“You can’t hurry love” suggested Diana Ross. Swiping left notwithstanding, long-term, committed relationships take time to evolve. Love at first sight may be a thing, but a conversation about family finances at some point wouldn’t be a bad idea if you’re hoping for love at second and even third sight. “It’s not pre-marital sex if you have no intention of getting married” George Burns remarked . But for those who want to stay married, addressing heavy issues proactively is a good idea. For extra credit, discuss frequency, duration, and intensity of physical intimacy. If a young couple can’t agree on the important stuff while in the chains of passion, what chance does their relationship have years down the road when the flames have diminished? “Before marriage, keep both eyes open. After marriage, keep one eye closed.” Benjamin Franklin should know. Because in the words of Jacob Bronowski, Franklin had more children than is typical for a bachelor.
Faking love is not a strategy for long-term happiness. Nor is pretending to be someone you’re not. External motivation is invariably a bad plan. The real deal comes from within. Just as counterfeiting your feelings is a bad plan, motivation to study also can be propped up only for so long. Encouraging kids to attend to their homework? By all means. Helping them with their homework? Not so much. The research is evolving but clear: The more parents help with homework, the worse the kids perform in school. (Click here for eye-opening article in the Atlantic.) Modeling appropriate behavior? You betcha. (You might even pick up a book once in a while yourself. Believe it or not, your device does have an off switch.) But forcing your kid to study won’t work.
Beyond modeling, turning off the screens, and having a pleasant relationship with your child, I don’t know how to engender a love of learning in your progeny. Maybe a willingness to study can be learned but not taught. I do know that the competition is real. If an overwhelming passion for studying doesn’t develop organically, the disadvantage cannot be breached.
A group of 20-somethings is studying for the USMLE exam. The results will determine if they spend their residencies in preferable climes. (For all I know, there may also be desirable placements in hospitals up north. Work with me here.) The young people study hour after hour. For two months, they do nothing but study. No pickup basketball, no romantic walks in the park, no days off, and certainly no television. The second-year med students memorize hundreds of pages of dense information.
“ALK. Oncogene or Tumor suppressor gene?”
“Correct. Gene Product?
“Receptor tyrosine Kinase.”
“Correct. Associated Neoplasm?”
The kids answer these questions as quickly and as effortlessly as I might respond to “what is three times five?” “TSC1 is associated with the gene product ‘Hamartin protein’ and the associated condition is ‘Tuberous sclerosis.’” Some educators might argue that this information about which genes are associated with which neoplasms is available on-line and that memorizing readily available material is a waste of resources. Point taken. I'm just mentioning that the med students do memorize hundred of pages of this stuff. No one could be forced to put in 40 consecutive 12-hour study days. The kids don’t stop studying to eat. Their loved ones bring them food. The kids swivel their heads 90 degrees to say thank you. Then they turn their heads back and continue studying.
My families frequently opine, “My son has an IQ of 130. But he has a C in AP history!” How can these two facts possibly go together? High IQ and a poor grade? Inconceivable! That their bright kid isn’t excelling in a class where pretty much all the children scored in the 97th percentile is a befuddlement. “I dropped this pen and instead of falling to the ground, it morphed into a bowl of soup and floated off into space” would engender similar incredulity. “He just needs to study more!”
No. For example: a buddy of mine knows more about baseball than anyone on the planet. He has worked as a minor league umpire. He knows all the rules about fair and foul balls dribbling down the third base line. He also can name every player with more than a few at bats who has ever put on a uniform. In a given year, he can recite the score of every Cincinnati Reds game from April through October.
But against even a minor league pitcher my buddy cannot hit a ball out of the infield. Because knowing baseball and playing baseball are not perfectly correlated at all. Just as scoring well on standardized tests and performing in the classroom are not exactly the same. Forcing my buddy to play baseball rather than just loving baseball… would be a like forcing an imperfectly motivated student to go to medical school… would be like forcing someone to spend a life with you… would be like killing a mockingbird.
As always, understanding who your children are and loving them for who they are is the correct play. Not everyone can go to medical school. But all parents can and should have a healthy relationship with their kids.