Monday, November 14, 2011

What Really Matters? On Being A Teen Awaiting a Report Card

Why is it, as a culture, we expect so much from adolescents? As a teacher and as a parent, I see this every day. We expect our children to turn in all their homework, organize their notebooks, be on time for class and so on. And many of us also expect our children to perform well in their extracurricular activities: soccer, or swimming, or choir or volunteer work. Or all of the above, at the same time, while juggling multiple advanced courses, with multiple deadlines and demands. Oh, and meanwhile their pituitary glands are shooting out boatloads of hormones, are making their brains and emotions unpredictable, causing them to sometimes question authority, reduce their motivation and develop risky behaviors.

I live with this reality every day - as the mother of one (and a half) teens, and as a high school teacher. All day I cajole and I encourage. Sometimes, at home with my own children, I also criticize and admonish. What were you thinking? Why didn't you turn in that 30-point lab report?

Sometimes, my sons want a great big hug from me and a shoulder to cry on. Other times, they flinch when I so much as put my hand on a shoulder. Get away from me.

Here in New Jersey we are coming to the end of the first marking period of the year, a time to take stock, correct mistakes, and for some children, celebrate achievement. My husband and I worry about our sons' grades, hoping they learn from their failures as well as their triumphs. I am also grading papers and logging in quarter-grades for my own students, wishing this one had tried harder or that one had rewritten work or bothered to turn in an assignment.

But really, we are more than the sum of our accomplishments and our failures. What lessons do I want to pass on? What really, in the end, matters, whether one is heading to study at Yale after graduation, or to work behind the counter at Mc Donalds?

The Gospel reading yesterday could not have been more fitting for the struggles that the teens around me face. Pope Benedict XVI in his Angelus address, spoke about that reading, the parable of the talents. "The Pope.. quoted from his sixth- and seventh-century predecessor, Pope Gregory the Great, who said that the primary virtue that needs to be preserved and enhanced throughout life is love — both love of friends and enemies.

“If one lacks this virtue, he loses all good that he possessed; he is deprived of the talent he received and is thrown out, in darkness,” warned Pope Gregory." A good heart is not something one can quantify. The common mentality tells us otherwise, but, at the end of the day, a good heart is what matters more than grades on high school report cards.


  1. I have read this post several times now and I love every word that you write. (as usual!)

    Seriously- as a stepmother of a teenager I respond to so many things that you say here. Thanks for inviting me to stop here, to read and to pause and to consider all these things. As always, a gift from you.

  2. Thanks, Fran. As you know, parenting and guiding teens is not easy. They test our patience, prick our pride and call us to love them UNCONDITIONALLY. Phew.