Parenting Tips For Teenagers Vol 4 – Pragmatism and Patience

patience quote

This is part of my monthly series on Parenting Teenagers.

Almost five years ago I wrote a series of posts reviewing the excellent book by Celia Lashlie, Growing gorgeous boys into good men. You can see the posts here.

I have been re-reading these posts and feel that I am overdue to read this book again. The following section is particularly relevant to our teenager at the moment:

Adolescent Pragmatism: Why They Do What They Do

Lashlie feels that to understand an adolescent boy, you really need to understand their pragmatism. That is – “what’s in it for me, what’s the pay-off, why should I do this?”

This pragmatism also shows itself in the way most adolescent boys will do the work when the moment arrives and not before. The nagging, cajoling form parents is unlikely to have any impact.

“When he knows it’s up to him and only him whether something does or doesn’t get done, when he’s able to link action with consequences, then he’ll begin to make good decisions for himself.”

Lashlie feels that to connect with your adolescent son we need to:

“encourage him in making good decisions, we need to step into his timeframe.”


Accepting the teenager’s pragmatism requires endless patience on my behalf. Over the last 10 days he has had seven exams and three NAPLAN tests. Before each exam period I encourage him to create a plan for how he will approach his study. A couple of weeks out fromt these when I tried to do this, the teenager made it very clear he was not keen on this and didn’t want me going on about it.

I made a conscious decision to stay out of his study planning this time. I clearly and calmly articulated that I respected his ability to organise himself and let him know that both myself and his dad would be happy to help if he needed it, he just needed to ask us.

From where I was viewing his study, at times it has been like watching a train wreck. The night before his English exam he did indeed ask me to help him with some revision. While he is very capable at English, it is not his favourite subject and through discussion it appeared that he had spent earlier days studying his preferred subjects of science and history and English was left a little late.

He admitted in hindsight, he should have prioritised better. I resisted the urge to lecture about planning, instead focusing on giving him some tips on what to do now he was in this predicament.

I did unfortunately comment on a different evening to him, that for someone who had NAPLAN and an exam the next day, he didn’t seem to be doing much work. He quite rightly pointed out that he shouldn’t need to do anything for NAPLAN and that I had said I wasn’t going to comment on his study habits. Humble pie for me to eat.

He seems happy with the way his exams went. Time will tell. But I found it quite exhausting, using every ounce of my energy to be patient and allow him to work on his own time line. The good thing is that as these are year 9 exams, he has plenty of time to practice working out his study habits, before the exams start accounting for much more of his results.

How do you approach exam study with your children?


  1. says

    I remember cramming quite a bit in high school and college. Personality has a big role to play in this, as does procrastination. I think as long as you aren’t doing the work for him and he bears the consequences of his procrastinating, you’ll impart the right lesson.

  2. says

    Ha! I relate so much to this post. For the record, Celia Lashlie’s observations about teenage boy behaviour apply equally to teenage girls :)

    I relate especially to all the tongue-biting you do around your eldest boy. It’s been one of my big lessons – to not nag, to stand back and let her make her own decisions and, if necessary, her own mistakes. I think it is a great sign that your son, like my daughter, can tell us to back off (politely) because they want to handle things themselves. And of course they won’t put the planning in that we as adults know is required, because it takes many years to learn that, and many years to even care as much as we do as adults. Of course there are exceptions, and there will be some kids who are unusually mature and responsible. I’ve learnt to accept mine is not one of them :)

  3. Charmaine says

    Sounds like you and I have been having similar weeks with our teen. I started the same as you, suggesting she make a plan; and had a similar reaction. Pretty much said the same thing, that I respected her decision and if she needed help, she only had to ask. In between NAPLAN and mid-term exams, we also have to fit in a Grade 6 piano exam. Hence, the extra grey hairs on my head. Can’t wait till the end of this coming week.

  4. jacqui says

    I have given my eldest, who is grade 7 this year, the sole responsibility of completing her homework each night without my guidance, though I do check her work Friday morning, as I reward her with a special treat if her homework is done . When she gets an assignment to complete at home I sit down with her and get her to work out a time management plan to complete this without me overseeing her work. so do still read and help her with the finished assignment but this is all about instilling study good habits for next year in high school. I also have given her teacher the heads up in this plan as she has handed in incomplete homework. I only started doing this, as I am very busy with homework from my other children who are in grade 5, 3 and 2.

    • says

      Letting the teacher know what is going is such a good point. I have used that when he was younger. Now he just has to accept the consequences at school with his teacher. I do think having to help the other kids is sometimes a positive thing for me – I don’t have as much time to worry or see what it is he is or isn’t doing.

  5. says

    Great advice! I think it is important to give the kids their own say in determining how they want to approach their study but of course under our watchful eyes at a distance. They will then be responsible for any consequences that may arise from their decisions and actions. It is difficult for parents to give a free hand though, and we may find it harder to accept the bad consequences than our own children.

    • says

      Some days I am better at just letting things take their natural course. I have noticed if I am tired or stressed, I find his behaviour more agitating so need to watch this in myself.

  6. says

    My experience (as the child) was at boarding school. The ultimate in ‘hands off’ parenting of studying! It meant that I took all that on myself, and I did put a lot of pressure on myself in both school and uni. But it was nice to know that I did it ‘all by myself’ too. I can’t imagine how hard it is to see things going wrong, that you could advise and help on, and having to bite your tongue. I know I’ll struggle when I’m a mother one day!

    • says

      Enjoyed hearing your experience Sarah. I have one child who I think will put much more pressure on himself – not sure if that will be better, worse or just different!

  7. says

    I have a 17 year old just about to start his final school exams, it’s been tough. I go through phases of micro managing then phases of calm when I let him at it. While knowing the best approach is to stay calm and let them figure it out for themselves it is soooo difficult to stand by and watch them making a mess of it. Only a couple more weeks to go and then I can relax for another few years before the next two start taking exams! And yes Patience is my BIG lesson in life and I am slowly learning!

    • says

      I too go through phases Ciara. As I noted to another reader some days I am better at just letting things take their natural course. I have noticed if I am tired or stressed, I find his behaviour more agitating so need to watch this in myself.

  8. Jen says

    Just putting in a plea for the benefits of cramming – I am a lifelong crammer and have managed to get under-grad and master’s degrees this way. Also, I’ve come to recognise the benefits of my cramming skills in my work – as a journo 90% of my writing is done on a tight deadline with very limited preparation time. My cramming experience from highschool and uni has been really helpful and I’ve noticed among my professional colleagues that the most successful ones tend to be crammers rather than planners. While I’ve come to recognise the benefits of planning in many situations as a mum I still think there are some benefits to cramming. So I wouldn’t totally despair of your son – his cramming experience now might actually help him later on in his career!

    • says

      I enjoyed reading that Jen! I already see how it is natural mode of operating. Hw won the impromptu speech comp for his class and does well in debating as he is used to having to think quickly!