Category Archives: Parenting
My older son began taking an environmental science class a couple of months ago, his first real “class” in a long time, complete with regular assignments and a teacher who provides feedback and grades. As I’ve been watching him do research for his various reports and presentations, I’ve been flashing back to how different it was in the days when I was in school and working on similar projects. Of course there was no internet, nor were there even computers – it was all about library books, magazines, and micro fiche.
Micro fiche! Remember those strips of film we had to feed through those clunky machines, ducking under the shaded screen to read old newspaper articles? It was always kind of exciting, like a treasure hunt, with each advance of the image potentially delivering the golden nugget of information.
Those were definitely different times. For us the struggle was finding any information related to what we were researching, while now the challenge is finding too much information – pages and pages of every conceivable type of article, graphic, or video for any search they type in to their browser. However, as seemingly opposite as our experiences were then from our children’s experiences today, there is one thing they have in common: ambiguity.
Decades ago, the ambiguity we were navigating was the lack of information – if it wasn’t available at the library, we just didn’t have access. Today, navigating ambiguity means wading through an excess of information, much of which is irrelevant, inaccurate, biased, or contradictory. We were trying to find any lighthouse in the fog; they are trying to figure out which light is actually the lighthouse.
Same problem, different conditions.
Developing navigational skills is even more essential these days, too, and not just because of the overabundance of information for tasks like school reports or eventual work-related projects. It’s also important because there are so many more educational choices and career options, and because the pace of change is so much more rapid. Our kids need to determine what information they need, figure out how to find it, assess what’s true and what isn’t, and then select which input is most valuable for them, all while keeping in mind that any of this may change at any moment. So, in this constantly-changing environment saturated with data, ideas, and opinions, how can we help our kids learn to navigate the right course for them? There are three vital navigational tools they’ll need on their journey to adulthood:
- Self-Knowledge: “Where do I want to go, and how do I want to get there?”
Every journey starts with a destination in mind, whether it’s a physical place, an experience, or an accomplishment. And each person has to choose and steer toward their own destination, using their own internal compass fashioned out of their own unique combination of interests, values, and goals. While the destination will likely change from time to time, it’s still important to have one – otherwise they’ll just be lost at sea. As parents, we can help our kids cultivate self-knowledge by instigating conversations about the things they’re interested in and value, and discussing what they would like to contribute to the world, as well as encouraging introspection during moments of both success and failure. In my family we talk a lot about personality types, too, and have fun taking Myers-Briggs and Enneagram profiles every now and then, which always sparks interesting conversations about our individual personality traits.
- The Ability to Work with Others: “Will this person be a valuable member of my crew?”
We all have blind spots and weaknesses. Working with other people toward a common goal can help our kids broaden their perspectives, identify their own biases, challenge their assumptions, and find support when they encounter troubled waters. Teamwork also challenges them to develop stronger communication skills – a key factor in reducing ambiguity. While our children are still young, we can expose them to different types of people across multiple age groups (not just kids their own age), and talk about seeing things from other people’s perspectives, which will help encourage flexible thinking and the ability to see choices and problems through a different lense.
3. Critical Thinking Skills: “Is this worth including on my map?”
As they travel along, our kids will need to analyze and evaluate the wide range of information they have at their fingertips so they can make clear and well-reasoned decisions. Whether they’re considering someone’s research methods and results, the possible motivation behind another person’s behavior, or identifying what information they need to solve a problem, rational thinking and critiquing skills can be the difference between effective choices that keep them on course toward their goals, and detrimental choices that run them aground. There are actually classes available to help develop critical thinking skills, but daily life also provides many opportunities to sharpen this ability — choosing a problem, whether it’s real or hypothetical, and working through it together is actually an enjoyable activity to do together. Asking “Why”, “What else?”, and “What if…” are great ways to jump start critical thinking.
In addition to these tools, there are some valuable traveling instructions we need to make sure they have as well:
- There is no such thing as perfect information. This is hard for our kids to understand sometimes given that it seems all things can be “googled” these days. The truth is that we, and they, still cannot know all things. So, they need to get comfortable making choices with the best information available.
- When in doubt, don’t move too fast or too confidently, even if others are pressuring them to. It’s okay to take some time, to reflect and consider things more deeply, to let others know “I’m not sure, yet.”
- There is rarely one right choice. Usually, there are several good, or at least reasonable, choices they’ll need to choose from. Pick one, and move forward.
- Ambiguity is a good thing. Without it, we would all make the same decisions, do the same things, and end up in the same place. Ambiguous situations keep life interesting, and allow us to get creative.
As parents, it’s important for us to remember that developing these abilities will take time and practice, and our role is to find the right balance between supporting and challenging our kids. Experience is essential, so the best thing we can do is give our tweens and teens lots of opportunities to make their own decisions (as we advise or encourage from the sidelines), especially if they spend a lot of time in structured situations where teachers, coaches, or other adults are telling them what to do. Over time they’ll become much more comfortable dealing with uncertainty and risk, and will hone their abilities to listen to their own authentic voice. They’ll also be less likely to get “stuck” in their lives and, most importantly, will have the skills they need to navigate their way to what truly matters through an ever-expanding sea of distraction.
If you enjoyed this article, check out more on the same topic over at GHF…
When people ask me where I grew up, I cringe a little. I hate answering that question, more than almost any other, because I didn’t really grow up anywhere. Not in any one place, that is. So it’s hard to give the expected one-word answer and keep the flow of conversation going, when the true answer requires a story, or at the very least a rather long list.
You see, my dad was in the Army the whole time I was growing up, which meant that we moved every six months to three years. Well, except for the year I was in first grade – that year we moved twice in six months, so I ended up going to three different first grades. Throughout elementary school I was sometimes in school with other military kids, but mostly I went to school with non-military ones, especially once I entered junior high and high school. While all of this moving around required me to learn how to fit in and make friends quickly, I still ended up feeling like an outsider most of the time.
Being the “new kid” is hard, no matter how many times you’ve done it. And, no matter how hard I tried, I could never have the history, the shared stories and memories, of kids who had gone to school together their whole lives. Add to this that I had been identified as gifted, and was taken out of my classes on a regular basis to participate in gifted courses, and you can see that any hope of feeling part of the crowd was basically gone.
Jump forward to adulthood, and I still feel on the outside much of the time, although for different reasons now. I love reading, especially books about psychology, sociology, neuroscience, and philosophy, but finding people who are interested in these same things and share my enjoyment of discussing big ideas, of delving into deeper conversations, is hard to do. Also, I don’t do small talk well – it exhausts me and I start feeling restless after just a few minutes. In short, I’m usually the mom sitting to the side of the group of moms during gymnastics lessons and swimming practices, reading while the other moms chat and knit. We’re friendly – we’re just not on the same wavelength.
It didn’t occur to me that I might be a “gifted adult” until fairly recently, though, when I learned that my son is also gifted. Somehow the “gifted” label seemed like something that only applied in school, something that didn’t really have any relevance once I reached adulthood. As I see myself reflected back to me in my son these days, it’s so very clear how much he’s like me when I was his age, and how much we have in common even now. We both love talking about ideas, developing new theories about the world, immersing ourselves in our interests. But, most of all, we both feel things deeply, and incredibly strongly. When we’re in sync, it’s glorious; when we’re not, well…
On those days it’s like pebbles have been thrown into our respective emotional ponds, and the resulting ripples collide and bounce off of each other. Sometimes, I’m the one responsible (albeit unintentionally) for throwing the pebbles in his pond, and other days, vice versa. In short, our separate emotions can set the other off, or intensify what’s already there. And it’s these times when I try to remember that it’s my job, as the adult, to recognize the dynamic and try to calm the waters before “those little wave a-flowing to a great big wave have grown.” While it’s not easy to manage my own emotions in addition to his, with intention and practice, I’m getting better at it. The key is to find my own reflection in the ripples, and then to seek the calmer water underneath. Recognizing and allowing – that’s the goal for both of us.
Drop A Pebble in The Water
Drop a pebble in the water:
just a splash, and it is gone;
But there’s half-a-hundred ripples
Circling on and on and on,
Spreading, spreading from the center,
flowing on out to the sea.
And there is no way of telling
where the end is going to be.
Drop a pebble in the water:
in a minute you forget,
But there’s little waves a-flowing,
and there’s ripples circling yet,
And those little waves a-flowing
to a great big wave have grown;
You’ve disturbed a mighty river
just by dropping in a stone.
~ James W. Foley ~
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Amidst all of the joys and rewards of homeschooling older kids, there are some challenges, too, one of which has been at the forefront for my family lately. No, it’s not higher math and science that we’re struggling with, nor is it teenage angst and mood swings, either. For these we have found classes or tutors, read books, or sympathized with other parents. This particular challenge exists solely, and squarely, in that time-limited space where teens attempt to merge with the adult world.
This challenge is lack of opportunity.
For over a year now my fourteen-year-old son, Sam, has been wanting to spread his wings – he wants to build things, he wants to earn money, he wants to be useful. He wants these things so badly, he’s been like a tiger in a cage, pacing and anxious and, yes, even depressed sometimes. But where are opportunities like this available to a boy his age? He can’t legally work, and he doesn’t have the knowledge or skills he needs to design and build the things he envisions making (he outgrew Legos and got bored with models years ago). He wants to do real things, not kid things, and this is the problem — most adults expect kids his age to be in school all day and, even worse, assume these young adults are incapable of providing much value when they do have free time.
As my husband and I have been wrestling with this issue, I was beginning to think that somehow we were missing something. What are other teens doing? Are we the only ones with a child who wants real experiences?
So, it was with great relief, and more than a few enthusiastic shouts of “Yes!”, that I recently read Marie Goodwin’s post, “A Peculiar Problem of Homeschooling Teens”. She describes this situation (and some of its causes) perfectly, calling this the “mentor seeking” phase, when a young person “begins to find focus in their understanding of the world, is seeking a higher purpose to learning, and is no longer interested in play-based activities. They actively wish to find mentors outside the family for their particular learning aspirations.” Perfectly described. Mentoring, apprenticeships, and jobs – these are what developing adults, and not just the homeschooled ones, truly want and need.
Before compulsory schooling, it used to be that boys the ages of both of my sons (12 and 14) would apprentice with a master of a trade, learning the skills and gaining the knowledge they would need as an adult. Girls would also spend more time with the women in their family, learning the domestic skills they would need to manage families and houses of their own. While this model of gender separation is certainly outdated, the apprentice model is one we need to consider resurrecting. Learning while spending time with adults is a natural way to learn and grow – it’s how children have mostly been raised for thousands of years.
For some reason we’ve decided that a system that locks our young adults away every day is the best model. Even among those of us who have rejected this form of education, many of us still assume that standard curriculum and kids’ activities should be enough until college or adulthood. What so many of us fail to understand is that our teens need more, that much of the angst and rebellion assumed to be natural and unavoidable part of adolescence is not just hormones – it’s the result of limited freedom, of underestimated potential, of separation from what’s meaningful and important in the world.
We can do better.
While I see some hopeful signs that more internships and apprenticeships are becoming available for teenagers (there are one or two small programs in my city), for my sons I’m realizing that my focus will need to shift from directly facilitating their learning to facilitating connections and opportunities. And I’m happy to report that we’ve had some successes. Both of my sons love music and have found a community, comprised of both adults and kids, at our local School of Rock. Their music teachers are really more like coaches, and they set high expectations for the boys (which they’re happy to rise to!) Also, there’s a fairly new maker space in our city that is almost exclusively for adults, but with some discussions and an interview, they agreed to make an exception for my fourteen-year-old. He’s been learning to cut and weld metal there, and will be taking a wood working class next week. Finally, we also found a programming tutor who’s just the right combination of instructor and mentor.
I know there are other families out there who are also struggling with this issue, even if they haven’t realized that this is the issue yet. If yours is one of them, I encourage you to seek out and develop options for your kids. And don’t be afraid to be creative. Just because a special program or position doesn’t exist doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to create an opportunity. Sure, you can expect to be met with some confusion and resistance, and you’ll certainly need to do some explaining, but it will be truly worth it knowing that you’re not only supporting the growth and development of your child, but you’re also planting seeds of opportunity for others, too.
In case you missed it last month, there was a new attention-grabbing report released by the Harvard Graduate School of Education that has caused quite a stir in the college admissions community. Just as many high school students were enduring final exams and simultaneously keeping an eye on the mailbox for college acceptance letters, “Turning the Tide” was released with recommendations that may change the future of college admissions for everyone. At least, that’s what the authors hope… Read More
The Buddhists say that life is filled with 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows, and to those of us raising gifted children, this may seem a bit on the low side. I haven’t exactly kept count, but I’m pretty sure that during some of our more intense weeks we’ve hit at least 10,000 of each (maybe even 12,000 on a few occasions.)
That’s what life is like when you live with a race car, er… gifted child. The boy who wakes up grumpy in the morning suddenly turns happy when you serve his favorite breakfast, but is grossed out when the eggs in that breakfast aren’t cooked exactly like he likes them, and excited again when he remembers that his friend is coming over that afternoon, but immediately stressed when he realizes he needs to clean his (very messy) room first, and then he entirely forgets about all of it when the dog walks into the room and he falls all over it, crooning in a soft, husky voice, “Oh, what a good boy.” (Deep breath, another sip of coffee). Then he suddenly remembers something he heard in a history podcast he’s been listening to, which he must immediately tell you about in full, animated detail, dropping in many of his own thoughts and opinions as well.
Mind you, the child has only been out of bed for five minutes, and this is a pretty typical morning.
As demanding and exhausting as our days can be, though, I wouldn’t trade any of them for anything. It’s a full-octane, tumultuous lifestyle that offers plenty of sweetness and awe-inspiring moments along the way. Our family life is full, overflowing with hugs and “I love you’s”, music (so much and so loud, I finally gave in and dedicated a whole room in our house as a music room), adventures to new places, and lengthy conversations about politics, psychology, and the environment. It’s a rich, often hectic, life, and I’m truly grateful for every moment of it.
But I haven’t always felt that way.
You see, it took me a while to figure out that my son was gifted, and that all of the emotional intensity, intellectual curiosity, and creative energy contained in his small body are typical of kids like him. Before that I was wrung out, confused, and increasingly frustrated as I tried to understand why he was such a picky eater, so easily overwhelmed by noise that he was reluctant to play with other kids, and so worried at night before going to bed. Finally, I decided I needed help and went in search of a book, hoping to find something that could help me better understand and relieve his regular bouts of anxiety. As I was rummaging around Amazon, sorting through all of the titles and descriptions, I stumbled on a paperback called “Living with Intensity” by Susan Daniels and Michael Piechowski. It wasn’t what I thought I was looking for, but as I read the summary, I sensed it was exactly what I needed. When it arrived a few days later, I devoured it, with tears of relief and regret in my eyes.
My world suddenly made so much more sense.
Now I was able to appreciate my son from an entirely different, much clearer, perspective. I could plainly see what I had not seen before – that he was a beautiful, complex package of ideas, emotions, and curiosity. Nothing was wrong; nothing needed to be fixed. In fact, everything was so very right, properly balanced, and just as it should be. I felt deeply grateful. And not just for the “good” stuff that comes from living with a bright, loving, energetic child – I felt just as grateful for the big emotions, the sensitivities, the struggles.
Because I realized that to be grateful for some of it, I had to be grateful for all of it.
This is one of the unexpected gifts my gifted child has given me: a deeper understanding of, and capacity for, feeling gratitude about all aspects of life. The good and the bad, the easy and the difficult, the wished for and the unexpected. Recognizing that all of it together makes life so much more interesting, I can say, and mean, what the Zen master Sono said: “Thank you for everything. I have no complaints whatsoever.”
Another gift? The opportunity for a “do over.” As the parent of this highly sensitive child, I’m able to give my son what I needed and didn’t get when I was a highly sensitive child – patience and understanding. Emotions and feelings were not comfortable topics in my house when I was growing up, and certainly weren’t considered valuable aspects of life that deserved to be respected. Rather, they were to be controlled, and preferably well-hidden. Now I have a chance to do better for my son, to bring the light of awareness and love to his emotional experiences and, in the process, to learn how to recognize and honor my own.
Genuine gratitude and self-compassion: what more could I possibly ask for?
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Gifted kids are the ones for whom school is easy, who are bright enough to find their way in the world without much help, who have everything going for them, right? Well, maybe not…
While it’s true that these descriptions may fit a number of intellectually gifted children, you might be surprised to learn that they’re not accurate for many others who also qualify as gifted, nor do they capture the unseen social and emotional struggles so many of these children face…
For the past few days I’ve been struggling to make sense of the results from a new survey about homeschooling, and have been debating about whether to write about it. Normally I’m pretty conflict-averse – I’m not one of those who enjoys debating or stirring things up too much; finding common ground and making peace is more my thing. Today I’m feeling a little more feisty than usual, though – maybe because of the change in weather, maybe because I’ve been sleeping really well lately. I don’t know. But whatever the reason, I’ve decided to throw it out there and see what happens…
The survey I mentioned above was conducted and published by The Spectrem Group’s “Millionaire Corner”. In their research they asked affluent families, both conservative and liberal, about whether they approve of homeschooling. The report doesn’t provide much information about their methodology (e.g. how many households were surveyed/participated, geographic distribution, wealth profiles of respondents, reasons given for disapproval), so I was actually left with quite a few questions, but it did offer some interesting findings:
- 56% of affluent households (conservative and liberal) do not approve of homeschooling.
- 71% of liberal affluent household do not approve of homeschooling (vs. 60% of conservative affluent households).
- Affluent GenX parents were the only ones likely to approve of homeschooling, with a 53% approval rating.
More affluent liberal households are opposed to homeschooling than conservative ones? This comes as a huge surprise to me, and this is what I’ve been struggling to understand, because homeschooling came about during the 1960s as part of the anti-establishment movement. What’s more, almost all of the homeschooling families I know are liberally-oriented, valuing individual choice and natural rights. I can only speculate about the reasons for the respondents’ opinions, though, since the survey results don’t provide any details. So, let the speculating begin…
After the anti-establishment liberals fought for their rights to educate their kids at home in the 1960s and 70s (supported by such notable researchers and authors as Paul Goodman and John Holt), religious families became the real drivers in the homeschooling movement over the next few decades, motivated by the desire to base their children’s education on religious doctrine. So, the idea that homeschoolers are bible-thumping extremists persists, even though there is a large (and quickly growing) secular population. Since liberal families are generally less likely to identify as “strongly religious”, maybe the association between religion and homeschooling is one of the reasons for their disapproval. If this is the case, they must not have seen that the Department of Education reports that more families cite “concern about the school environment” as their primary reason for homeschooling now than “religion”.
Maybe the “affluent” variable comes into play here. Do wealthy liberal families think it’s immoral to take advantage of the increased educational options their money can buy? The idea that homeschooling is only an option for “rich” families is a myth – many liberal (and conservative) families that choose to educate their children at home are middle class at best. In fact, quite a few homeschooling families are two income households (usually with one parent working from home or working part-time), and some are even single-parent families. They’ve figured out ways to make changes in their lifestyles and schedules, which sometimes include sacrifices (I’m not saying it’s always easy), because they see the benefits that come from this choice.
Maybe liberal families believe they need to change and improve the educational system from the inside out. For those who believe that continuing to engage in the existing system is a civic duty, I get it. I used to feel the same way, and worked hard to do this by volunteering in my kids’ classrooms and contributing even more time to school-wide projects. Here’s the problem, though: The changes we need to make in the system include huge, fundamental shifts that are going to take some time, and my kids didn’t have that kind of time – they’re growing up right now, and if I don’t ensure the quality of their education, who benefits from that?
So, what do you think? Are these the issues that continue to form the opposition to home schooling? Are there others? I’d love to hear from homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers alike, and maybe we can find some common ground truly worth sharing.
I love that the question is shifting from “Why do you homeschool?” to “Why don’t you homeschool?” The trend in homeschooling in North Carolina, where the number of homeschoolers now exceeds the number of students in private school, is catching national attention and provoking interesting questions.
As my teenage son turned away from me, tears in his eyes and disappointment on his face, I knew immediately that I had just made an enormous mistake, that I had missed something very important. It had been a typical, casual conversation that had suddenly gone wrong. But how?