I have three teenagers working their way through our country's educational system--and I use the word "working" because I mean just the opposite. "Serving time" might be a better description--they seem to feel that the sole purpose of school is to provide them a place where they can meet with their friends in order to plan where they will meet after school.
As a father, I have a vested interest in seeing my children do well in school. If they don't, they won't graduate, and will probably wind up living in my house until they are thirty years old. This will interfere with my plan to reach retirement age without killing another human being. To look after my interests, then, I must motivate my teenagers to do their homework, which I accomplish by reminding them that when I was growing up, times were much tougher and more character-building.
A father rarely catches his teenagers doing their homework; a zookeeper has a better chance of witnessing the birth of a panda. This is because fathers expect a teenage girl's studies will contain certain elements, such as concentration, purpose, and resolve. In a teenager, these are usually replaced with procrastination, impatience, and conversation. (I am very well acquainted with studying; my roommate in college used to do it all the time.) Boys and girls approach the problem differently, though with equal ineffectiveness.
When a teenage daughter decides it is time to do her homework, she lies on her back on the floor, dials Heather's number, and puts the telephone to her ear. After thirty minutes or so, a father might have a conversation like this:
Reasonable Father: I thought you said you had math homework.
Teenage Daughter: I do!
Reasonable Father: Then why don't you hang up and start studying your math?
Teenage Daughter: I am studying!
Reasonable Father: No, you're not. You've been talking about some guy named Brad.
Teenage Daughter (outraged): Have you been listening to my telephone conversations?
This is rather baffling, since you've been reading the paper on the couch and she has been lying at your feet like a Labrador, rolling around on the floor while she makes frankly upsetting remarks about this Brad, speculating on whether he is "briefs or boxers."
Reasonable Father: I can't help but overhear you.
Teenage Daughter: (Sniffs) Can you please just give me some privacy?
Reasonable Father: This is my living room!
Teenage Daughter: Well maybe if you'd buy me a TV for my bedroom I could study in there instead of having to be out here for all the nosey people to eavesdrop!
Reasonable Father: You got a "D" on your last math test. Don't you think it is time you stopped talking about Brad's butt and got to work?
Teenage Daughter: But Brad is IN MY MATH CLASS.
My teenage son's telephone conversations are much more utilitarian:
Teenage Son: Did you do your math? Okay, what are the answers? Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Okay, thanks. No, I didn't do geography, but I know it had something to do with countries. Jeff has the answers, call him. Okay, bye.
When you call him to task for his lack of personal initiative, he'll be baffled. "But I've got all the answers!" he'll protest, showing you a neat line of numbers running down the page.
While chatting on the phone, a teenager will often pull out a highlighter and begin vandalizing her textbooks, staining any part which looks like it might be important. They never, to my knowledge, read what they have highlighted--in fact, I've watched my youngest daughter deploy a whole arsenal of these pastel markers, utilizing a complicated color scheme to designate different sections of the books in different fashions. Pondering her methods, I've decided this is what they must mean:
|When the marker color is||Take the following action|
|Yellow||Don't read the text|
|Blue||Ignore the text|
|Green||Skip the text|
Both of my daughters express delight when they receive a textbook already colored up with highlighter; it means they don't even have to turn a page.
I must say, homework was much more difficult and character building when I was a teenager. (Did I already mention that?)
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Submitted By: W. Bruce Cameron
May 9, 2002 12:46