Auntie SparkNotes: My Parents Don't Push Me Enough
The question I have is not really something many other teens would complain about: my parents are too lenient.
I'll get yelled at from time to time, but I have never once been actually punished. While I definitely enjoy many of the freedoms I have through this, like absolute freedom over what I wear and read, it has become a major problem in other parts of my life, especially school. I'm a smart kid. I don't mean to brag, but I need to say that upfront. I want to do well in school, and I do.
The thing is, I feel like I'm the only one who cares how I do in school. I don't have the classic stratospheric expectations that seem to plague many kids like me. My parents don't ask for Ivy League, instead they ask me to consider community college. I'm a very successful participant in spelling bees, but I have to ask them to drill me, and they freak out if I work for more than 10 minutes. I can't claim that my parents would kill me if I got an F, but I want them to — I want to know they want me to do well.
My parents are great parents, and I'm close to both of them. I feel loved, I get plenty of attention, and I think they've raised me well. They just don't push me enough. My mom has stated repeatedly that "unconditional love" is her primary parenting philosophy, but that seems to blind her, and my dad, to the fact that I am not a perfect person. My parents are big on "doing your best" but they don't understand that if I tried, my best could be perfection. I'm a teenager, though. My animal instincts are for constant procrastination. I do just barely enough to get As and Bs, and I'm witty, polite and curious enough to be popular with my teachers. But I don't stand out. I'm not top of the class, but I could be.
My question is, how do I explain this to my parents? I'm basically criticising their parenting style. I love them, but they just need to know it won't kill me if they ask how I did on a test, give me some constructive criticism, or tell me to switch off the TV and double-check my math homework. I'm not asking for full on tiger parents, that's simply not in their natures, but I just need an extra push, a reason to do well, and I don't feel I'm getting that.
Well... all right, here's the deal: It's okay to want to be great. It's okay to want a push towards greatness. It's even okay to realize that your parents might have provided that push, y'know, if they were completely different people.
But... ugh. I mean, you've got great parents who love and accept and encourage you to do your best—and you're upset because they haven't somehow spotted, in between your spelling bee championships and your popularity and your As-and-Bs average, your untapped capacity for genius perfection?
Sparkler, I'm sorry, but I think you should know: this makes you sound like a total butt.
And honestly, I'm not convinced that you're being particularly fair to your parents—or that the absence of threats and pressure means they don't care whether you do well in school. (My guess: that they do care, but they also aren't worried, because by any reasonable standard, you're doing very well indeed.) You said it yourself: your mom and dad aren't perfection-seekers, they just want you to do your best.
Which is where you run into a problem—because knowing what your best is, and choosing to do it, is entirely up to you. And if you don't push yourself to the absolute limit, and if you end up in the top tenth of your class instead of at the top, that's not your parents' fault. Surely you realize that only you can decide how much you study or how hard you try, right? Not even the world's most terrifying tiger parent can change the fact that you're the boss of how you behave.
And as tempting as it is to blame your folks for not pushing, not criticizing, not insisting you make your best better—because, among other things, it allows you to bask in the fantasy of how amazing you could be without ever taking responsibility for the reality of who you are—giving into that urge isn't just unattractive, it's just about the least helpful thing you could do for yourself. People who achieve incredible things don't need a reason; nobody wins a race or aces a test or gives a great performance because Mommy and Daddy said so. They do it because they wanted it, and worked for it, and resisted the temptation to blame other people when they came up short.
So instead of telling your parents how much they aren't doing for you, try this: forming your own goals, and your own plan to achieve them, and then asking them to support you in your efforts. If you want to share the details of your schoolwork, then start offering information instead of waiting for them to ask. If you need someone to drill you in spelling for more than ten minutes at a time, say so directly. And if you want to achieve greater-than-great academic success, explain that you feel you've been coasting and want to develop a better work ethic, and ask them to call you out when it looks like you're slacking.
But whatever you ask, realize this: other people can support you, encourage you, and cheer you on, but they cannot give you a reason to do well. That's got to come from you. And if you're smart and mature enough to recognize your own potential, you're smart and mature enough to figure out a way to exercise it yourself.
And while you do, to appreciate that you could do a hell of a lot worse than parents who love you and think you're great no matter what your GPA.
Do your parents push you too much, or not enough? Share your stories in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at email@example.com.
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