child into the deep end of the pool and then hope that they survive. If there is abuse or if there is bullying. And if the circumstances really do require that someone with more experience and someone with more authority steps in to solve a real issue, then parents might need to step in. But outside of those circumstances, when the pain of regret is the consequence that a teen is going to feel as a result of their actions, let them take the actions, let them make the mistakes, let them lose their friends, and then win them back, let them struggle in school and be there for them, with empathy, with love, and with support, when they ask for it, when they need it, and when it's completely appropriate.

And just as a quick last message to the teenagers listening in, thank you for making it all the way to the end. I want you to encourage your teachers and your parents to allow you a little bit of extra freedom. That doesn't mean that they allow you to stay up later at night or allow you to go make decisions that are obviously going to hurt you or hurt others. What that means instead is that you say, I know that I'm going to have a difficult time learning this new skill or doing this new thing. And I just wanna go for it. I just want to try it. I wanna step up. I wanna face something challenging, and I wanna prove to myself that I can do hard things. I know I'm going to struggle, and I really appreciate that you're there for me and you can support me when I ask for it and when I need it. But in the meantime, I really appreciate you letting me learn and figure this stuff out. It's hard for you to watch, I know, but I'm going to make the best choices that I can. And I really appreciate that you can support me and encourage me to go do things that are harder than I've done before.

Allow me to try to punch above my weight, allow me to try to do things that I've never done before, allow me to make those mistakes, but continue pushing myself To progress, to learn, to grow, to be better. That's the mindset that I don't have everything that I need to succeed. I don't have everything. I don't know everything that I need to know, and I don't have everything that I need to have in order to do the thing that I want to do. I'm going to go learn the things that I need to know. I'm going to go study and find the people who can help me to learn the things that I need to know and to get the things that I need to have, that I can do the things I want to do, that mindset that I can figure this out, that I can do hard things.

That is the one skill that you can't leave high school without.