Yes, that’s right, I said contract. This year I’m trying something a little different. Instead of micromanaging my thirteen-year-old’s academic life (which was exhausting, frustrating for both of us, and really never worked) he and I discussed his plans, goals, and priorities as well as his responsibilities around the house our expectations of him as parents in respect to behavior. We set specific limits and role-played situations that might occur (yeah, he hated that part). Depending on your child’s age, personality traits, and motivations this list will need to be altered a bit to fit your needs, but at least it’s something to start with!
— 1 —
Bedtime – John has to catch the bus at 7 a.m. so I let him decide whether he would be showering at night or in the morning, and how long he needs to get ready. We’ll start with a 10 p.m. bedtime and make it earlier if he seems more tired or grouchy than usual.
— 2 —
What constitutes a healthy lunch (be it cafeteria-bought or brought from home) – I insist on some form of protein, a vegetable, and a fruit. Sometimes we have to get creative, and sometimes the carrot sticks come home uneaten, but as long as I give him plenty of choices this usually goes well.
— 3 —
Chores – I admit it, my kids have always had it easy around the house. With Aaron away at college John is responsible for taking out the trash, helping clean the house, and helping with lawn care and pet care. We rarely have to ask him twice to do something.
— 4 —
Minimum amount of time spent reading per day – John’s not as much of a reader as I’d like, but when he finds a book he likes he devours it. I just need to keep finding books he enjoys.
— 5 —
Maximum amount of time spent watching TV, playing video games, and playing on the computer daily – One of John’s friends is allowed absolutely no TV, computer, or game time on school days, so John appreciates the limited amounts of time we compromised on.
— 6 —
Extra-curricular activities – I used to work with someone who insisted that their child participate in one sport each season in addition to any other activities the child wanted to do. I’m of the “less is more” school of thought on this one. John loves drama, but the program at his current school is awful, so he has chosen choir and Quick Recall instead. I think that’s plenty, but if he wants to add an activity we’ll let him as long as his grades don’t suffer.
— 7 —
Set time and place for studying, homework for each day – Given his choice John would study in front of the TV. Uh, no. He can study in his room (if he cleans off his desk) or at the dining room table. And he gets a thirty minute break right after he gets home just to decompress from the day – no jumping right into homework.
— 8 —
Plan for communication with teachers re: grades, behavior – We have an excellent online system whereby teachers can post students’ grades, assignments, etc and parents and students can access that information and email the teachers if there are questions. I’m all about letting John communicate with his teachers directly unless he hits a roadblock (i.e. the teacher last year who never posted anything on the system) and then I step in and take over all communication. And John understands that if I think an issue is serious enough I will involve the school counselor,the principal, and anyone else I feel needs to be brought in.
— 9 —
Expected grades/behavior and associated rewards/punishments – Yes, I bribe my child. He gets money for excellent grades. Sub-par grades mean less TV/gaming/computer time.
— 10 —
Plan for studying for tests, completing projects – John has agreed, reluctantly, to start all projects on the day they are assigned and to start studying for tests a week in advance. He tends to be a last-minute kind of guy, but I hope when he sees how much more smoothly his life will go with this plan that he’ll adopt it as his own.
Here are a few other things John and I discussed while we were at it. These did not make the written contract, but they fall under “expected behavior”.
*Manners, courtesy, and showing respect for authority figures – When I asked on Twitter and Facebook “How can a middle-school boy make a great first impression on his teachers?” the first response I got was “Good Manners”. So, we did a little review of the things that should be second nature to this child of mine by now, but with the hormones raging through his body he apparently has the memory of a gnat.
*Peer pressure, especially as it relates to drugs, alcohol, and sexual activity – Yep, I went there. And I think we both felt better after our talk.
*Proper respect for members of the opposite sex – This is middle school, where intelligent thought takes a back seat to hormones and mood swings and a bad day feels like the end of the world. I reminded John that teasing can often be hurtful even when it’s not meant that way, and to weigh everything he says to girls carefully before he speaks.
*Bullying – John was once a victim of vicious bullying, so this topic was easy to cover. John will never again allow himself to be bullied, nor will he be a bully. This was a lesson he learned the hard way.
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