Thursday, September 19, 2013

Motivating My Children: The 19-Year-Old

I have found that homeschooling is a mixture of me finding ways to motivate my children as well as teaching them to self-motivate.  And as each child is different, they each require different types of motivation!

My son, 19, has always been very wise, which is why he chooses to do his school work well. His desire to be wise and pleasing to God helps him self-motivate, set goals, complete his tasks on time and well. But underneath that wisdom lies a reluctant scholar, who, for some of the tougher or more unpleasant assignments, has needed extra motivation from me.

For example, when it came time to bite the bullet in high school, when he was 16, and learn how to write a 5-paragraph essay, he needed LOTS of motivation.  His assignment? Write 40 practice essays, then take the College Composition CLEP, which was a 2-part test consisting of 90 English "Usage" and writing multiple choice questions (he didn't need to practice for this part), and then two timed essays, "persuasive" style, where he needed to be able to use, to support his position, relevant examples and quotes from anything he could think of (such as literature, history, current news, etc.)  It took him at least eight months to write these 40 essays... something his sister could have done in a week.  Eight. Months. I was able to tell him he could not play with Legos each night until his homework was done (one essay, about 40 minutes), and that helped a little. But it was not enough. Really. It was just a 1-2 page essay that didn't even require any research!  I told him that if he didn't have one essay done each night, then the next day he was "grounded" and could not drive his truck, which meant he could not go to work or to class at the local college, which means he would suffer the consequences of not showing up to work or class.  He got those annoying essays done. And passed his CLEP. And in the three years since, he has developed into an excellent writer.

Right now he is struggling to finish his VERY LAST course that will earn him his Bachelor's Degree. It is an online statistics course and it is beyond frustrating.  Every problem is very long, and if you type one space wrong, or reverse the numbers in multiplication section (as in, type 3x4 instead of 4x3), the computer marks you "wrong" and gives you two additional problems as punishment.  He has had to learn, more than learning "statistics," how to keep careful notes of how to type in his answers, space by space, jot by tittle, and refer to his own notes. And just when he learns what the computer wants, the computer changes its mind--uses different terms and formats! He is more learning to crack some programmer's "code" than learning statistics.  But, he has persevered, and now he has 5 topics left (3 problems per topic, unless he gets an answer wrong, then it snowballs from there).

He has needed help with motivation. He is burnt out on this dumb course, but he decided it wasn't worth bailing on it to replace it with a different course or class, which we did talk about several times. He decided to stick it out, and he's almost there. It has to be done by September 30 to receive his degree in the December graduating class.

Since he is now 19 and considered an adult, I have to think of different ways to help him. I can't  ground him or take away his truck.  He is a manager at his company, and it just wouldn't work to not show up and have to explain he was "grounded."  So... what to do.  My husband and I tried to think of several things... including the promise of a new Kindle Fire if the course was completed by a certain date. That didn't work. He has his own money and could have bought himself 10 of them if he had wanted.  He ordered a giant new Lego Technic set and decided not to let himself open it until his class was done. It's still sitting there. It didn't really make him work any faster. I considered telling him he couldn't touch the piano until his class was done, but knew that wasn't right. He plays to unwind when he needs a break. Could I tell him not to buy pizza?  No. He would just buy Hot Pockets, or calzones, or... .  How to help?

But you are going to laugh when you hear how, after praying about this for a few days, I realized what I needed to do.  I forbid him to mow the grass.

It's my grass. I can tell him not to touch it!  I wasn't trying to upset him, really. I was trying to help him see that his class was more important than mowing right now. And he likes mowing, and he likes the grass to be nice and neat and short--he likes everything neat. And he hates Statistics. It was too easy for him to bail on working on the class because he "HAD to mow."

So, that motivated him.  And removed a major distraction. I wanted to help him see that he needed to do school, then worry about mowing later.

I told him flat-out:  "Nope. You don't touch it until your Statistics class is done."  I knew it would help when he froze on the spot, processing this information. 

A kitten playing "tiger" in our long grass!

He still found a way to get out of school work, though. He spent a day cleaning and organizing the garage.

He found another way to motivate himself, too. He made a pact with the guys at work (who are all cheering him on in his degree pursuit) that he would not shave until his class is done.  Oh boy... his beard is driving him crazy! But he's enjoying the little challenge at the same time. It's always interesting for a young man to grow out his beard for the first time!

Mountain man, Gabe!

He's probably in 3-day range, now, of finishing the class. He's been able to get two or three topics done per day. Then he has to pass an assessment and send the email to apply for the credit towards his degree.

Then he will shave, show up to work in triumph amongst the cheers of his colleagues, and then he will come home and mow whenever he likes. With a Bachelor's Degree to hang on his wall, smiling at him, reminding him of his diligence and wisdom and perseverance.

Boy, am I proud of this kid!  Thank you, Lord, for being with us every step of the way as he has grown!


  1. As a fellow Christian, I know you care about your children and want God's best for them. But do you understand how freaky it is that you are motivating a 19 year old MAN with Legos? Or by feeding his OCD by not allowing him to mow the lawn? After reading all of your posts over the years it is clear that you are bipolar and need medication; right now you seem to be on a manic high. I implore you to seek help for the sake of your children!

  2. Yes, I can see why that comes off freaky if one thinks I was dangling Legos over my 19yo to motivate him. But that wasn't the case, because I was referring to when he was 16. I really don't think it's so strange to tell a 16yo not to play with Legos until his 1-hour's worth of homework is done for the night. And, when talking about his current attempt to get motivated, it's not so strange that a 19yo bought his own Lego set, with his own money, to motivate himself. Is that any different than a woman trying to lose weight and buying herself a "goal" outfit to motivate herself?

    And I know he doesn't really have OCD, so I apologize for the bad taste in making a joke about it. He is a "perfectionist," and likes things nice and neat, but it's been four days since he finished his class and he still hasn't mowed. He's wasn't "obsessing," and he's not worried about it. He just doesn't LIKE long grass--but he's really not distressed. He agreed that finishing the last 10% of his very last class was a higher priority than mowing. I was trying to help him by removing the pressure to mow so he was free to concentrate on his one class. I certainly didn't come across that way in my post--I was trying to be funny, I guess.

    I guess in my attempt to be slightly humorous and interesting in my writing, things did not come across the right way--which is a problem, because maybe I did put a spin on things that wasn't accurate or truthful. I appreciate the your feedback that helped me see that. I shouldn't be writing if I'm not really going to portray the truth, I believe that with all my heart.

    I actually did see a doctor recently to make sure I was doing okay... because it's been a tough and emotional year. He told me directly that I was one of the most sane and normal patients he had. But, yes, I do continually seek help for the sake of my children! I do only want God's best for them! I am always willing to seek counsel for their sake, and I always do. I will pray about correcting the post, actually, to make sure it is more accurate!

  3. Ok, let me just jump in here before you change anything!

    I got to the end of that post and my first thought was "What a great post!"

    I have two boys and they have each needed their own forms of motivation. I once offered to pay Ted $5.00 for each set of multiplication tables he memorized!

    But, back to this:
    When I got to the first comment and read what Jill wrote, I was floored! How hateful and mean spirited and self righteous!

    Now, Cam....I know how you are and it's reflected in your very nice reply, that you will read this and want to delete mine vs. hers, so as to do what's pleasing to the Lord.

    But, let me just get this in before you do......this woman, who has been "reading your posts for years" needs to be blocked from that privilege. She's obviously just a trouble maker and a bitter person.

    She obviously does not know you at all. Not your heart. Not your testimony. Not your prayer life. Not anything at all about what you do or who you are.

    Don't change this post. Change her access to your blog.

    Keep on writing my friend!

  4. It warms my heart that you come to my defense. So very few people have done that for me in my life! But, just so you know, even though it is apparent that someone who leaves scathing messages for complete strangers is a bit "off," at the same time I was able to view the message objectively and see some "light." My post entirely clear--first of all, and it WASNT entirely truthful in my attempt to be humorous--I changed a couple of words to omit exaggerations. Good lesson to take from King David, I guess. I did have great peace about evaluating Jill's words and making my response. Anyone who speaks against me--who's to say that isn't from God? He could have stopped them if He wanted to! But I also know from years of blogging experience to not ever expect anyone to understand me or homeschooling in many different aspects! And besides... I don't know how to block people!

    1. I meant to say my post WASNT entirely clear...

    2. And I had joked in my original writing of this post that my son was "obsessive compulsive" about the grass. That was a joke and it's not really true, so I can see how someone may not find that funny. So I fixed that!

    3. That's called humor, which I totally got :) I do agree that sometimes there is truth to the ugly things people say. I guess it was the hatefullness and self-righteousness in her words that seem way off base for a post such as this. As a "fellow Christian" as she says, her post was completely lacking the love, mercy or grace that represents our Lord.

  5. I get your humor...but some find our Family tradition of watching "Babe" after butchering and packaging a pig for our meat supply a bit off. Others get it. Different strokes for different folks, I found your post great. I need to think outside the box for one of my students and your posts help me with that! God bless...

    1. Karla, I meant to hit "reply" but didn't--so see next comment!--Camilla

  6. Haha! That is an hilarious tradition, in an "off" way! :-) Thank you for chiming in here. Nice to "meet" you! God bless you, too!