My big question about college is not whether I can pay for it; the answer to that one is pretty obvious, but I guess miracles—and scholarships—can happen. No, my big question about college is whether my son, now age 10, will ever turn off his video game system during his four years of higher learning.
I also wonder, will he help himself to five puddings every night at the dining hall? Will he oversleep, miss all his classes, and never do his laundry? Without a reminder from me, I fear, will he ever brush his teeth?
Now it’s not that he’s not a responsible guy. He’s great about getting up for school (though it does take a couple of shakes to awaken him). He loves to read (but his overdue library fines could finance his college tuition). And he’s happy to practice his trumpet (but finding his band shirt on concert day–not so much).
This is the tricky thing about older kids. They do have their responsible, trustworthy moments. But just when I tell my husband that our son is “old enough to make good decisions about that,” I’ll find an open jar of marshmallow fluff under his bed, even though I’m pretty sure I haven’t bought or used any in months.
Often, my son’s behavior suggests that every single reminder I’ve ever given him—reminders about when to turn off the Nintendo DS or where to put his backpack after school or how your dating pool will be seriously diminished if you never shower—have gone in one ear and out the other, been taken up by the passing breeze, and swept up into the vacuum of outer space, where, everyone knows, parents really don’t make any noise when they speak.
So how can we parents bridge our children’s personal responsibility gaps? I, for one, like to universalize my bike safety approach. I figure, I can’t make my son stop at the stop signs, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t let them ride. What I can do instead is give him a safety talk before he rides, set a good example myself, give him the opportunity to do the right thing, and debrief afterwards about how it went.
It’s scary to imagine the bad consequences of children’s choices, whether it be a car speeding around the corner—or a teacher who doesn’t take any excuses. But, painful as it may be, experience is often our children’s best teacher.
A recent afterschool trip to the car wash brought this lesson back into focus for me. I’d tasked my son with picking up the odds and ends from the back seat, throwing him, unexpectedly, into an full-blown anxiety tailspin. His worry, he confessed, was that he’d lost a video game cartridge months ago and was convinced that it had fallen under the seat and been sucked up by the car wash vacuum.
After I’d talked him down from the ledge, I gave him a personal responsibility pep talk. It’s up to you to take the preventive measures that will keep your video games safe, I said. Never washing the car is not one of them.
We’ll see whether that one sank in. If it did, though, I’m sure that daily oral hygiene can’t be far behind.