Like most parents of high school students in high achieving communities today, my client Sneha called for a consultation when she and her son Rahul could no longer even speak to each other. He was a sophomore at Palo Alto High School, and Sneha was a stay at home mom who had been heavily conditioned by her own upbringing in a traditional Indian, immigrant family where her grades and academic performance were of paramount importance to her parents.
Palo Alto High School provides a 24-hour access data base of student grades called Schoology which students and parents can check whenever they want. This may on the surface seem like a great and useful tool. However, in Sneha and Rahul's case, it was leading to their downfall.
Sneha was checking Schoology obsessively. What many parents don't realize, and I can tell you as a former high school teacher, is that the data in these data bases often is not up to date! Meaning, parents and students can obsessively check and get the completely wrong impression, react to it, and create rifts where none need be, since the data isn't always as bad as it may seem when checked and it's inaccurate.
This was the case with Sneha and Rahul. She saw a failing chemistry quiz grade and freaked out. She asked Rahul about it, and he told his mom to CHILL. He still had to hand in a couple of assignments and his grade would come back up. He told his mom under no circumstances was she to contact his teacher.
Sure enough, Sneha did go behind his back and make a conference with his chem teacher because she just couldn't get those numbers from Schoology out of her worried mind.
Guess who walked by and saw her meeting with the chem teacher as he was passing to his next class? Yep! Rahul! BUSTED. He stormed out of the school and when she got home, he SCREAMED at her and they hadn't been talking in days - when I got her call for a consult and HELP.
I asked Sneha to STOP CHECKING THE GRADES DATABASE IMMEDIATELY. Just to STOP all together. I explained to her the basic neuroscience of connection that I teach parents in my online classes and consult calls, so she could understand why her son reacted and behaved the way he did and why they were at a stand still. I explained that if she wanted things to change, she was going to have to CONNECT, and keep connecting daily to rebuild the broken trust and win her son's alliance back.
We started working together for a 6 month coaching engagement and the first tool I taught her to use was an evening connection ritual. She would go quietly into her son's room and sit on his bed. She wouldn't say much, just sit and be present in the room while he worked on his computer. She would wait for him to say something. When he spoke, I coached her not to react with worried comments or advice, but to LISTEN, and ask open ended questions so he would KEEP TALKING. The first night she practiced this, they ended up lying side by side on his bed talking for hours. The following evening, he asked his mom if she was going to come and lay with him and talk again. And on it went for night after night. This dedicated mom and son rebuilt their connection in no time.
It turned out the reason Sneha had flipped out at the low chemistry grade is, like most Indian parents and kids, she had been socialized to believe that her child must pursue a STEM career in order to "be successful." I coached Sneha to understand and let go of this narrow definition of success. We discussed Rahul's actual interests and strengths. It turned out that he was a broadcast journalism star and was a very well respected announcer on the school's daily news station. Sneha and I worked together for her to support her son's deep interest in this field. I am SO happy to report that he now, two years later, is a senior applying to Broadcast Journalism college programs and Sneha could not be more proud of him!
This was one of my most heart warming and effective client transformations. This mom now advocates for challenging the narrow ideas of success in our very high pressure, high achieving Palo Alto high schools. I couldn't be more proud of the transformations she made, and believe every parent and teen is capable of creating this kind of turnaround with CONNECTION, a STRENGTHS-BASED APPROACH, and consistent dedication to listening, understanding and authentic success.