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When Kids Want to Quit School Activities

Your teenaged son wants to quit the football team.  He’s on the “B” team, and that’s pretty good for a sophomore.  Plus, many of his friends are on the team.   How do you handle this situation? 

First, let’s acknowledge that, by the time our kids are teenagers, we don’t exert as much control (errrr, influence) over their choices as we used to.  The chances are that if your son wants to drop out of football, he will . . . whether you like it or not.  If you actually can exert influence sufficient to keep him in football even though he doesn’t want to be there, there is a better than average chance that he will foster anger and/or resentment about the situation.  So, the command-and-control way of parenting in this situation is fraught with difficulties.

Once you let go of the command-and-control paradigm, you can embrace a new (and more successful) way to approach the situation.  That new way is to seek to gain understanding, to validate, and to accept and/or to inform and brainstorm on solutions.  Let’s review some scenarios using this new approach.  (In each scenario, assume the parent is using an understanding tone of voice and open body language.)

SCENARIO #1

Parent:  Son, I understand that you want to drop out of football.  I support whatever choice you make here.  I’m curious: do you have another activity that holds your interest now?

Son:  No, I’m just bored with football.  I’ve been playing every year since I was in seventh grade.

Parent:  Ok.  It’s your call.  Will you  miss your friends . . . you’re used to seeing them every day after school for football practice.

Son:  No, I’m getting bored with those guys, too.

Parent:  Oh, I’m sorry.  Are you thinking about finding new friends to hang out with?

Son:  Maybe.

Parent:  Have one or more of your friends said or done something that you didn’t like?

Son:  Well, actually, they’ve started partying.  It makes me uncomfortable.  If they get busted with alcohol, they get into big trouble, yet nobody seems to notice or care.  Maybe they think they’ll never get caught.  I don’t know.  I just know it makes me uncomfortable.

Parent:  Wow!  I’m so proud of you for doing the right thing by staying away from alcohol even in the face of peer pressure when so many of your friends are drinking.  You’re right: the risks are significant.  I know you’ve really enjoyed football . . . is there a way you could continue to enjoy football without the discomfort of the alcohol issues?

Son:  I don’t think so.  There’s just so much pressure to do what they’re doing.

Parent:  Ok.  I think I hear you saying that you’d like to continue playing football but for the peer pressure regarding underage drinking.  Is that right?

Son:  I guess so.

Parent:  Well, if there’s anything I can do to help you stay in an activity that you love while insulating you from the pressure to drink alcohol, please let me know.  Would you like to brainstorm with me about ways to accomplish that?

Son:  I’d like to brainstorm with you, but right now, I’m really fried.  Can we do it tomorrow evening?

Parent:  I’ll look forward to that!

SCENARIO #2

Parent:  Son, I understand that you want to drop out of football.  I support whatever choice you make here.  I’m curious: do you have another activity that holds your interest now?

Son:  No, I’m just bored with football.  I’ve been playing every year since I was in seventh grade.

Parent:  Ok.  It’s your call.  Will you  miss your friends . . . you’re used to seeing them every day after school for football practice.

Son:  No, I see those guys all the time, in school and out.

Parent:  Ok.  What are you going to do with all your free time now that you won’t have daily football practice?

Son:  I suppose I’ll hang out and stuff.

Parent:  You were on track to get a football scholarship.  Walking away from football now will put an end to that possibility.  Are you ok with that?  I ask not because I’m trying to get you to stay in football . . . I’m just making sure you’ve considered all the consequences.

Son:  Man!  I didn’t think of that.  I don’t want to play football any more!  What are my options for scholarships?

Parent:  Well, you can really hit the books hard now that you have extra free time.  If you can get all A’s or maybe a B or two here or there, you can maybe get an academic scholarship.  Also, you can apply for a need-based scholarship, although I’m pretty sure we make enough money that you probably won’t qualify for that . . . still, it wouldn’t hurt to try.

Son:  I’m not really an all A’s kind of guy.

Parent:  Are you still wanting to go to college?

Son:  Yes.

Parent:  Ok, so how are we going to make that happen?  Shall we make an appointment to visit with your guidance counselor?  Maybe we can visit with the coach too?

Son:  Ok.

SCENARIO #3

Parent:  Son, I understand that you want to drop out of football.  I support whatever choice you make here.  I’m curious: do you have another activity that holds your interest now?

Son:  No, I’m just bored with football.  I’ve been playing every year since I was in seventh grade.

Parent:  Ok.  It’s your call.  Will you  miss your friends . . . you’re used to seeing them every day after school for football practice.

Son:  No, I see those guys all the time, in school and out.

Parent:  Ok.  What are you going to do with all your free time now that you won’t have daily football practice?

Son:  I suppose I’ll hang out and stuff.

Parent:  You were on track to get a football scholarship.  Walking away from football now will put an end to that possibility.  Are you ok with that?  I ask not because I’m trying to get you to stay in football . . . I’m just making sure you’ve considered all the consequences.

Son:  I don’t know what I want to do when I graduation from high school . . . after all, I’m just a sophomore . . . so a college scholarship seems like something I won’t need or use for a loooooong time.

Parent:  You’ll be surprised how quickly these next three years will pass.  If you ultimately decide that you do want to go to college, your scholarship will already be gone.  What then?

Son:  I don’t know.

Parent:  Can we compromise here?

Son:  Well, what do you have in mind?

Parent:  I get that you’re bored with football because you’ve been there, done that.  I also get that you may need a football scholarship some day.  So, my proposal is that you take this season off and try to go back at it next season.  In the meantime, you can exercise and stay in shape, which I know you like to do, and you can keep in touch with the coach, so he can see and hear where you are coming from.  Maybe that will make it easier for you to re-enter football next season, should you choose to do so.  And if you choose not to re-enter football, then we’ll talk at that time about whether or not you want to go to college and, if so, how we’ll pay for that.  Ok?

Son:  That sounds fair to me. 

In each of the foregoing scenarios, the parent sought to understand why the son wanted to quit playing football, to validate the son’s right to choose, and to accept the decision and/or to inform  the son about consequences and brainstorm on solutions.  If you approach your son similarly, you will maximize the likelihood that you will handle the situation well and conclude the matter in a manner than considers all consequences and does not leave your son feeling trod upon, belittled, or badly treated.

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