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Summertime Blues and Battles: Getting Kids to Take Responsibility

Posted by Leslie Cedeno

When I was growing up, summer vacation was long and lazy. I recall summer camps and sleepovers. I’d leave the house early and not return until the evening. My friends and I could be found all over the neighborhood – playing outside our houses, tearing up the playgrounds or riding bikes all over the place. I remember being carefree and having a great time.

Today I am the mom of two boys – one just about to enter high school, the other entering his “senior” year of middle school. Effective the summer prior to 6th grade, homework assignments are now part of the summertime equation. Although we did not have this growing up and we turned out just fine (I think), I’m all for keeping the mind sharp with a little summer reading or math. But the schools down here in Broward County have another thing in mind.

My middle schooler is not happy about having to read two books and complete two writing assignments per book or solving 130 pre-algebra problems or working on the science packet he’s been given; however, he is working to get this all done because he wants to do well in school this year. I know that the reason behind his dedication is to make the basketball team, but I don’t let on that I’m fully aware of his motivation and encourage him to do his best. In addition, he does his chores (though far from perfectly) keeps in touch daily with his friends and keeps a very active social calendar.

My high schooler is a completely different personality. I had been asking him to read a little each night (30 minutes) while his brother is reading – you know, keeping the mind sharp? Well, if you could hear the protests that came spewing past his lips, you’d have thought I was asking him to get through War and Peace or worse! My eldest son is so affectionate, loving and very intelligent, but at times he can be sarcastic, combative and exhausting. In my firstborn, we are always in the process of learning to live with ADHD. I know it’s not the worst thing in the world, but it can greatly impact life at times.

Since the middle schooler is not as quick with math as the high schooler and left several problems blank, I decided to get high schooler involved. The question now is strategy…how to get him to cooperate. What do they all like at this age?  Not girls, no – money! I decided to pay him $2/hour to review the homework and then tutor his brother with this assignment. Boy, did that work like a charm!

Another strategy was a basic component of healthy relationships….namely, trust. I asked him, “How can you ask for more (video game time, sleep over, whatever) when I can’t trust you with the simple things I ask of you? “ Initially, he didn’t like to hear that, but I after a few times he did “get it” and began to go out of his way to demonstrate that he is cooperative and helpful, deserving of trust. You see, as he individuates, he feels the need to call his own shots. In teaching him to be trustworthy, he is realizing that when he’s responsive to what is expected of him, he will be gradually be given the independence he desires.

In addition to the homework assignments, the boys have a few chores they must complete each day. Nothing major, just simple things like feed the cat and fish, make your bed, take out the trash, load/unload the dishwasher. The boys receive allowance, have all kinds of privileges such as Xbox 360 and PS3, play baseball, basketball, and what have you. I don’t believe that I am asking too much of them.

Despite the first few weeks of summertime battles and blues, I feel this summer has been a growing experience for all of us. My middle schooler is learning that in order to earn the things he wants the most, he needs to show dedication and initiative. And my high schooler is learning that in order to gain some precious freedom, he must actually learn to cooperate and be trustworthy before he’s able to attempt to spread his wings (forget flying as of yet, lol), and I am learning to be intentional about my parenting so that I can guide these two boys as they begin to cross the path of becoming young men.

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