This post started out as a monologue. I decided that I wanted it to be a dialogue between my son and me. That’s why some of it is addressed towards him and some of it isn’t.
It got a little lengthy. It’s interesting though (at least I think so).
Mom: At what point do you let your kids quit? My son has been taking piano lessons for quite a long time now. He’s never acted like he wants to quit until recently. I think it’s because he’s addicted to learning about computer programming and doesn’t want to spend one ounce of his time doing anything else.
Son’s response: It’s not an addiction since it is productive and I do spend time doing other things.
Mom’s response: You spend pretty much all your time on the computer. Even if it’s productive, it’s not healthy for you to be spending so much of your time doing it. What other things do you do? Can you honestly say that you have a balance?
Son’s response: Math League, Explorer Post Activities, and listen to a lot of different music trying to decipher the meaning and what was used in it.
Mom’s response: Those are all great activities, but the first two are inconsistent and the third one is still something that you are using your computer for.
Son’s response: I don’t use the computer to listen to music. I use one of the ipods for that and sometimes the radio.
Mom’s response: Clearly we are not going to reach an agreement about how much time is okay to be spending with all of your technological gadgets.
Mom: He says he hates the songs he has to play and that he has to play them for too long. This turns into another whole argument, because his practice sessions lack any real effort. So, then I tell him that if he really put effort into practicing, especially the hard parts of the songs, the teacher would probably have him move on to other songs. Enter another argument…how to break down the hard parts of a song to practice it in the most efficient way. (Maybe we’ll use that topic for another day).
Son’s response: I don’t put as much effort in because I don’t get to choose the songs. The teacher chooses most of them. My Mom doesn’t play piano so she doesn’t know where the good break points would be.
Mom’s response: I have seen your teacher assign you songs that you picked. And the ones that you didn’t pick, I’m sure he is choosing so that he can challenge you a little bit and help you to learn new things.
I played the piano from the time I was in the first grade until I was a junior in high school. I chose the break points based on listening, just like any person could do. I understand that they may not be the most ideal points to break, but they need to be short enough to make the repetition of it effective.
Mom: Anyway, back to the original question. Should I let him quit? I always tell him that there are tons of people out there who wish they had never quit taking lessons, not just piano, but other things too. I include myself in that group. I don’t want him to regret it later.
Son’s response: It’s not that I would not play it anymore I just don’t like the fact that I have to play it every day and I have gotten to the point where I have achieved all of my goals.
Mom’s response: When would you be playing it if you were not asked to practice on a consistent basis? I tend to think you would not ever touch the piano again…it’s human nature…and that’s what happened with the trombone.
Son’s response: I would sit down and play it more willingly and play some fun songs and do stuff with a computer with it.
Mom: I think that whenever we set out to learn something, there is a point in the learning process where we want to quit because it just seems like pure drudgery. Once you get past that point, it becomes fun again and you never want to quit after that. So you have to push yourself through the drudgery if you want the reward that comes after. If you are still a kid though, isn’t it the parent’s responsibility to push the kid through the drudgery part…because they may not be able to do it themselves? Heck, even as adults we may not be able to do it!
I also think that he has a bit of a natural talent for piano. I think it would be a big waste of talent if he quit.
Son’s response: It’s not technically quitting if you just play it when you want to as long as you have reached your goals in it. And I have reached the only goal that I have in it, the goal of knowing well enough to play that if I want to write a piece of music I can.
Mom’s response: That’s a good goal.
Mom: It could be that I’m just biased because I’m his mother. It’s hard to tell if the piano teacher is just trying to be nice when he compliments my son, or if he really believes my son has some talent. (Just another thought/question…If you have a natural talent, do you have a responsibility to your community to use that talent?)
What I’m leaning towards is decreasing the lessons to every other week and the practice time to 30 minutes a day. When he started out lessons that was the schedule. But he was playing the trombone in the band at that time. He played trombone for 4 years. When he quit playing trombone it was under the condition that he would focus more on piano…that he would practice for an hour a day (with some exceptions), that he would play for some type of community service (like a nursing home), and that he would take a music theory class at school.
Son’s response: First, you kicked me out of band early to switch to a class that you thought would help me. It didn’t it help. It made everything worse. My lunch changed to a period where none of my friends were and that made me mad and I didn’t want do anything in the class that I got switched to.
Mom’s response: You had plenty of warning (almost a full year) that band would have to be dropped if there was a need for the other class. You had the capability to prevent that from happening. We had to make a judgement call. If the other circumstances had worked out, it would have been the right call. As for your lunch period getting changed, we have already apologized about that. We did not know that was how it was going to play out. I’m pretty sure that I would not have had you switch if I’d known it was going to mess up your time with friends. I understand how important that is.
Mom: He hasn’t done any community playing but I’m not going to blame him for that since I have not set anything up for him. He is taking the music theory class and seems to be enjoying it. As for the practicing an hour a day…let’s just say if I want to know he’s doing it, I have to stand over him and watch him do it. Which is why there has been an increase in the angst that is going on about the piano in the last week or so.
Just before the holiday break, I moved the piano into the room where I spend a lot of my time in the evening. This was so that I could see that he was practicing, because it seemed that he was always conveniently practicing when I was not around. Well, he must be well studied of my inconsistencies because he always seemed to know when I was not able to spend time in that room and he would claim that those were the times he was practicing. So a little over a week ago, I caught him in an outright lie about practicing. He told me he had practiced which I knew was a lie, since I had been in that room during the time he said he had practiced…and he certainly was not in there (unless he owns an invisibility cloak that I don’t know about). So for the past week I have told him when it’s time to practice and I go in the room with him and sit and listen to him practice for the whole stinkin’ hour. Incidentally, the piano teacher said he never sounded better.
Son’s response: So that’s just because you emailed him.
Mom’s response: doubt it.
Mom: I’m willing to concede that an hour is a long time to practice and I feel that I’ve been willing to work on figuring something out.
Son’s response: You don’t even let me break it up into smaller chunks anymore.
Mom’s response: I used to. But left to your own, you would exaggerate the amount of time you had done those chunks of time.
Mom: The problem is that he started lying about the amount of time he was practicing. I keep wondering when he’s going to realize that the more he lies, the more watchful and strict I become. I think I’ve been pretty good throughout his life of trusting him with responsibility.
Son’s response: You stopped letting me do something that I’d been allowed to do for a long time…that is not being trusting. I wasn’t the one doing stuff I wasn’t supposed to. I have to suffer for what someone else does or doesn’t do.
Mom’s response: The reason I had to stop letting you do that had nothing to do with you. Part of my job is to protect you from things that are not good for you. That’s what I was trying to do.
Mom: I’ve always thought that if you show someone you trust them, then they will show that they can be trusted. Is my theory just getting blown out of the water? Or is this just a stage of the learning process for teenagers? It breaks my heart when my kids lie. I just want for them to be good people. Don’t they want that for themselves?
Son’s response: Yeah, but that doesn’t alway mean being truthful.
Mom’s response: Explain that please.
Son’s response: You can still be a good person and tell a few little white lies.
Mom’s response: I think so too, but if the little white lies are told just to keep you from getting in trouble, then how does that make you a good person?
Mom: I can’t decide if he is old enough to make this decision himself or not. He’s 16. Like any teenager, sometimes he acts responsible enough to make decisions like this, and sometimes he doesn’t even come close.
Son’s response: If you look into history they let the 16 year olds go off and do whatever they want to. So obviously they thought so and I agree mostly with them it is old enough to be able to make decisions.
Mom’s response: Those 16 year olds also had to take on the responsibility of totally taking care of themselves. If you want to make more decisions, you should show more responsibility in all areas of your life, don’t you think?
Mom: Frankly, I am so sick of fighting with him about it that it would just be easier to let him quit…but that is one of the big reasons I am so torn about it. I don’t want to let him quit just because that would be the easy way out for me! But I don’t want him to hate playing the piano. My intention was never to MAKE him take lessons. I got him started because he showed an interest.
Although my son’s career will probably be centered around computers, he has always enjoyed music and there have even been times when he talked about going into the music business (the more technical side of course).
Also, he is not currently involved in any other activities outside of school. That doesn’t seem like a good thing to me.
Son’s response: I would be in some other things if the school had clubs for people who like computers.
Mom: I would like for him to have at least one thing he engages in besides technology. Maybe if I saw he was involved with something other than just computers, I would feel a little more willing to concede something on the piano issue.
As you probably have deduced, this piano war is about much more than the piano. Maybe I’m overreacting, but this is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night. I’d like to just let it go, but then I remember that I’m the parent. I’m the grown-up (maybe) and I have to be responsible for my kids until they can be responsible. Hopefully, that’ll be before I snap and drive myself off a cliff! (Don’t worry…I would never do that).