We’re going into our second year of high school at home with my oldest this year and next year my second-born will start.
Honestly, I love this stage. When I am sitting on the couch listening to my 5-year-old sound out words, I remind myself: It’s ok. We have to do this now so that later we can talk about Beowulf and diagram sentences.
But it is a whole new territory. It is as different from the elementary years as the elementary years are from the preschool years. There might be vestiges of the same practices or lessons, but they look different and they must be approached differently.
Just as our teens are learning about themselves and becoming more invested in the direction of their own lives, so we as mothers during this phase must pay attention and learn about ourselves, allowing them to grow in responsibility while recognizing our own responsibility as well.
So here are three things I think we as homeschooling mothers can do to help our teens make the transition to personal responsibility while still holding them accountable.
How to Homeschool High School: Give Ownership
Passing on the ownership of their education is not something that happens overnight and it’s not something that happens without mess ups. They do not wake up the first day of their freshman year ready, willing, and able to make important decisions about what to study and about how to make sure their work is done on time. Yet it is our goal to get them there by the time they leave our homeschool.
Just like you expect an infant to fall many times as he learns to walk, so expect your high schooler to plan poorly, to argue, to whine, to fail. Just like the toddler learns to get up and try again, so must our teens learn that same lesson.
When they mess up their plan, when they ignore their work and try to get out of it (when, not if), when they are sloppy, when they blame their failings on you, it doesn’t mean they aren’t ready to take ownership any more than a toddler’s fall means he isn’t ready to walk. It’s all part of the process of learning. We learn better when we work through the consequences of our choices.
We must remember that as mothers, both for ourselves and for our teens. Are some of our choices backfiring on us? We need to stand, take responsibility, and move forward to fix it. Are our teens choices backfiring on them? We need to stand, hold the line, and make them take responsibility and move forward to fix it.
Make sure they have interests and hobbies to pursue, something compelling them to get outside, to create, to expand their skills and knowledge.
Giving our teens ownership is not the same thing as pushing them into the deep end and letting them flounder.
We don’t give them independence and responsibility so as to make our job easier. That’s not the point. If it is our primary purpose, the problem is with us, not them – which we must remember when the house of cards collapses.
The student has true ownership and true responsibility, but not sole ownership or autonomy. We, as the parents, still bear responsibility for their education and must hold them accountable to their work – whether it be work we gave them, work they volunteered for, or work assigned by an outside teacher.
That means we must continually pay attention to their work, even if we delegate much of it.
This doesn’t have to mean we are constantly playing school police, although sometimes it might feel like it. When we ask to see work, when we listen to narrations, when we give feedback on papers, when we ask questions, we are demonstrating that we care.
If we want our child to care, we must care enough ourselves to follow through. We can delegate the planning, we can delegate the work, but we cannot delegate the caring.
When the going gets tough – as it should in high school – the fact that he knows you care will be a brace to help him stick to it. If he must rely only on his own caring, he will interpret that to mean it depends on how he feels – and I speak from the experience of being the high school student here. There will be days he doesn’t feel like it, when it seems like it doesn’t matter. If he believes that doing his work is entirely up to him, there will be days when he simply does not do it – and he will have a multitude of reasons.
We need to be there, ready to help him through that point. We, also, know that feeling and give into it too much. There are days I do not do what is on my list and although I have reasons, they are bad reasons.
When we give our high schoolers accountability and catch such days and help them through them, we are not only making sure the work is done, we are helping to prevent a habit of excuses from forming.
Of course, sometimes there are reasons to not get to the checklist that are valid – as we will, as mothers – personally attest. Things come up that get in the way, that derail us, and that require a shift in priorities.
If we want their work to be reliable, however, we have to ensure they have reliable time reserved for the work we are requiring.
It’s easy and tempting to steal their time for our purposes, to tell them that most high schoolers don’t have free time either, to discount their down time. But connections and thinking happen in the down time and we don’t want teens like “most high schoolers” – and that needs to be reflected in how they spend their time.
It does get harder. They do have more work. There will be resistance to overcome. There will be more homework, more deadlines, more activity.
But let us ensure they’re not staying up late for homework. Let’s make sure they have time to hang out with friends outside of organized activities. Let’s make sure they have a hobby or two that they still have time for – maybe not every day, but most days.
As they begin learning about and transitioning into adulthood, we can think about what a balanced adult life looks like and make sure we aren’t encouraging or building bad habits from the start: Do we want men who think it’s normal to bring work home and spend the evening finishing his work? Do we want women so preoccupied with pleasing others’ expectations that they can’t simply enjoy themselves? Do we want adults without hobbies, adults without attention to the world around them, adults with no idea how to manage free time?
School will take more of our high schooler’s time, and they will have more outside obligations as well. But we need to refrain from overcommitting them. We need to hold back our panic that we have so little time left with them. We should not make them bear our guilt for what we haven’t done yet.
We need to guard their time as we would guard our own.
After all, free time is the best motivator I have found for diligent work. If there is no hope for time to do what they want, our teens – and ourselves – are prone to dawdle, procrastinate, and meander. We need to have a reason to work well and with attention – not just for a certain result in the work, but for a certain hope for our time.
When our kids hit high school, suddenly everything seems more high stakes. Our time is short, our choices more influential than ever. Although that can paralyze us, we mustn’t let our anxiety smother our teens.
Really, all three tips come down to realizing our teens are young adults and treating them as such. We know the temptations of adulthood – we deal with them every day. Our job is to not let them flounder in the deep end of those temptations, but give them direction and guidance and structure as they gain experience and skill in navigating responsibility.
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