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Rights, Responsibilities and Rewards...

I read a really interesting thread on a parenting forum this week about implementing routines for teens who do okay in school, but who are not putting their best foot forwards.

This pretty much describes my older boys. I want to put it out here at this point that compared to me at school at their age, they're both doing exceedingly well - neither of them has ever stormed out of a classroom, or thrown a tantrum in class, and they both received their fair share of Bs at the end of last year (in Australia a B means the child is working up to a year ahead of their expected peer grouping). However, I watch my kids carefully, and Erik has always done slightly less than the bare minimum at school. Lukas has been a bit more diligent - always handing in the minimum and on time - until this last year where he floundered a little and felt a bit lost.

At Erik's new high school students do a fair bit preparatory work for each class. They have online units to complete before coming to school. The units may including some reading or watching a video or doing a few relatively simple and autonomous exercises, and then when they go to class, this work is put into practice and discussed amongst the students for more in-depth examination and reinforcement. I really like this approach, it's very much like what happens at a tertiary level and is good practice for future education.

However, it requires a degree of initiative, organisation and dedication.

Left to his own devices, I can see Erik might end up spending a lot of time in the resource centre doing catch up work while the other kids are in class doing reinforcing work. If that were to happen for any length of time, I know we would be asked if this high school is the right place for him.

So!

Rather than wait for trouble to find us, I read the thread on the parenting forum about homework with great interest and discovered some great ideas for setting up routines for teens doing homework.

One of the issues discussed was the management of technology. Technology is something our parents didn't really have to think about much. For today's kids, however, distraction is everywhere. They have the world and all it's entertaining sparkly things at their finger tips. Lots of parents don't like to manage their children's technology, but I feel my kids need guidance in navigating their interactions with the powerfully addictive distraction of Facebook, You Tube and email (they haven't even discovered the joys of Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr yet!). Also, gaming consoles are great fun, but can consume a child especially when the alternative is homework. I think it is hard enough for adults studying at tertiary levels to negotiate the traps of media distraction, let alone children and adolescents who still find it difficult to project themselves years into their own future and see the value in prioritising school work at this stage of their lives.

Some parents on the thread ban technology - as in computer games, phones and iPods - during the week entirely. Others don't put a blanket ban on devices, but have cut off times each day, or negotiated amounts of time. One parent said that for every minute spent doing homework, their child could have a minute of gaming - so if the child spent 35 minutes diligently doing homework, they were then allowed the same amount of time on their favoured device. Obviously, this was not a child doing their VCE, but it sounds like it might work for younger children - like Bryn, who is in grade two this year.

Another parent said their children's devices were locked up after 8pm - in a perspex box so she could see at a glance that the devices were all in place. This is not dissimilar to the arrangement we have here were all the devices are charged in our bedroom at night, so we know the kids haven't taken them to bed for late night Facebooking or net surfing (I know a lot of their peers have unrestricted access to devices, because my boys often get messages at midnight from a friends on Facebook - kids do need to sleep at that age!).

This is our 'charging station'.  In years to come it's only going to get bigger, eek!
However, I am thinking perhaps, I'll set a cut-off time for devices at 5pm. We eat at 6pm, so in the hour leading up to dinner time, we'll arrange chores and get ready for the next day and for bed. Dinner will be at 6pm, and then homework. Bryn goes to bed at 7pm, so he'll have enough time to do some reading or math revision (his reading is great, his math, not so much). Lukas goes to bed at 8pm, so he'll have an hour or so to do projects and revision, reading, or maths. Erik goes to be at 9pm, so that gives him up to 2.5 hours of time to do class prep work - and at least two hours of doing that work in silence after Bryn and Ari have gone to bed.

I know this sounds quite strict, but I have been worried over the past few months that with our crazy, noisy, busy household, and no real space to study except the dining table, Erik, in particular, might find high school very challenging unless we organise space and time for him to get his work done uninterrupted.

Of course, this is going to come as a shock to the system for kids who have not been quite this organised before. So we're going to have a meeting to discuss the concepts of rights, responsibilities and rewards. We're going to get some perspective on what is a right (food, shelter, respect, love) as opposed to what is a reward (gaming time, having a mobile phone of your own, having your own laptop, going to parties and having friends over), and what their responsibilities include (being courteous and considerate to others, helping around the house, being honest).

Something else someone on the thread said about implementing new rules was that she gave her child two options; either they could start during the holidays and get used to how things would work, or they could have their holidays with the agreement that once the term started their would knuckle down without complaints and attempts to negotiate their way out of the routine. I'll give the boys the same option.

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