Daren wasn’t a bad kid. Admittedly, he had slept in and missed a few classes, played some tennis, gotten mostly Cs in his first semester. He had pledged a fraternity, drank a few beers. His parents were supportive, to a point. But a D in “Introduction to Sociology” second semester allowed the chiropractor to send the camel a bill not covered by insurance.
Daren’s parents channeled Mr. Wizard’s ubiquitous advice to Tooter Turtle: “Twizzle, Twazzle, Twozzle, Twome; time for this one to come home” and, although they couldn’t come up with a clever rhyme for “community college,” they did feel that Daren would either figure out how to cope with his executive functioning issues–notably getting out of bed and staggering in the direction of his 9:00 am class–or, like so many young people through the ages, go out and get a damn job.
Daren found employment for a semester. Working in retail at a clothing store, he internalized the fundamental lesson of working retail at a clothing store: he learned that he did not want to be working retail at a clothing store. Not for another semester. Not ever. Folding cloths hour after hour made an impression that no lecture could have conveyed.
Daren transferred to a smaller college and connected with a coach who helped with executive functioning issues. It took you ten minutes to read, outline, and understand one page. How many minutes will it take you to read, outline, and understand six pages? Daren did the arithmetic. One page in ten minutes is six pages an hour. No! No! No! his coach responded. Each subsequent page takes longer. Because the information from the previous pages takes up space in your head!
Daren was not familiar with proactive inhibition—the tendency for the retention of learned material to be impaired by subsequent learning—but, like working in retail, it was a lesson only internalized by being there. An hour later, Daren had only read, outlined and understood four pages rather than six. Now, we’re getting somewhere, his coach said.
Similarly, Daren accepted that nothing—NOTHING!—is learned if his cell phone was accessible. A time/motion study determined that Daren checked texts and emails an average of eighty-teen gazillion times per hour. Daren put his cell phone in the other room (under a mattress) and was thereby able to get back to reading, outlining, and understanding four to six pages an hour.
The last lesson that Daren internalized had to do with friendship. On the evening before his final, Daren and his coach had determined that Daren could review and retain pages that he had already read, understood and outlined. Daren was on a path to study from seven in the evening until ten that night—cramming is frequently effective in the movies, seldom in real life—get some rest and be fresh for his test at nine the following morning. Daren’s roommate interrupted at 7:01: I’m so upset, my girlfriend just dumped me, I need someone to talk to, can we take a walk, get a beer?
I will leave it to the interested reader to determine how Daren handled the roommate’s pressing request. But I will give the following hint: I know that every word of the above story is true. Because I was the study skills coach tasked with allowing Daren to understand just how competent and capable he could be if he just put his butt in a chair and studied. Need another hint? Daren is now an accomplished professional, a respected dentist with a thriving practice in Atlanta. To my knowledge he hasn’t set foot in a retail clothing store in decades.
It wasn’t easy for Daren to tell his roommate, we’ll talk tomorrow–after my exam. But there is always a reason not to study, not to do what is necessary for success. Just as there is always a way to choose the more difficult path. With our beloved children, it’s the same. If the priority is the relationship with the child, every other exigency can be relegated to second place. If your seven-year-old is snuggled under your arm as you read Winnie the Pooh, putting your cell phone in the other room under the mattress is the most powerful suggestion I can make.