In the 6th grade, I had a really hard time, which led to my doing very badly in all of my school courses. When I say badly, I do mean badly. I got D’s and F’s. I even got D’s and F’s in classes that I had never before gotten less than an A in. I was lucky though. My parents never used any of my childhood traumas as an excuse to allow me to expect less of myself. So my punishment was severe. I was grounded. I wasn’t a big tv watcher in the first place, so they took away that minor privilege and my video games. I didn’t go out much to hang out with friends (it’s kind of hard to even have friends when you’re always panicky about who you can trust as a kid) so books were my friends. A lot of people would disagree with what they chose but to be honest it was the best decision for me. They took away all of the books that were considered “entertainment” like the Baby-Sitters Club books and Sweet Valley High. I was left with tons of world dictionaries and a bunch of encyclopedias and only intellectual material for my “entertainment”. I think they wanted to give me at least something to cling to because being grounded without anything to improve myself with for two years (yep, they grounded me for two years) would have been drastic. Instead they gave me a choice. Knowing that I was a smart kid, they didn’t want to take away from that growth so they said “Improve your grades and you get all the fun books back. If you want to be able to take care of yourself in the future, learn everything you can now. Take this time to become everything you want to be. You can be mad about this or you can use it to your own benefit.”
I was mad for about a day. I was all “But my birth father is evil! He hates me! He never told me I had a brother! I found out from a cousin!” and “But I was abused! I’m confused and frustrated.”. But the fact is, that letting myself recoil into a self-pitying monster has never been my way, so I cracked open a random letter of the encyclopedia and started to read.
I didn’t really think that that would be what became my comfort zone. History is in many ways a science. Actually, it IS built up of sciences. Archaeology, Anthropology, Paleontology, etc. The more I read about the mechanics of History and how the world works, the more resolved I became. I didn’t have a definite goal at the end of those two years but I did know three things. One, I did not want to rely on others to tell me what is right and wrong, what to think and do. Two, the first person I ever respected was my aunt Enie, who is a teacher and an amazing one at that, and I wanted to inspire people like she had always inspired me. I mean this woman travels the world over, teaches kids who are often times going through a form of hell none of us could ever understand, and she still has the energy and dedication to care for her family in ways that other people with less trying careers claim they’re too tired to do. Three, I wanted to learn everything I could about the world.
Now as an adult, I realize that, as noble as that is, sometimes I really don’t want to learn more about the world, what with all the killing and everything. Then I remember that if I hadn’t explored other cultures in any way, I wouldn’t know about anime, sushi, Buddhism, the British Victorian era, Steampunk, comic books, etc. In essence, all of the nerding out I do is related to that one experience.
I also know, after many years of struggling in Mathematics, that I have Dyscalculia. Part of me sometimes resents that the education system let that slip through the cracks and that I entered every college math class with dread. Exam times were excruciating because of my anxiety but having a learning disability put more emphasis on the struggle. For that reason alone, I almost feel inclined to be as open as I am about my disability, even in situations where I could actually get a job. But what’s a job if in 3 months they figure out I’m not capable of doing it because I was dishonest about the disability? I’ve had to let great opportunities slip through my fingers because the requirements they needed met were out of my control. I could do everything except large scale accounting. However, having my parents support that curiosity I had as a kid was paramount to my being able to function at all today. For someone who is passionate about contributing back to society, if I hadn’t of had that discipline and that nurturing, I could have easily lost to my troubles in learning Math.
So as someone who was once a kid, I can say this much: Parents, do your best to encourage your kids but don’t allow that encouragement to restrict how you discipline them. It doesn’t all have to be “Don’t wound his/her self-esteem.” or beatings. There IS a middle ground. Strip away all of the unnecessary and allow them to grow within the boundaries you set. If they fail a few classes, don’t convince yourself that grounding them will only make them hate the classes even more and make you into an enemy. That’s now how this works. Ground them, and within that grounding give them the tools to improve.
I can definitely say that I am grateful to my parents for having done it. I think your kids will also thank you (many years later. Sorry, instant gratification goes out the window when you have kids.). Either way at least you can be confident you’re heading in the right direction, right? I mean, I’m still kicking. That’s gotta be saying something.