At the moment my 15 year old son is up in his room, showered, dressed, fed and ready for school… an hour early. Why? Because he lied to me about a homework assignment on Tuesday so I’m waking his ass up an hour early every morning for the rest of the week to write lines on paper over and over. The line is:
Lying will only hurt me, the truth will set me free.
If this sounds like a harsh punishment for a simple and common 15 year old’s crime, then let me stop to note that we didn’t start here. We started with rational discussion;
Please don’t lie about your homework assignments, Son. We can help you with whatever problems you are having, so long as you are honest about them.
“Okay, Dad. I will.” (he didn’t)
Son, you really need to stop lying about homework assignments. It’s okay to not understand something. It’s not okay to not ask for help and simply blow off the work.
“Okay, Dad. I’ll be honest from now on.” (he wasn’t)
Then we moved on to real consequences;
Alright, now, SON. I don’t know why you still can’t be honest about your schoolwork, but now there’s going to be extra chores to teach you a lesson. You have to start being honest about these things.
“Okay, Dad. I will tell the truth” (he still didn’t)
Dammit, SON! Why are you STILL lying about your….
Well, you get the point. There was an escalation that got us here. I didn’t just jump to Bart Simpson at the chalkboard style punishment.
I understand that on a biological level he’s destined to attempt to get away with shit like lying about his homework assignments. The risk vs. reward centers of his brain are all fucked up right now. In the moment of confrontation when he’s being asked about his schoolwork, his developing mind is very strongly telling him that there’s nothing worse at that moment than being forced to keep working on homework when he could just tell a lie and be free from now until the impossibly abstract future moment (2 days from now) when the grades catch up to him and he’s found to have been telling tall tales about his situation.
In meme form, the exchange goes something like this:
And I say it takes 2 days for the truth to catch up to him but really it can take even less than that. If his teachers are on the ball with entering grades that day, I can sometimes know before he gets home from school whether or not he got a big fat zero on a homework assignment that was due that day. There’s a little room for the process to get faster, but not much. Not without the implementation of pre-crime principles whereby he’s psychically judged on his intentions to complete and submit assignments, and I doubt we’ll be seeing that anytime soon.
In a way, I kind of feel bad for the dude. Today’s situation is not the situation my dad had back in the 90’s when I was in high school. My poor dad just had to wait for the report card to come out to figure out how shitty I was doing and how many times I ditched class. Back then the internet was basically just for watching porn and trading stocks. The worlds oldest professions are still the breakthrough ones, it would appear. I had the luxury of doing what I wanted in-between report cards and dealing with the consequences all at once at a later date, which were usually pretty light. My dad and I would argue, I can’t really recall a single word that was said, but I do remember the volume at which they were spoken, then the storm would calm and the cycle would reset. I don’t recall any actual repercussions, only loud volumes for ultimately short periods of time. My kids get no such luxury.
Part of me thinks it would be better to be less hands-on, to let him fail if he’s going to fail. I didn’t graduate high school and I turned out alright…eventually. It’s the eventually part that keeps me on him like a hawk, at least through these high school years. I screwed off, never went to class, never did any work, failed a lot and was facing the fact that I was going to have to go to high school for 5 years just to have a shot at passing. I dropped out 2 months into my (first and only) senior year. I was in the military a year and a half later. I was in Iraq a few years after that. I don’t want those hard roads for my sons.
I want different hard roads for them. Life can’t be all video games and buttercups and I’m not trying to raise special snowflakes who need safe spaces, but neither am I going to allow them to fall down proverbial cliffs that could be easily avoided. Or, at least reasonably avoided. I was 29 years old and a war veteran before I got back to school, got a higher education and climbed into a higher tax bracket. I do want that kind of success for them, but not the way that I achieved it. There are more paths to antifragile reward than through a combat zone. I want those paths.
I also understand, probably better than the average human, the value of failure. I’ve been torn down and rebuilt enough times in my life to understand that one can come back from catastrophe with a ten-fold rebirth strength. But in the case of my children, I don’t think now is the time for that. Not in the teenage years. Not in high school.
So I’ll keep dragging his ass, like a stubborn mule, through the last couple of years of his primary education. I’ll insist that he get some sort of higher education, I don’t care if it’s an AA of basket weaving at the community college, just something to set himself apart from the masses of HS diploma donning faceless applicants. Then I’ll release him into adulthood so he can fall on his face, the way I did, and get back up, the way I did, to become better than he was before on his own, just like I did. My hope is that the effort to get him through it all now will present him with a level of struggle and reward that I’m only now in my late 30’s getting to, so hopefully he will be able to achieve things that I may never. I suppose that’s the hope of all parents. In the meantime, I’ll sit and drink coffee while he writes lines over and over, hoping that this is the time it sinks in;
Lying will only hurt me, the truth will set me free.