A Father’s Worry

“My son, he is so much like me. I hope you don’t mind my saying this, but he is very bright and he works very hard. But like me, he doesn’t have the ability to work well with other people. He is better – or at least more comfortable – working on his own. So I can see him working some day in a large organization and doing reasonably well – but doing so only within a function. He’ll be good at a task or a project. But I fear that, unless he improves in this other “people” dimension, he will never be a part of the leadership group. He’ll be the designated doer, but because of his inability to connect well with others, he may shortchange himself.”

If the dad’s assessment is right (and I bet he is), how can we help a boy in this situation? Here are a few thoughts:

1. Talk to the boy’s advisor to get his advice.

2. Encourage him to get involved with groups, especially those that emphasize “teaming.” (Football might be more helpful than squash.)

3. Other options to consider: the debating team, Model Ontario Parliament, the World Affairs Conference, and community service. The latter is especially good because service can be the antidote to the great narcissism of adolescence. It helps combat the natural developmental challenge, what Walker Percy described as the “suck of self.” The adolescent concerns are often about “my hair, my face, my pimples, my transcript, my university, my future…” and working with a grade 3 boy on math or English, can help a truculent high school boy put things in better perspective.

4. Explore the possibility of co-ed experiences. For example, the boy can take Theory of Knowledge with Branksome Hall students, and he can do drama, music, art, and service with girls from BSS.

5. Consider an international service trip. Sometimes spending ten days in a distant land can create a very positive bond among the dozen or so boys who go on this service learning venture together.

Are there other approaches that can help a boy in this situation?

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3 Responses to “A Father’s Worry”

  1. Paul Cumbo Says:

    Jim, intriguing comments. After a good handful of years working with teenagers now, I have to agree with what you’ve said. I think one of the things that a group endeavor does that an individual one might not, regardless of the context, is to put failure out there in the open. What I mean by that is when a young man encounters failure (in any context) as part of a group, he can struggle with that failure within the broader arena of the group. He can understand the effects of his failure upon the group; moreover, he can grow from the intrinsic communication and reaction of the group. His failure, whatever it might be, doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and he doesn’t have to deal with it in a vacuum. Recent media have focused on the importance of failure and the danger of parents and others “shielding” kids from it. Maybe one aspect of the cure to this would be to let kids be part of a group and set them free within it (with some degree of appropriate supervision, boundaries, et cetera, of course.) When a kid misses a play in the big game and the entire team loses, the kid feels terrible for a while, yes, but if he is part of something bigger than himself he realizes that he is bigger than the failure. If he isn’t part of something bigger than himself, the failure may well consume him. I’ve seen it happen more than once.

  2. Scott Cowie Says:

    How about the LIT (Leader in Training) program as part of UCC summer camps? I’m not sure about the requirements for applying to the program, but it would be a great experience for a boy if he is the right age: a two week co-ed experience, leadership training, and the potential for employment in subsequent summers…

  3. Evan Williams Says:

    Hey, Jim,

    I get your football over squash for “teaming” (heck, I coach Lacrosse for that reason), but don’t forget music is another huge program at our school that allows for the individual (and even encourages “working on your own” for practicing an instrument) but also clearly demonstrates, when the band plays together, how the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Like team sports, it is competitive and cooperative at the same time. Unlike most sports, it allows a perfectly “level playing field” for co-ed experiences. And it is a lifelong skill (unlike, I am sad to say, lacrosse or even football 🙂

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