The path to fame and fortune is no easy ride, says Mariella Frostrup. Thats the best lesson parents can pass on
The dilemma Our son has given up on study. He has never really enjoyed school. He complains that teachers dont know how to control classes, feels he learns very little in a day and questions the ritual humiliation he experiences through PE.
He is intelligent, but also sensitive with a passion for music. He is talented and spends nearly all of his time playing guitar or rehearsing with a school band. He says various artists never needed exam success, and cites Liam Gallagher who apparently only got 4 GCSEs.
He is rejecting everything about us, but mostly me as his dad. I am academically successful and value education. I am impressed with his music, but if I bring this up, he tells me I know nothing about it so should stay out of it. It does feel like a clash of alpha males at times.
Reasoning with him appears futile. He tells me I cant make him do anything, which is, of course, entirely true. So how do I guide him so he is not left without options in the future?
Mariella replies Oh dear. Ive feared this question and now here it is, slap bang in the midst of my mail and not a valid excuse (bar ignorance) to dodge it.
Unlike most of the agonies Ive come up against in my own life, this is one Im only on the cusp of experiencing. However, with a near teenage, granite-willed daughter in the house I can certainly feel your pain. So lets air, share and invite my opinionated readers to do likewise.
Until you hit the implacable teens its hard to comprehend the fatal loss of tools for the job that every parent undergoes. All those threats and rewards that once maintained a degree of discipline and kept the family in working order are rendered redundant. Until recently I was still able to count to three and get some traction from my two children. Now they laugh at me and say or what?, so I can only imagine the response from a hulking GCSE candidate. Yet I cant help feeling that asserting a degree of authority is half the battle, even if its uncomfortable and, worse, unfashionable. As weve edged ever closer to our children in lifestyle, its become increasingly difficult to take the authoritarian path, but sometimes because I say so really is the answer.
Teenagers who want to be pop stars are truly 10 a penny. I had a friend who was about to fund a rehearsal space for their scholastically errant but musically obsessed child. Despite their daughters assertions that she didnt have to listen to them she was entirely reliant on them for a roof over her head and the occasional foray to Brandy Melville which to my mind simplified the situation.
Withdrawal of all but the most basic creature comforts does seem to lend some sway to your argument. Threatening punitive measures will only get you so far, though, and ultimately there has to be a bit of give and take. One of the reasons Im a big supporter of Speakers for Schools is the opportunity they offer for kids to hear about the reality, not the Google gloss, of the path to fame and fortune. For every bowlcut Mancunian theres a failed musician stacking shelves, because musical talent is not the only element necessary for success.
Tenacity, self-confidence, determination and commitment are the qualities invariably revealed when you scratch the surface of stardom, showbiz or otherwise. Happily theyre the same qualities required to knuckle down at school, while pursuing their dreams. Your son may be sick of school, but until hes waving a record contract in your face Id suggest hes not displaying the requisite qualifications to assure you of his potential for self-sufficiency.
Whatever approach youve been taking I assume from your missive that its not working and the clash of the alpha males has me worried. Is it possible for you to back off on the glories of academia while insisting on the basic building bricks for the future that education provides? Perhaps simply passing the exams could become the bottom line, rather than excelling. Navigating the shark-infested waters of the commercial world requires a rudimentary set of skills. Encouraging kids to understand that you get nothing without graft is one of the most valuable lessons you can pass on.
Few parents can offer the big bucks blackmail that will deliver a car or a deposit on a flat, but even without an oligarchs assets there are smaller luxuries our offspring depend on. Teaching them the art of compromise and the skill of negotiating seems the place to start. Theres not an artist out there who hasnt grovelled on the path to greatness, and getting through school isnt an impediment to a musical career but a platform to build one on. As for PE, humiliation now will pay off when he wows his fans with his nimble moves. Mick Jagger is a better role model than Liam G, having used his studies to build up the bands finances while working out every day to keep stage fit.