Much like Kimberly, I’m a mother dealing with a house full of boys and needless to say it’s a handful. My husband works long hours, so a lot of the parenting responsibilities fall on my shoulders and keeping my sanity sometimes seems like an impossible mission. Oh, and my own personal House of Testosterone is actually an apartment located in Singapore. And despite the distance of thousands of miles, many of my experiences are quite similar.
The man-mountains of boys that I have to help guide to adulthood are a pair of sixteen year old twins. They have a very strong bond with each other which seems to multiply their successes and failures by a factor of two. They have never been too interested in their schoolwork, but despite this fact they have been average or slightly above average students for most of their lives.
But a few months ago they both failed a Physics test pretty miserably. They were both disappointed in themselves and quickly developed a fear from the subject. The fact that there are two of them didn’t make them more persistent or resilient in the face of that challenge though. Instead of helping each other, they were subconsciously teaching each other how to be stressed and how to lock up whenever Physics was mentioned. Their grades in the class were plummeting and I was growing quite worried about their academic performance and record.
I talked to each of them and I tried whatever I could think off including giving them some space to work it out for themselves. Unfortunately, nothing led to an improvement. That’s when I realized that my help and support isn’t going to be enough this time, but I wasn’t ready to sit idly by.
I soon realized that finding a professional would be the best option available, so despite being in Singapore it was easy to find a Physics tutor that also spoke English well enough to teach this specific subject matter in it. The tutor we got in touch with was relatively young, but turned out to be extremely qualified and quite good at connecting with the twins.
I tried not to bother them too much but from what I managed to hear from that session was that their tutor was putting everything in context they could understand. And he wasn’t just piling information and formulas on top of them, he was asking them questions, challenging their intuition and misunderstandings with analogies and examples. They were forced not just to sit there and hear a lecture, but to use their own heads to work what they didn’t understand out.
Our tutor’s approach was quick to bear fruit and just a few short weeks later they were doing OK in class. But even more curiously, dinner conversations at home started to drift into topics like the structure and size of the atom, radiation and quantum mechanics. The twins were now really fascinated with Physics and were going out of their way to learn new things about how the Universe worked.
Crisis had been averted, but I felt there was more to this simple story than just some good old private tutoring. It’s by no means something groundbreaking or unheard of, but seeing it all firsthand really drove the point home for me. If you want teens to learn, you should present them with questions, not tasks or dry facts. They are already in that age when they want to be treated as adults and what motivates them is using their own heads to figure out answers, not get them ready-made.
Since then, I’ve started applying that approach to my communication with them and I have found that the only way they really feel connected to a point is when they face the question and come to it on their own. I feel that now we are communicating more openly and honestly because I often don’t have ready-made answers, but questions myself and sharing that with them makes them feel like part of the solution instead of the problem.
In the end, I’m happy they failed that Physics test.