Headmaster’s Assembly – 4 May 2018

What do you want?

What is your definition of a successful life? What do you want? What career do you want to go into and what does your future look like. Most of your future dreams may involve material things such as money, property, cars, holidays – if you are honest. Some of you want happiness. Some of you want to serve others. I am not sure if you know how you are going to do what you want to do which leads me to my chat this morning.

“You have to do what you have to do so you can do what you want to do.”

Maybe this should read “You have to do what you have to do so you can be what you want to be.”

If I have been asked once, I have been asked a thousand times for help from parents with one aspect of raising teenage boys. If I wanted help with just one thing with my own son – it would be the same thing. It is a simple question: “How do I motivate my teenage son?”

When examined more carefully, this question can have sub questions that are:

  • How do I get my son to study/work harder?
  • How do I get my son to listen and to have better manners at home?
  • How do I get my son to stop playing computer games and do something worthwhile?
  • How do I get my son to want to play in a higher sports team and train harder?

These questions can often be condensed into one question that is really hard for parents to admit to actually wanting to ask. “How can I get my son to be the person I want him to be?”

The difficulty is in one little word that is one letter long – “I”. The mistake parents make, myself included, is to try to project dreams and aspirations onto their children. Dreams and aspirations that don’t come from the child himself.

We all know why parents do this of course and if you really think about it, it is not to annoy you or irritate you but it is because we love you and want the best for you. We want you to succeed, we want you to do well. We just don’t know how to make you want to as much as we do. We don’t know how to motivate you to do what we want.

And therein lies the problem. You see, parents can see the future (or so parents think). We see consequence when you cannot. We see what may happen if you fail and want to protect and save you. We plan and plot out a path for you and then wonder why you don’t want to follow that path. We apply an adult perspective to a teenage boy’s situation.

In trying to help, I see one type of parent is the helicopter parent who swoops down to save the child whenever things go wrong but another type of parent is the lawnmower parent who cuts a smooth path through the jungle for the child to walk upon. The problem with both is, in the first case that the child never learns to fight his own battles and in the second case that the child walks the path the parent wants him to walk – which may not be his own at all!

Parenting is unbelievable difficult and we strive to answer the question I posed earlier: “What motivates teenage boys?”

The longer I work with teenage boys the more I learn.

Some boys are motivated by competition. Some are motivated by reward and incentive. Some by wanting to be a hero. Some by being explained a reason why. Some have inner motivation. But some are not.

I have not found the definitive answer and may never do so, but I have found a few things and the most important is that boys will motivate themselves in their own time – when they are ready and often only then. For some, they will flourish at school and set themselves up for a future that is planned out. For some, this will happen at university. For some it will happen later – it happens when the boy is ready. Boys need to believe in their own dream, not the one pushed onto them. The question is thus not “what” motivates teenage boys but “when” will they be motivated?

So – the role we as influential adults need to play in your life is to prepare you for your moment. As teachers and parents we need to help you. One of my favourite sayings is that we prepare the boy for the path not the path for the boy. We make sure you are ready when you are ready and we don’t impose our dreams upon you.

Yet – we still have to prepare you. So – when your parents moan about you and your teachers are on your case, it is because we are preparing you for that moment when you are ready. When we tell you to dress properly we are teaching you to respect yourself and take pride in who you are. When we tell you to be on time for class, we are teaching you to respect others and their time. When we tell you to have manners, it is to create a good first impression. When we tell you to be honest and truthful – it is to prepare you for a world that will judge you on your values.

So believe in your own dreams but listen to adults and their advice. Don’t judge them – they want the best for you. Be patient but be ready – you never know when that moment may strike you, that moment of motivation that sets you up for the rest of your life. None of us knows when that may be but we prepare you nonetheless because we know it will come. And sometimes we tell you to do what you have to do now in order to do what you want to do and be what you want to be later.