One Thinging High School: Principles 1-3

One Thinging Highschool

Previously I shared about our two oldest kids (Noah and Johannah) and their very different approaches to their teen years. Today, let’s talk philosophy. Let’s extract a few principles. We’ll look at these principles in sets of three until I’ve exhausted what I hoped to share. So without further ado, here are the first three principles.

1. Teens need adventure.

The family home is often too confining for teenagers. Their primary need between 13 and 17 is to get out into the big world right outside their door. The truth is, they have far more energy than their parents, boundless curiosity for things we take for granted (having already experienced them), and an insatiable need to relate to peers (in order to figure stuff out, like, what it takes to be a good friend, how to manage gossip, what’s cool and what’s not, what it means to manage myself, where to find good music, and who in the world out there is like me and can join me in my interests?).

They also want to do big things, like:

  • throwing pots
  • designing logos
  • writing articles that get published
  • mixing chemicals
  • traveling to a foreign country
  • flipping burgers at McDonald’s
  • backpacking in the mountains
  • driving a car

And so on. To accommodate this need for adventure, teens deserve to go places where they connect to their peers and other adults away from the supervising eyes of their parents. It doesn’t matter if they get a job, do an internship, go to school part time, take a college class, join an acting company, participate in a sports team or band, work out at a rock climbing gym, or volunteer at a local hospital. They need time away that stimulates them.

2. Teens aren’t lazy, they’re bored.

Laziness is usually a disguise for disinterest. When your child spends hours typing lyrics into his facebook but won’t do copywork from a classic novel, laziness is not the issue. Content is.

Another example: To beat multiple levels in Sims or Halo 3 or Warcraft requires hours of sustained repetitive tasks that are tedious and mostly unrewarding at the lower levels. Somehow teens are willing to plug in all that time dragging and clicking a mouse or controller in order to get to a level that they consider more prestigious and rewarding, yet they grumble about the boring 15 math problems. Why is that? Because the teen does find that the stimulation of these games outweighs the tedium. Not so with the math homework he’s done in the same style notebook for six years.

Subjects that are especially dry and repetitive benefit the most from tutorials, classes (both in person or online), small learning groups, co-operatives and passionate competent adults.

Farm out the subjects that fail to inspire your teens so that those topics have a fair chance for success.

If it’s impossible to find meaning and/or passion in a required subject, make it as painless as possible – don’t double it up with other tedious subjects, don’t require A’s or perfect work, don’t do the advanced version of the subject, or conversely, do it over the summer by itself so it doesn’t ruin the school year.

3. Teens have interests that interest them.

I remember when I worried that Noah was not doing “anything” I could count for his college transcript. A friend asked me, “Well, does he have cool interests?” That was an odd answer to my worry. I responded, “Well, yeah. He studies Klingon, is teaching himself electric guitar, plays Role Playing Games, and acts in plays… but how is that helpful?” I found out.

I’m still discovering how these interests have sustained him. He made friends through acting and RPGs, he discovered linguistics (now his major) through Klingon, he still plays music for pleasure and he has an extensive CD collection. 🙂 Yesterday on the phone as we talked about college, his chief frustration with his schedule is that he wants more time to read books and study music apart from his class schedule. He said, “I have really strong interests and I miss having more time to put into them.” Well yeah. That’s what happens when you grow up. It is harder now.

I was suddenly glad that he took time in his teens to develop those interests while he still could. He’ll never get those years back.

Isn’t it worth it to let teens do the stuff they love while food and beds are still provided to them for free?

Don’t you wish you had had more time to do the stuff you wanted to do? (Don’t forget how many hours you spent on the phone or walking through the mall or sitting by the pool with friends. Today they call it facebook, texting and AIM. It’s how teens learn the art of relationships, a critical high school course of study that homeschooling kids need as much as any of their peers.)

These first three principles focus on seeing the world through a teenager’s eyes. Their perspective matters. Boredom isn’t something to scorn. Laziness isn’t typical of teens (they need lots of sleep, and sometimes they look exhausted), but the truth is, they are gung-ho when they’re interested. I rarely see a lazy teen on the ski slopes, in a water park, at a concert, or playing online games. Teens in most of my classes exert huge amounts of effort to write well, to turn things in on time, to execute their work with care. The ones who don’t aren’t lazy. They aren’t interested. There’s a difference. Make more space for passionate engagement and reduce the tedium of tasks that tire.

As you look at your teens, the one thing you can do right away is identify which of these principles you can act on. Don’t feel you must do them all at once.

Just start “one thing” at a time.

UPDATE: Here are Principles 4-5.

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4 Responses to “One Thinging High School: Principles 1-3”

  1. Sandy says:

    For others who may be reading this let me just say that I wish someone had told me these things before my oldest started middle school. I had to learn most of it the hard way. Take these words to heart and talk to your teens about them. I wanted high school at home to be the adventure for my kids that the elementary years had been, but I didn’t know how much I would need to change my methods. We finally got it figured out, but not before many tears were shed; mostly mine.

  2. Amy Madtson says:

    Wow! This post was amazing, such an eye opener.
    It’s very timely too as just the other day I was getting frustrated and wondering why my almost 16 year son was suddenly being so lazy! Perhaps we’re talking boredom here, not laziness after all. And actually the thought did run thru my mind that he was just feeling bored, not being motivated enough.
    When he follows his interests he is jumping all over the place, he’s so excited and interested.
    Perhaps Algebra I just isn’t that interesting to him?? LOL

    I printed out your post and am still rereading it and figuring out which one we will concentrate on.

    Thank you for such an eye opening blog.

  3. Linda says:

    My teenage son was ‘lazy’ for about 2.5 yrs of homeschooling during high school. Never did any work. I signed him up for the ACT in fall of his Junior year, to show him he needed to work. With hardly a flick of his pencil, he walked out of there with a 31! In desperation, I tossed him into the local community college for the spring semester of his senior year. He bloomed! He ended that semester with 12 credits and a 4.0 GPA. Not bad for a ‘lazy’ kid.

    I think the comment about boredom just might be right.

  4. […] I’ve suggested that teens need adventure, they aren’t lazy, but bored, they have interests that interest them, and that teens deserve a social life and live in a wired world. […]