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Teaching Diligence to My Teen is a Hill I am Willing to Die on

“Son, what did you do all day?”

His sullen face looked at me, eyes clouded, defensiveness oozing. We were at yet another impasse between schoolwork that should have been completed while I was gone and the actuality of it still undone when I came back hours later. It had become a recurring scene in our house, one that I kept hoping (in vain, it seemed) would not happen again.

Teaching diligence to your teens can be a challenge!! This post is so encouraging about how the author handles it with her own kids!

It all seems so possible in the early years. You show your kids how to sweep the floor and empty the dishwasher, you make the colorful chore charts, everyone has a job to do; and you are one big happy family as everyone cheerfully goes about their tasks. Homeschool also seems to flow from one subject to the next — one workbook page per day in math, one story per day in English — without much resistance that would keep things from progressing forward. Your kids aren’t perfect, of course, but you have your little army that is basically willing to do your bidding most of the time. So you check the teaching diligence box and credit yourself with passing on a good work ethic.

Then the teen years hit. And overnight your child seems to forget that you ever taught him anything, much less how to do schoolwork or housework in a timely fashion. Instead of the trained “Yes, Mom” answer, you receive the rolled eyes or the low-pitched “okay” that sounds like it’s been dragged out from the bottom-most pits of unwillingness. The steps are slow and the job is done halfway. If at all — because “I forgot” becomes an oft-used response when you check back later in the day.

It’s actually worse, rather than better, with children further down the birth order. The older kids have all the benefit of your parenting learning curve — the one that whips them into shape, usually with less than sensitivity on your part. They may be emotionally damaged, but hey, they will vacuum the floor when you tell them to.

But the younger kids have experienced your softer self, your more permissive parenting model, the one that feels guilty for the boot-camp the older ones went through and is also just tired of being the drill sergeant all the time. So not as much is required or expected of the youngers — and then puberty hits, and even a little bit of requiring and expecting doesn’t seem possible at all anymore.

You try to channel your inner drill sergeant again — but when you do, it doesn’t have the same effect that it used to, lol. That teen has morphed in just a short time into an order-resistant body of muscle that is taller than you are. The exhaustion, the needing to sleep in (for a girl, the hormones), all play into this persona that work of any kind is anathema and should be avoided at all costs.

Because it is almost comical the lengths that will be gone to in order to NOT work. The clever excuses, the glazed-over expression of non-comprehension, the creative story-crafting to make it seem like the non-work was really the better choice — surely these take more energy than actually doing the bleepin’ math lesson in the first place! Wouldn’t ya think??

Well, here today I want to go on record as stating that teaching diligence to my teen is a hill I am willing to die on.

And I just might, because he’s killing me, lol.

If what it takes is being the water that drips and drips and drips on the rock until it forms an impression, then I will be that drip. I will be a gentle drip, a more sensitive sergeant, if you will — but I will just keep dripping, just keep dripping, what do we do? We driiiiiiip.

There is a verse in Proverbs to the effect that parents who hate their children will avoid disciplining them, but those who love their children will discipline them diligently (Proverbs 13:24).

Well, I love my son. So much it hurts. And so I will diligently teach him diligence.

WHY? Because doing work well, thoroughly, and in a timely manner is crucial to his success as a person. Not just his material success, although that is a huge consideration, but also the success of his character. I want my teen to become the best man he can be. I don’t expect perfection, or the presidency, lol — but it is important that he be able to support a family and keep his house maintained and have clear eyes that reveal inner integrity.

Not fully completing a task on the job, giving a job supervisor an “I forgot,” being slow to proceed with following directions — these behaviors will bring about unemployment, hello. And by the time my children leave my house it will be too late for me to help them figure this stuff out.

HOW to go about teaching diligence??

I don’t fully know, honestly, except by continuing to address the lapses when they happen. Over and over and over again, if need be. Dripping, dripping, dripping. Sometimes with consequences that are painful.

(Note: Please be aware (especially everyone that knows us personally, lol) that the following examples are (mostly) works of my imagination and haven’t actually happened at our house. Others have, don’t get me wrong — but not these. I need to maintain a modicum of privacy for those under my care, y’all.)

1) Sometimes natural consequences are in order, like getting a D on that math test they tried to take while simultaneously watching YouTube.

2) Sometimes public failure is effective, like the time they couldn’t find their name tag for work and got a note in their file for not wearing it.

3) Sometimes removal of privileges is a good route to take, like removing electronics from their life for a week because they wasted time playing Angry Birds instead of finishing the paper that was due.

4) Sometimes adding MORE work is appropriate (this one might be my personal favorite), like when they forget to vacuum the living room, so you tell them they get to vacuum all the bedrooms, too.

On the other side of the coin, it is vital to also keep the positivity going.

1) HUGS, hugs, and more hugs. I also personally like to play with the hair on the back of their neck. Just sayin’. πŸ™‚

2) Use these sentences often: “I will not give up on you. No matter what. We are in this together.”

3) Empathy is always a good idea. It’s easy in my case, because I have been there myself. “I do get it. I do. I had to learn the hard way. I’m trying to help you now so that you don’t have to.”

4) And as they always say, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. This one is a personal ouch for me, because my first instinct is to get angry and correspondingly loud. But sometimes (probably usually and possibly always) taking the kid to get ice cream, even though he has just failed in a big way, speaks louder than the loudest yelling. Grace and mercy, y’all.

5) And prayer.

I maintain hope that someday, sooner rather than later, the “what did you do all day” question will be answered with a list of productive tasks that were completed thoroughly and well. I do see glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel, like yesterday, when I was expecting to find him playing games on his phone and instead discovered him intent upon Shakespeare. Forsooth! What light at yonder window breaks? It is my son (get it? Sun – son? Ain’t I amazing?), and I am so grateful to be his mom.

And this teaching diligence thing? Just call me Dory the drip. πŸ™‚

Teaching diligence to your teens can be a challenge!! This post is so encouraging about how the author handles it with her own kids!Today I’m linking up with the wonderful gals of the iHomeschool Network on the topic of Teaching Kids Responsibility. Head over there for more great articles!

Also shared on Finishing Strong, the homeschool linkup just for middle and high school!


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  • So I had to laugh when I read this. One of the things I said to my teen daughter today was, “Do you realize that your concept of time is different than mine?”. She wasn’t amused and I was laughing hysterically.

    I’m here drip, drip, dripping right along with you. Heaven help us both.

  • We’ve fought this particular good fight from Day One. Helllllloooo, ADHD (DS11)! πŸ™‚ Helllllooo early hormones (DD9) I am joyfully finding that my son is responding really well to his scout leaders and the tide (OMGosh, rap wood) SEEMS to be changing…? We’ve miles to go yet, and I LOVE the softer parent I am becoming. My kids are grateful for a softer drip. πŸ™‚

    I think something else is… helping kids catch the vision of why it’s so important My kids are a little young to say this definitively, but it’s on the right track. πŸ™‚

    • Yes, the hormones in particular (for girls AND boys) can make this an interesting journey, lol!! Keep at it, Austin; it sounds like you’re doing a GREAT job! πŸ™‚

  • Ann, thank you for this! I hadn’t even finished reading it yet, but I got to the line about telling them I’ll never give up on them and I stopped dead in my tracks, dug out cards, and wrote them each an encouraging love note saying that and more. I know my teens and I know they’ll both like this, but especially my daughter, who needs to hear some sweet nothings now and then. (Especially now, what with the raging hormones and mood swings leaving the rest of us on edge around her.) This could not have come at a better time! Thanks for keeping us all on track! Love from Ohio, Jane

  • Oh.My.Word. I think we are living parallel lives with our sons. Thank you for the encouragement to keep on dripping! πŸ™‚

  • Great article! I read this aloud to my 13 yr old, homeschooled son, and he said, “Where are you getting this from?, Did you write about us on the internet?” He was asking with a look of horror on his face. I just kept reading aloud and found the humor in the situation. I think exactly what you wrote about. Thanks again, I’m glad I’m not the only one out there constantly dripping on a hard rock!

  • Thank you so much for this. Today I was at the end of that rope and lets just say I handled it the wrong way. I have been homeschooling my son for three years now an I swear not much has changed as far as the taking shortcuts and not being diligent in all he is responsible for. I am really considering putting him back in public school. Why keep banging my head? You reminded me of the Why. Because I want him to be loved, respected, honored, encouraged, wanted, strong, I want him to be able to stand on his own but most of all I want him to know Grace and Mercy. Thank you…….from one big DRIP

  • Oh, my goodness. My little teenager will be 6 in a few months. Yes, he is a teenager in attitude and behavior… we use a lot of those positive and negative consequences. I’d rather him suffer the loss of his Wii time or Legos now than deal with the law directly later. And yes, it’s a hill I’m willing to die on… or at least get a head of grey hair over it.

  • My children are younger and fortunately I’m working hard to avoid some of these mistakes. I require from each kid what their capabilities are versus taking advantage of the older child and letting the younger ones slide. It’s hard and I catch myself sometimes and have to correct it.

    I’m very blessed that I have many people in my life who have older children. I have gotten to observe their parenting techniques and watch their children grow and see what comes of it,

    One of the mistakes I see is parents aren’t around enough for their teens. They take advantage of the fact they can be left alone or have gained “independence” and the parents spend more time away from home, working, or involved in other obligations or caring for the younger children. I’ve seen families do this over and over again, where the child does school (often solo even if homeschooled, or away at school), come home to an empty (whether physically or emotionally) house, wander off to activities or work and they see each other *more* in passing instead of the parent making themselves constantly available that is more common with a baby or toddler. Let me be clear these aren’t families who completely ignore each other, In fact they might have had a mandatory family dinner each night. But the problem is- teens can’t schedule in when they need you. If you miss it….they will attach to someone or something else to compensate. Then, the relationship is broken and so is your influence over them and their sense of interdenpence they should be learning over independence. We have to constantly be available at the drop of a hat and in today’s busy culture many parents get swept away with being too busy- even if it’s too busy doing things they think are important. I know one too many moms who live in their vehicles picking I only people and dropping people off all day. They have no quality down time together where they can be bored together, or st least not met with “I can’t right now…later..” only for later to never come or be too late.

    I’ve also watched very wise friends raise teens who they love to be around and don’t seem to have the teenager problems typical of our society. What do I notice? They kept attachment at the forefront and said things like “They need me now more than even when they were little, and they needed me a lot when they were little.” Then live by it.

    I’ve often thought if I would be able to work or devote myself to various things when my children are older and after watching these scenarios play out I am going to have to be conscious not to busy myself too much until my kids are completely out of the nest. It’s going to be hard and a temptation, but I’ve got to do it for the kids. I even tried doing a once a week volunteer church position last year and while my kids made it through, it would have been better with me around and I had to drop it even though I enjoyed it. And that’s a light obligation compared to some people I know, and it was still too much.

Hi! I’m glad you’re here!

I’m Ann (aka Annie), a veteran homeschool mom of five who HATES complicated!
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