Last night my son Clyde and I had one of those “come to Jesus” moments concerning his grades. As in, “your grades aren’t very good, and they need to be better.” Clyde spent the first half of the conversation in a state of confusion: why, he wondered, was he doing so badly? He went to every class, “mostly” paid attention, and participated in all of the activities. A quick check online solved that mystery. His bad grades were a result of the combination of not turning in his homework and then doing poorly on quizzes that contained material that has been covered in that same homework. The problem, I explained to him bluntly, was thus: he was getting poor grades because he was putting in a poor effort.
I let that sink in a bit before I continued. “If you want to do better, you have to be better. Right now you’re getting the grades you’ve earned. If you want them to be better (and you should want them to be better), you’ll have to work harder. Or, you know, at all.” He thought about it for a minute, and then I saw comprehension spread across his face. Of course! He understood the problem completely: I was crazy. And old. And out of the loop. Of course I would think that the only solution to getting better grades was to do better work—I didn’t even know what a subReddit was!
I would have been more discouraged by this response if it wasn’t for the fact that we had already gone through the same thing with his sister, Clementine, almost four years earlier. And she turned out okay. Mostly.
Of course, back when Clementine was younger and doing poorly I was more likely to blame the “everyone’s a winner” culture that children grow up with: when everyone gets the same trophy, or medal, or certificate just for showing up, there’s not much incentive to ever try any harder than anyone else does. With Clyde, however, I think I’m going to blame the gaming world, and the fact that there seems to be a “cheat” to get around almost every obstacle.
It makes sense in the gaming world: given the choice to go through the same three rooms and kill the same fifty Nazi zombies over and over again for hours upon hours, or look up a cheat code online, most sane people would choose the cheating option. (Actually, I think most sane people would rather read a book, but that’s a minority opinion in my house.) And that’s the probably the reason why most game manufacturers allow the cheat codes to exist in the first place: because they know that if they didn’t they’d end up with a bunch of disgruntled customers who could potentially end up quitting their games, unplugging their PlayStation, and picking up a book. (I can dream, can’t I?)
Here’s the thing, though: real life doesn’t need to give you cheat codes (or hand out trophies just for showing up), because real life knows that you can’t quit. It’s the only game in town. And so my struggle with Clyde (and previously, Clementine), has been simply to get them to accept the fact that there really will be no way for them to get around doing the actual work—that “Work Hard/Play Hard” is only a suitable life code if you fulfill the first part of the equation before moving on to the second. And that if there was any chance that they came from the sort of privileged background (life’s one and only “cheat code”) that allowed them to, say, get into Yale without earning it (cough!George Bush!cough!), I surely would have mentioned it by now.
Or at the very least have been using it to get around doing the hard work myself.