My son had an ambitious plan. He would drop out of college and focus on his music. All his life, I had urged him to discover what he was created to do and pursue what God had laid on his heart. I just didn't think it would be this — at least not if it meant skipping college. But music was his passion. College wasn't. He had made up his mind.
At first, I didn't know how to respond. I believe kids should be allowed to experience the consequences of their decisions, but the stakes get higher as they get older. The school of hard knocks has an increasingly difficult curriculum. But since its lessons are thorough, I told my son that if he wanted this bad enough to try to make it on his own — without expecting our financial support — he had my blessing.
After about six months, he realized how hard it is to earn a living with a band, and he came to another decision. He would still continue to pursue his dream, but he would also develop a backup plan — which included re-enrolling in college. He held on to his vision but balanced it with realism.
I probably could have forced that decision on my son, but that wouldn't have changed his heart. He would have continued to restlessly look forward to the day he could get out from under his dad's plan for his life. Instead, he got a life-altering perspective on the realities of working for a goal.
The decision to finish school was his. And this time, he was motivated to do well at college.
The importance of failure
Letting children face the consequences of their choices shouldn't begin with something as significant as a career decision. It needs to start much earlier. When our four children were young, my wife and I often had to remind ourselves not to obey our natural impulse to fix their problems.
Learning cause and effect through success and failure is part of a necessary maturing process. Intervening can interrupt that process. Kids can't become responsible adults without failing sometimes.
One way we used failure to teach our kids responsibility was by requiring them to set their own alarm clock and get up when it rang. We were tired of prying them out of bed each morning and making sure they ate breakfast, got dressed and caught the bus. And we were tired of driving them to school when they missed the bus. At a certain age (about 11 or 12 in our house) kids should be able to handle those responsibilities. So we implemented a rule: Whoever overslept and missed breakfast or the bus would suffer the consequences — hunger until lunchtime, detention after school, makeup assignments.
Yet we had a strong urge to intervene — no parent enjoys seeing his children get into messes — but we resisted. It didn't take long for our kids to learn to discipline themselves each morning. The short-term pain of their bad decisions was much easier on them than the long-term power struggle many families go through. We had no more nagging or heated arguments. Just consequences.
Learning to struggle
We do our children a disservice when we cover for them or alleviate the consequences of their choices. Parents who write a note to the teacher explaining why their child once again failed to finish his homework set up the child for a lifetime of seeking special treatment — and frustration when it isn't given. Parents who push for their child to get the lead role in a play — even when he doesn't deserve it — deny the child the opportunities for growth that come with failure and disappointment.
Kids never learn how to cope with life when parents do all the coping for them. They enter adulthood without the confidence that they'll be able to handle whatever comes their way.
To make it in this world, kids need to know how to struggle. They need to learn how to persevere for a hard-fought victory and how to handle disappointment when victory doesn't come. They need to understand that they reap what they sow and that life isn't always fair.
In order to learn these things, they'll have to experience a lot of bumps and bruises. Some will be self-inflicted, and others will be imposed on them by a sinful world. But all of their wounds can become a lifelong lesson in how to stand strong.
Your kids will have to learn these hard lessons sooner or later, and sooner is better. Once they become adults, the world won't clean up after their mistakes, and it won't nurse their wounds when they are treated unfairly. If they've learned wisdom and responsibility early, they'll reap the benefits for a lifetime.
The role of parents
A parent's job is not to make sure a child has a smooth or comfortable life. Our role is to put safeguards around them when they're young to keep them from ultimate harm; to gradually widen those safeguards as they mature; and to help them to grow into the person God wants them to be.
The son who once dropped out of college eventually earned his degree. Later, as a newly married man, he told me he was moving to Nashville, Tenn., to pursue the dream God had put on his heart. I wasn't thrilled with his decision, but I gave him my blessing anyway.
Yes, he might fail again, but I knew it wouldn't happen because he was naive. From his earlier experience, he knew what it would take to succeed. And the second time he actually did. He's now a successful songwriter — and standing strong in the trials of life.
This article first appeared in the Parents Edition of the April, 2007 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. Copyright © 2007 Chip Ingram. All rights reserved.
Homework Study Hall:
Mandatory "Make Up"
for Missed Work
Startled by the number of failing grades his students were receiving, principal David Chambers of Cantwell Sacred Heart of Mary High School in Montebello, California, made making up missed work a mandatory activity. The policy has produced more honor students, raised the average GPA, and improved teacher morale. Could it work for your school? Included: Lessons Chambers has learned along the way -- and tips for starting your own homework study hall program!
Several years ago, the vice principal of Cantwell Sacred Heart of Mary High School moved on. Principal David Chambers fulfilled both roles for part of the summer, until a replacement was found. One of the tasks Chambers performed was a review of the records of students who had received failing grades -- and what he discovered shocked him. He found that many students had failed a course and, among those students, several had multiple Fs. Chambers knew something had to change.
"Failing grades are a common concern at high schools and a problem that is tough to solve," said the Montebello, California, educator. "It was obvious that homework was the area we needed to tackle first. Our teachers felt that if our students would consistently do their homework, grades would automatically increase because students would have a better understanding of the material."
The solution was obvious: Chambers created a mandatory homework policy. Students would be required to make up missed homework assignments by the next day, either before or after school.
Processing the Data
Chambers assigned an administrator to oversee the process of tracking missed homework assignments, notifying students when they needed to attend a "homework study hall," contacting parents, and maintaining the flexibility of the program so it easily could be adapted as problems were identified. (At the beginning of the program, those tasks took about four hours per day, but now that the project is established, the task takes only about an hour each day.) In addition, two teachers receive a stipend to proctor the morning and afternoon homework sessions, and a college student works part-time entering the homework data into a database Chambers designed using Microsoft Access.
"Teachers fill out a simple homework study hall form," Chambers explained. "Many of our teachers have the student fill out the form, and then they check it for accuracy. One part of the form goes to the student, another to the data processor, another stays with the teacher, and another goes to the proctors. Students can complete missing assignments after school at 2:50 p.m. or before school at 7:00 a.m. That choice eliminates complaints from coaches and/or moderators, and provides students who receive [after-school] detention for another infraction no reason to skip it."
After five missed assignments, a letter is sent to the student's parents; after ten missed assignments, an appointment is made with the parents and administrator. If students fail to hand in 15 assignments on time, they are placed on academic probation; after 20 missed assignments a student might appear before an academic board to determine whether he or she should remain at the school. Students rarely have to appear before the board.
Reaction to the mandatory homework policy and study halls has surprised Chambers. Many students have been very positive about the program; they seem to like the added incentive to complete their homework. The average GPA increased immediately by almost half of a grade point, and even the performance of the honor students improved.
"We didn't consider the fact that honor students don't always do their homework," he said. "When all students began to do their homework, our honor roll went from 32 percent of the student body to more than 50 percent."
Although the effect of "homework study hall" has been less striking during the second year of the program, the school still has about half the number of failing grades that it had before initiating the policy; and the average GPA is a quarter of a point higher than it was before the policy was initiated. Chambers believes that some teachers are using homework study hall less often, and that other teachers grade more strictly because of increased student performance.
"Our teachers are very happy with the program," Chambers observed. "Its initial effect was to increase faculty morale quite a bit. When you go from 30 percent of students turning in homework to 90 percent, it makes you feel like you're really having an impact. Also, the students know the material and perform better on tests. Now, it is such a part of our daily life that teachers use it as another tool to motivate students."
Parents also seem to be pleased with the mandatory homework completion policy. "I had a single mom tell me that she just doesn't have time to chase after her daughter to do her homework, but now her daughter does her homework every night," recalled Chambers.
Some parents even have asked why they weren't notified about missing homework before the total reached five missing assignments. Before the program went into effect, unless a teacher phoned the parents, they would not have been aware of the problem until progress reports were distributed.
"Now that we've used the program for almost two years, the kudos have slowed down somewhat, and parents just accept it as part of our overall program," Chambers said. "Now, the parents who are most excited about it are our new parents."