By John Gardner
Teens can be quite the challenge sometimes, but I thoroughly enjoy engaging their youthful enthusiasm as they shape their futures by making decisions and learning from the decisions they make.
Sometimes they make poor decisions and need instruction, correction or discipline, but using band as punishment is excessive and harmful. Using band as punishment is like using water boarding for failing to cut the grass. Help teens thrive, don’t treat them like terrorists.
Thriving Teens – 3 types
1. Good Teens BECAUSE of their parents
For one group, I give much credit to good parenting. Good parenting doesn’t guarantee good teens, but it certainly increases the odds. These are the parents who are active and involved in their teen’s life. They’re on the PTO, in the band/choir/athletic booster groups, they come to watch practices, performances or games, they volunteer to help and they put up the money that most worth while ventures require. Some, are more behind the scenes supporting, enabling and encouraging. Outside of school activities, the family is together a lot. Maybe there isn’t a lot of money for fancy vacations, but they find ways to do things together anyway. Single parents and those who have remarried can also do fantastic jobs. My heart goes out to those super parents who are experiencing what author James Dobson calls “the strong-willed child”. Keep the faith and keep doing what you’re doing. The teen will figure it out eventually.
2. Good Teens IN SPITE of their parents
A second group, and one that I especially admire, are those teens who turn out great “in spite of” their parents. These are the teens who“ have every reason (mostly by example) to crash and burn, and yet, they determine NOT to follow the paths of their parents and instead, commit themselves to a better life.
I’m not faulting single, lower-income, laid off or otherwise challenged parents doing the best they can, but rather those who don’t share or support the child’s enthusiasm for a worthy activity.
Your child knows, is hurt, embarrassed and deflated by your lack of support.
A high school clarinet student once tell me,
“my dad has never heard me play.”
You will only have that child in your care for a short time.
I was outside our band entrance door greeting students arriving for rehearsal. The car stopped and both student and parent got out. The girl ran to me, in tears, frantically exclaiming, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” before running into the building. Behind her came the papa with the band schedule in hand. There was no warm, fuzzy response to my “Hi, how ya doin’?” Instead, he almost slapped me in the face with the schedule as he grunted, “How much of this schedule is mandatory?” After my response, “All of it.”, he mumbled something I wouldn’t print even if I heard it clearly. The daughter was waiting for me in the office, still crying, and apologizing for what she was sure I had endured. My respect and admiration for her attitude and work ethic skyrocketed after that.
A sophomore asked me for some personal clarinet coaching. Things were going great until she came in one day tearfully explaining she had to quit. She had gotten a job to pay for her lessons, because her parents would not, and when they learned how she was spending her earnings, they started charging her rent.
Another student came in from the parking lot to ask for some help with a flat tire. He called his mother while the other director and I taught him how to change a tire. To get to the spare, he had to unhook the huge woofer in the trunk. The mother and boyfriend arrived and, instead of thanking us for staying or trying to help, boyfriend starts screaming at the teen, “How dare you let somebody else touch my car. This isn’t over, kid.”
3. Good Teens Naturally
Some teens naturally have what it takes for greatness. Natural greatness combined with good parenting is definitely a winning combination.
Struggling teens and families
I understand some of the hardships. The 5 children in MY family were successfully raised by a determined, suddenly single, polio-surviving mother who was a stay-at-home mom 12 years before landing the single-parenting role. Some of her start-up challenges, in addition to parenting alone, included finding a job, day care and a car. I’m not sure where my life would have gone if mom had used band as punishment for some of the teen mischief and turmoil I instigated.
Single parents are extra busy working, exhausted from working one or more jobs. When I encouraged a student to encourage her mother to chaperone so she wouldn’t have to buy gas to the competitions, the girl replied,
“My mother can’t come. She is working three jobs.”
Living arrangements, transportation, schedules, finances and family politics aren’t easy. Juggling bedrooms in two houses, or spending summers with the non-custodial parent adds to teen stress. There is only one car and the parent has it at work. Older children must babysit younger siblings, making after school activities difficult. Some become pawns for their competing and vindictive parents. They mature quickly coping with blended families, step-siblings, step-parents (and entire new families) and parents’ new loves. Many handle it better than I did.
In “functional” families, when one parent avoids the student’s activities, even when a genuine work conflict, teens perceive that their activity doesn’t rate with the absent parent.
I had a student several years ago who’s father NEVER came to anything. Even at her high school graduation, the father walked into the gym at about the time his daughter’s name was to be called, shot a 2-minute video, and left the arena. I don’t meet some parents until I visit the graduating senior’s open house party.
Using Band as Punishment
Good parenting sometimes requires a consequence for bad behavior, but using band as punishment is not a good choice.
A common tactic in disciplining teens is withholding something valued; driving privilege, cell phone, Internet, freedom (grounding). I can’t tell you how many times I hear variations of
“I get my phone back in 5 days”….
In that spirit of taking away something valuable, however, some parents include band. A few examples from recent years:
- ….student must come home after school, even though there is a scheduled rehearsal. Part of the punishment is the grade cut and the confrontation with the director.
- Parent: “We want to pull him out of band. We’ve just been having lots of problems with him lately.”
Dir: “Are any of those problems related to band?”
Parent: “No, but we’ve already grounded him and taken away his cell phone. He likes band, so we want to pull him out so he’ll get the point.”
- Parent: “Here is a copy of our contract with our child. We’ll let him stay in band if he adheres to this agreement.”
Dir: “According to this, you want to pull him out of band if he misses a single homework assignment or gets a C on any quiz or test? If that is your absolute standard, then you might as well change the schedule now, because very few teens can guarantee you that they will NEVER have a bad day on a quiz or test and I don’t want to have to fill that hole later.”
- Parent: “This just isn’t working. She needs to come straight home after school every day.”
Dir: “On days were we have after school rehearsal, can she not come straight home immediately following rehearsal? What did she do?”
Parent: “Her room is a mess.”
Problems of Using Band as Punishment
- It affects the grade. Some short-sighted parents see an advantage in this. As a teacher, I don’t. Grades matter when it comes time to apply for college admission, scholarships and jobs.
- It hurts the band. Band is a team activity. Grounding someone from a rehearsal, performance, or pulling them out of the program mid-season hurts everybody.
For some people, band is the best thing that could happen for them. They gain acceptance as a valued member of a group made up of a wide variety of people. They make friends, some lasting a lifetime. They learn things that will help them in the corporate (or whatever) world; chain of command, respect, discipline, work ethic, commitment, and more. Some, who will never be the highest academically or the strongest athletically can find and use their leadership skills in band. Or they discover the value of being an active, valued participant in a large team effort. One student, when receiving his show shirt almost teared up as he said to me,
“I’ve never been a part of a group before.”
A graduating senior told me how grateful she was for band “because of what it kept me away from”.
Everyone knows that only a small percentage of those in band will actually make a vocation from music. But having been in band can be something treasured for a lifetime. When visiting some of my former students in a band reunion in southern Indiana, a former flute student, who is now a doctor, credited band for helping her get thru the 10 or so years of schooling it took for her to become a physician. A bi-vocational pastor said band got him away from his drinking/drug buddies and helped him turn his life around.
Why then, other than the fact that they can have some satisfaction that they truly “hurt” that mis-behaving teenager, would a parent want to take a child out of an activity that has so much to offer?
Take using band as punishment off the table. Stick with grounding or withholding privileges if you must, but don’t use band or athletics as a bargaining chip. No on wins in that scenario, including the parent.
Thanks for reading my vent. Am I wrong? Need help?