We’ve had this conversation before, so this time I wanted to write it down with the hope that next time you have the same question, I can simply refer you to this letter. It is an important letter because it seems to carry in it information vital to your student’s success that has eluded you up until now. Maybe you can put it on the fridge with some of those little magnets shaped like letters.
I know what you’re going to say, and I know what your worries are. Yes, your son isn’t doing so well in high school. He has a 23% in my English class. Yes, that is an F, and he has that same grade in all his other classes as well. He struggles to do any classwork, he doesn’t do ANY homework. He isn’t any good at groupwork. Even his footwork rarely gets him to class on time, if at all. You don’t know what to do. You’re at the end of your wits, you work two jobs, and you don’t understand why the work ethic you and your husband have hasn’t rubbed off in any way, shape, or form on your children.
So you ask me.
And my answer is always the same. It will always be the same, and it is kind of a running joke around here because it seems like common sense. It might be the easiest thing in the world. The teachers around here shake their heads and laugh when we tell our own stories about it. It is kind of like when a student doesn’t bring a backpack, paper, or pencil to school. We laugh because we don’t know what else to do. But the answer to your problem is so simple because it is so obviously related to your son’s lack of success. So I ask you, what is the problem?
And of course your answer is always the same. “He comes home and all he does is play video games. He’s always texting on his phone, he’s on Facebook all the time staring at the computer. And then he lays down in front of the couch and watches five hours of television. I don’t know what to do.”
Here’s what you do, for the nine hundreth time: YOU TAKE AWAY HIS CELL PHONE. YOU TAKE AWAY HIS VIDEO GAMES. YOU TAKE AWAY THE COMPUTER, AND YOU BAN TELEVISION.
That’s as clearly as I can say it, but I made sure to put it in all caps so that you can refer to that section in particular next time you feel like giving me a call. You might want to highlight it, but according to your son you don’t have highlighters at the house. This is always my answer, and is the same advice you will get from the rest of my colleagues around here.
You’d be amazed at the things a kid will do to get their cell phone back. You might be surprised at the amount of homework your son might consider trying if he couldn’t play his video game until it was done. Cell phones are particularly effective when trying to change the behavior of a teenager because they are so inextricably, emotionally linked to their phone. It truly is a part of their body, and the idea of it not being there creates panic, fear, and even anger. I should know. I tried to take your son’s cell phone the other day because he was texting in class. He felt so strongly about keeping it he threw his desk at me, called me a “Fucker”, and ran out of class. You remember that? That’s why he was suspended for half a day—all because of a cell phone. You’re lucky he wasn’t expelled, but at this school, when you assault a teacher it’s not that big of a deal.
Wait, wait, I know what you’re going to say next. It will sound something like this: “I can’t take away his phone or video games. I just can’t do it, it belongs to him.”
And even though this is a letter, I want you to imagine that I’m shaking my head slowly and sadly right about now. Because my response is always the same, and laced with just a little confusion and frustration about what you think your role is as a parent. Because I always ask you, “Who bought the video games? Who bought the cell phone? Who pays for the cell phone bill? How much does the data and texting cost you a month?” Because those things do not belong to your son, they belong to you. You bought them, you paid for them, and you are the one paying extra every time he goes over his text limit.
And the answer is “NO,” before you even ask. No, they are not allowed to padlock the door to their bedroom. The house belongs to you as well.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you called me back. It’s only been three months since my last message. I gave up calling after my 10th message because I never received a response. Plus, I’m so busy over here it is hard listening to three and a half minutes of Lil Wayne’s Lollipop song every time I want to leave a message on your phone. I was beginning to wonder if you got the messages at all. Now I see you were just being patient.
If you are really serious about getting your son to do some actual work, and maybe pass a class or two, just take away his phone. See if I’m not right and he gets out a homework assignment and scribbles down some actual answers. You might be amazed at how much power it will give you when you feel powerless.
And please don’t tell me you can’t do it, because what you’re really telling me is you can’t be a parent. And if you are not a parent, then I have to get back to work, because I don’t take calls from FRIENDS of my students.