It is easy to fall back on the old, useless, and yet still spoken claim when trying to motivate our kids, "You need to study hard and get good grades so you can get into a good college and therefore get a good job." You can imagine how powerful this approach is to a 10 year old who thinks that the summer (2 weeks from now) is an eternity away. How we can expect them to act now based on the benefits they will reap in 10 years? While talking with my son the other night before bed after a particularly long evening of homework and headaches, I tried to answer his (fair) question, "Why do I have to learn science anyway?" Here is the dialogue that followed.
I am constantly trying to get my kids to understand the long term reasons for studying, learning, and building good habits. As a self-proclaimed adult and headhunter, I see everyday where people end up in their careers and it is obvious to me from the countless resumes and interviews that our kids will be better off if they get their acts together early on. I realize of course that it is an uphill battle. Kids at the toddler, elementary and even middle school level have a sense of time that seems to assume the world will no longer exist five days from the all important NOW. School projects are put off because they are not due tomorrow. Why practice for soccer today if there is no game coming up in the next hour? Read? You mean like just for fun???
Dad: Well, someday you are going to have find a job so that you can take care of yourself and pay for food and rent. Daddy does not live with Grandpa anymore does he?
Dad: So, do you know what kind of job you want to do when you get out of college?
Dad: That's OK, nobody knows at your age what they will be. But that is why you have to learn a bunch of different things so that when you do decide what you want, you will have the knowledge you need. Maybe it will be science, maybe math, maybe something else.
Son: But I am not really going to have to work when I grow up.
Dad: ...Huh? Why is that?
Son: Because there will be robots that do everything for us.
Dad: I see (struggling to process) and who is going to make all these robots?
Son: I don't know.
Dad: And why should the person who works hard to make all these robots let you use them for free?
Dad: I guess you could always get a job polishing the robots and keeping them clean. Son..? Son?
Maybe the answer is to work within the timeframe our kids define for us. If the best they can do is think a week ahead then we need to adjust our expectations, incentives, reasoning to that more understandable block of time. As they get older and mature that time sense will extend further and we can extend out as well. A little pushing does not hurt and may help our kids to develop faster. Instead of five years from now though we can talk about our expectations for the end of the month. A stretch perhaps for a grade schooler but, as I am often saying to my kids, you won't get better without reaching beyond your limits.