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Reminder: Not Every Kid's a High Achiever

I like the way my kids are. They're reasonably well-mannered, generally kind and considerate, interested in music and animals. They like to draw. And sometimes they like to just sit around and watch TV.

I'll admit to having occasional pangs when I read or hear about kids who have done amazing things with their young lives, teens and pre-teens who are engaged in tons of activities and always at the top of the academic heap.

But more often, I just feel exhausted when I consider the details of their days. Do these kids ever just sit and stare at clouds? (Sandra Boodman wrote an excellent article for the Post's health section about health woes afflicting these high achievers: read it here.)

So it was kind of a relief to receive a copy of the book Drive: 9 Ways to Motivate Your Kids to Achieve, which addresses a phenomenon involving a whole different group of kids -- the ones who lack the motivation to do much with their lives, to get up off the couch and explore the world. It's a welcome reminder that not every kid in the world is a gifted go-getter. Many, according to the long-time educator who wrote the book (which is officially published today), are downright slouches. They are content with middling grades, aren't involved in extracurricular activities, spend tons of time on computers and cell phones, and have no interest in hobbies or sports.

These bored teens, the book notes, often grow into aimless adults, all too often living with their parents when they should be off making the world their own.

Author Janine Walker Caffrey writes,

I have noticed that many of today's kids have something in particular in common: a lack of personal drive. They don't seem to want things and are unaware of what life has to offer and how to get it. They seem to believe that things will be handed to them when needed and that life will be fine, with or without their effort and input. These young people are content to allow things to happen to them and drift along wherever life takes them.

Caffrey, founder of a private K-12 school in Florida and director of something called the Drive Institute, starts with a chapter chock-full of suggestions for figuring out how motivated your kid really is and distinguishing the term "desire" (wanting to have things) from "drive" (the willingness to do what it takes to get those things). Then she launches into her nine steps, which involve:

- finding ways to keep abreast of what's really going on in your kid's life, whether she's in middle school, high school, or college, and avoiding meddling more than a reasonable parent should
- increasing your kid's opportunities to take risks, understanding that he might fail or get hurt along the way
- decreasing rewards; letting life's natural consequences kick in
- descheduling your kid's life, allowing time for joy, imagination, and creativity
- reducing comfort, counteracting the immense abundance and indulgence of our culture
- delaying gratification, countering kids' habits of seeking quick fixes and immediate rewards
- encouraging accomplishment, helping kids understand that the way to feel good about themselves is through achievement, not empty praise.
- enlisting your kid's peer group to exert positive influences and foster independence
- helping kids find a sense of purpose in life through creating connections with other people, giving of themselves, nurturing spirituality, or otherwise lending meaning to what they do.

In a world where so much attention is paid to gifted and talented students and to those at the very bottom rungs of the education ladder who desperately need help reaching a higher rung, I find it refreshing to see someone focusing on all those kids who are kind of stuck in the middle, who may need a good kick in the butt to help them make more of themselves.

My kids aren't in the group Caffrey targets, but I can easily see how some of her tips would be helpful around here. For instance, Caffrey suggest having middle-schoolers do their own laundry: "He will only feel the discomfort of not having clean clothes once or twice before he figures this out!" she writes. At the same time, she advises, "Don't interfere with the cleanliness (or lack thereof) of your child's room unless absolutely necessary.... Just close the door if it offends you." Caffrey says kids will eventually choose on their own to keep their living space tidy, though that might not happen till they leave home. So, she suggests, this is one battle that's just not worth fighting.

I can live with that.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  July 21, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Family Health  
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