Q: How do you find extracurricular activities that your kid will like? I've tried them all, and our son always loses interest. My 14-year-old son is separating from me (his mom). How do I encourage him and let him know I'm here for him? He always says, "Get out. I don't like you," etc.
A: Extracurricular involvement in school, community or religious/cultural activities is really important for kids. Sports, music, art, drama, debate and a host of other activities provide important opportunities for children to explore their talents, as well as to develop collaborative and competitive capabilities. They are truly paths toward building confidence. Furthermore, there's solid research that shows that actively and positively engaged adolescents are less likely to become involved in drugs and other high-risk behaviors.
I'm guessing that your son loses interest easily because of his too-high expectations for himself. When an activity becomes difficult or he finds himself only an average performer, he most likely quits. Parents often try to encourage kids by telling them they could be really talented in the activity. Though parents say that because they want to be helpful to their children, the children hear it as parents' high expectations. Some compare themselves with teammates, and if they don't do so well, they immediately assume they're not very good and give up. That isn't necessarily so in your son's case, of course, but you can try to suggest he enter an activity just to be the helper on the team and have fun with some friends. If he starts as a helper on the team and develops a little talent, he'll be surprised and pleased.
There's another potential reason that your son drops out of activities. It's the most recent fashion among educators and parents to encourage children to search for their passions. Passions can also set expectations too high. For kids to be in love with an activity, they usually believe they have to be very good at that activity. Beyond video games or the arts, it's rather hard to find what you're passionate about when you're 14. If you can downplay activities to the reasonable expectations of exploring interests and becoming involved with friends, with time — gradually and sometimes over many years — teens discover the directions in their lives. Indeed, the careers that emerge from passions — unless young people have extraordinary talent — are the most competitive and where it is difficult to find jobs. Motivation emerges best with reasonably high, but not too high, expectations.
Now for the second part of your question. Teenagers typically show a push-and-pull with their parents — occasionally wanting to be close and other times wanting to ignore the fact that they even need parents. Your son may chat a little with you when he's trying to figure out what to say to a girl, but even then he's unlikely to acknowledge your wisdom. It's likelier that he'll assume your ideas belong to a different generation. Doing work projects together, hiking, biking, gardening or just driving side by side can provide the best opportunities for effective parent-teen talks. Your son's developmental task is gradual separation toward forming his own identity over the next 10 or so years. He'll still enjoy looking at his baby pictures with you and hearing the early stories about himself, but thankfully your son is growing up.
Dr. Sylvia B. Rimm is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the author of many books on parenting. More information on raising kids is available at www.sylviarimm.com. Please send questions to: Sylvia B. Rimm on Raising Kids, P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI 53094 or [email protected] To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.