It is a tough question and the answer will look different for every family. I think the guiding principle should be to realize that most students, even those in upper high school, still lack the wisdom to make major life decisions.
Our kids might know what they think they want, but they don’t have the insight gained from years of living on this earth. Only a parent has that. Children can’t see long term consequences of choices. Teens might not yet have a grasp on the sacrifice that will be necessary to achieve their goals. They might not see that their personality would be a disastrous fit for a particular career. They might not be responsible enough yet to launch out on the thing they are dreaming about. On the flip side, they might be ready for a thing they dread and we have to push them into it for their own good.
Thus, as a parent, I took a cautious path. I never asked my kids their opinion about their schooling, activities, or future unless I knew I could honor their wishes. When they came to me with a request, I was willing to consider it, but not promise. I took a wait and see approach to give myself more data to make decisions and to give them more time to grow up. In areas where they were ready, but unwilling, I often required them to move forward in a particular activity.
Even being older and wiser, I made mistakes. I can guarantee that you will too. We can’t let the fact that we are human paralyze us from providing the leadership our family needs.
Let’s look at a few areas where this concept comes into play:
Which extracurricular activities do we pursue? We certainly follow the child’s heart and do things they love. But, I also required things they didn’t like because I knew it was crucial for their development, for them to grow into their potential.
Do we quit an activity? It depends on their reason for wanting to quit. Sometimes it has just gotten difficult and our student needs to tough it out until they get to a point of mastery where they can enjoy it. Sometimes they need to stick with something where they don’t have friends in order to develop the social skills needed to resonate with the group. As much as I hate to say it, sometimes our kids are just lazy and they need to learn to commit and power through. Of course, there are situations when we should drop an activity quickly: the case of verbal or mental abuse, when a child is asked to compromise, when their safety is not secure, or when they are being taken advantage of.
Do we ramp up an activity? Again, it depends. If my child practices only 10 minutes a day on her Irish Dance and yet wants to move to an elite troupe that requires four days of travel instead of one, my answer would be no. She hasn’t proven her dedication enough for me to make the sacrifices necessary. When my daughter, at age ten, was practicing her violin for 4-5 hours a day just because she loved it and was growing beyond the local teachers, I said yes to a 3-hour commute to a fabulous teacher. She had earned it.
When do homeschooled kids leave for college? This is a tricky one and it cannot be rushed. Often we don’t know the answer until the very end of high school. For this reason, we never talked about what “grade” my kids were in. We were just doing school and then seeing where things went from there. Many students don’t blossom until they are sixteen or even older. Suddenly they see a clear path and, by this time, have the skills and work ethic to chase a newfound dream. To ship them off prior to this time can lead to disaster.
Here’s the way I suggest approaching your decision of when kids are ready for college. First, you are responsible to ensure they are ready for the next step, and we often don’t know the answer to that until we get there. Secondly, as the parent, you are paying for college. You need to make sure your investment is a sound one. Sending a child that is not ready can lead to flunking out, changing majors often (thus adding years to their college career and costing much more money than it should), or kids just not taking advantage of the opportunities at a fabulous school.
I let my children make as many decisions as they were capable of making and gave them increasing responsibility for doing so as they got older and proved themselves. Yet, they were never given free reign or the last say. I was the mom and that was my job.
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